Local catfish anglers have known for quite some time that the fishing is really good in West Virginia’s Ohio River.
Now the rest of the country is learning about it.
The folks who organize Cabela’s King Kat tournaments certainly have. This year they scheduled two tournaments for the Ohio — one in the spring at Gallipolis, Ohio; and the other in the fall at Huntington.
The Huntington event took place Oct. 19, and the results were eye-opening.
A thick fog covered the river when the boats departed from Harris Riverfront Park. The air temperature, a chilly 39 degrees, was hardly a harbinger of good things to come.
The fog made it difficult for boaters to navigate upriver to their chosen fishing sites, but in the end, it might have been a blessing in disguise. Several of the two-angler teams scored their best catches before the fog lifted.
Considering the conditions, some of the catches were pretty darned impressive.
The winning team, Will and Russell Sylvester, weighed in five cats that totaled 97.74 pounds. The Indiana residents said they caught their best fish in the fog near the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.
They caught most of their fish in 20 feet of water, using cut skipjack fished on Santee rigs under planer boards.
The Sylvesters needed just about every ounce of their catch to finish ahead of the runner-up team, Jeff Corley and Brandon Kopis of Lancaster, Ohio. Corley and Kopis weighed in five fish that totaled 97.66 pounds.
Using cut shad, live shad and skipjack, the two Ohioans boated a total of 12 fish — 11 flatheads and one blue cat. Most of their catch came early in the day, also near the Byrd Locks and Dam, and also in 20 to 25 feet of water.
Three West Virginia teams rounded out the tournament’s top five.
Preston Teter and Boyd Meadows, both from Belle, took third place with a catch that totaled 78.96 pounds. Unlike the top two teams, Teter and Meadows caught all their fish after the fog lifted. They fished upriver from Huntington, and used shad and skipjack for bait.
The fourth-place team, Chris Rhodes from Scott Depot and Chris Hatfield from Hurricane, also got their best results after 10 a.m. Most of the pair’s 78.16-pound catch came after they moved downstream from the Byrd Locks and Dam.
Frank White and Izak Petry, both from Chesapeake, rounded out the top five with a 76.98-pound weigh-in. They, too, caught their biggest fish later in the morning.
None of the top five teams ended up with the prize for the biggest individual catfish. That honor went to Mike Mitchell, Jackson Mitchell and Rick Sexton, who hauled in a flathead that tipped the scales at an eyebrow-raising 40.70 pounds.
To finish among the top five at the Huntington tournament, teams had to bring in five fish that averaged at least 15.5 pounds apiece. To someone like me, who’s never landed a catfish that weighed more than 10 pounds, that’s darned impressive.
Tournament director Jeremy Coe thinks so, too.
“The [Ohio’s] fishery is awesome,” he said. “To have two teams almost at 100 pounds is really good. West Virginia has done a great job managing that fishery, and protecting the fish.”