21st Annual Cats Incredible
Cut that bait, chop those peppers; another Catfish Days gets rolling today. Sponsored by The Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the 21st annual event has its roots in a small catfish tournament that East Grand Forks visionaries launched...
Cut that bait, chop those peppers; another Catfish Days gets rolling today.
Sponsored by The Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the 21st annual event has its roots in a small catfish tournament that East Grand Forks visionaries launched in 1988.
They dubbed it Cats Incredible, and the tournament today has blossomed into one of the premier events of its kind in North America. This year's tournament features a full slate of 150, two-person teams from as far away as Arizona and Florida.
And while catfish still take center stage, events such as Saturday's "Beans on the Bank" chili cook-off and a variety of kids' games at tournament headquarters have helped make the tournament and Catfish Days a communitywide celebration.
It all happens at LaFave Park in East Grand Forks, where festivities get under way this evening and continue Saturday and Sunday.
A lot has changed since that first tournament in 1988.
"It doesn't seem like it's been that long," said Ruth Ann Schleif, East Grand Forks, chairman of the Cats Incredible organizing committee. "It's such a fun event."
Schleif and her husband, Greg, fished the very first Cats Incredible tournament, and they've been a part of every event either fishing or volunteering. Greg is one of three confirmed anglers to fish every Cats Incredible. He and his partner didn't make the cut in this year's lottery to determine tournament participants, but he ended up being able to fish when an out-of-town angler seeking a last-minute partner touched base and kept the streak intact.
For years, Ruth Ann worked the scales at the weigh-in site until taking the reins as committee chairwoman about five years ago.
"We just love it," she said.
Hard to imagine
The first year, Schleif recalls, tournament participants could fish anywhere along the Red -- or even the Red Lake River, back then -- as long as they were back at LaFave Park headquarters by weigh-in time.
Like so many anglers that first year, they fished from shore, she said.
"Thinking of the way it was back then to what it's grown into, I couldn't have imagined it," Schleif said. "It was just a bunch of people who got together because they liked to fish on the river. Now, it's become one of the best catfish tournaments in the country."
That says a lot about the support East Grand Forks and Grand Forks have given the tournament.
"We get people into East Grand Forks and Grand Forks, and they see what a good event it is," Schleif said. "It's not just the fishermen; the people that come down there -- Mom and Dad and Susie and Jimmy are going to stick around and see what's going on."
As in previous years, there's plenty going on after anglers head for their favorite catfish haunts early Saturday and Sunday mornings.
On tap Saturday is a half-marathon and 5K Cats Incredible walk/run at 8 a.m. "Games to Go," with inflatable games for the kids, will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The chili cook-off is set for 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, and new this year, there'll be a farmers market at 1 p.m. Sunday.
"Hopefully, that will bring a bunch of different folks who might not have come down to the river," Schleif said.
Gates to tournament headquarters are open from 5 to 8 p.m. today, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. J. Bobby Hamilton plays from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, and the Cats Incredible winners will be crowned at 6 p.m. Sunday.
In many ways, Schleif said, Cats Incredible is like a big reunion. Back this year are Gary and Bonnie Mounce of Nebraska City, Neb. The Mounces are part of a devoted Nebraska delegation, and they have fished every Cats Incredible except the very first one.
"They're one of our favorites," Schleif said. "There'll be a lot of smiles and hugs here the next few days, and then the local guys you don't see except for at the tournament. It's fun to catch up with everyone."
Another longtime Cats Incredible angler is Brad Nelson of East Grand Forks, who, with Greg Schleif, is one of the few to have fished every single tournament.
Over the years, Nelson said, organizers have done a lot of things to make the tournament safer, including lights at the boat ramps and eliminating the free-for-all "shotgun" start. The officiating also has gotten better over the years, he said.
"I don't know, they've improved a lot of things," Nelson said. "The thing behind this is there's so much work put into it."
This year, Nelson is fishing the tournament with his daughter, Kim, 18. Ask Nelson why he keeps coming back, and his answer is simple:
"Because I like to fish, period," he said. "It's fun to see all the guys. It's a good time."
Schleif says organizers continue to seek volunteers for everything from helping sell tickets for the beer garden to running coolers from tournament boats to the weigh-in station.
All told, she says, it takes about 120 volunteers to keep the show running smoothly.
With all of the details falling into place above the water, the wild card is what happens below the water. Last year's winners, Dustin Lunski and Fred Liebsch, Grand Forks, weighed in 68.64 pounds of catfish to win the tournament.
Anglers last year weighed in 593 catfish for a total weight of 3,706.90 pounds -- considerably lower than the tournament record of 6,820 pounds brought to the scales in 2006.
Fishing reports, in recent days, have been spotty.
"Some of the guys have been saying they're catching a lot of the small or midrange fish, but they're finding it a bit harder to get the bigger fish," Schleif said.
Beyond that, don't expect Cats Incredible anglers to say much until after the tournament ends Sunday.
"We're looking forward to another tournament that's full of fun and a lot of fish," Schleif said. "We'll be busy, I expect."
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .