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Cats Incredible tournament draws anglers from across the country

The 22nd-annual Cats Incredible catfish tournament had a rainy start Friday night, but the sun came out for the first day of competition today that brought many families and fishing fans to LaFave Park in East Grand Forks.

The 22nd-annual Cats Incredible catfish tournament had a rainy start Friday night, but the sun came out for the first day of competition today that brought many families and fishing fans to LaFave Park in East Grand Forks.

Ruth Ann Schleif, tournament chair, said organizers were hoping to attract a total of 5,000 people to the park by the time festivities wrap up Sunday afternoon.

"That's doable if the weather is nice," she said.

Fishers from Arizona, Florida, Montana, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota registered to take a shot at catching the biggest catfish between today and Sunday. This year, 150 two-person teams cast their lines in the Red River to get a shot at glory and a $4,000 first place prize.

Teams are allowed to weigh up to five fish each day for a total of 10 catfish on the scales during the tournament. Besides competing for the largest total tournament catch, the angler with the heaviest single catfish wins $1,000 and bragging rights until next year.

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But it will be hard for teams to break the tournament records -- about 10 years ago, a team caught a total of 84 pounds, and the biggest single catfish on record was about 27 pounds.

Earlier this summer, local fishers were catching some massive catfish on the Red which some attributed to the high waters during spring flooding that allowed the creatures to swim past dams that they can't usually cross when the water is at normal levels.

But things have slowed down in recent weeks and the fish catches seem to be getting smaller, and Schleif said there were reports of slow fishing all last week. She said that could be from a number of reasons, but it's just part of the sport.

"That's why it's called fishing instead of catching," she said.

Family fun

There were a number of activities for families and kids to enjoy at LaFave Park. Children were lined up this afternoon for their chance to play in two inflatable bounce houses or make their way through an inflatable obstacle course, and about a dozen kids were busy digging in a large makeshift sandbox in the middle of the park.

Food vendors were on-hand with some beverages, warm snacks and meals for the onlookers. The Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals hosted a chili cook-off that drew 11 teams all vying for honors.

There weren't any places selling dishes containing catfish -- fishing for the creatures is gaining in popularity around the Red River Valley, but most residents haven't quite picked up a taste for the strange-looking fish. But one stand was offering fried "walleye nuggets," keeping with the fishy theme of this event.

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Carol Edvall, East Grand Forks, said she has attended some previous tournaments but usually was at her lake during the event. "I haven't been here for a few years so I figured it's about time we come here," she said.

This year's event seems smaller than previous years, Edvall said, and had less events. Still, she said it had been a fun time today.

When asked if she had a favorite team in the competition, she said her cousin Al LaFaee and his son, Chad LaFaee, were out on the river and she was cheering for them.

Mark Sertich, Grand Forks, said he's never gone catfishing but is now considering it. He said he'd probably be willing to try eating it too, but didn't know the best way to cook it.

Sertich was with his two sons, 5-year-old Mark Jr. and 3-year-old Mike, who were all standing around a large tub that provided a close-up view of some of the catfish anglers had caught earlier in the day. He was looking for something to do and decided to stop by Cats Incredible for the first time, he said.

"It's nice to see things for the kids," he said. "The kids like fishing."

Schleif said fishers come from far away to compete in the tournament because of the bountiful Red River, but the event also offers a free weekend of fun for non-fishers.

"We want them to have a good time with their family, and see that the fishing we have up here is the best in the country," she said.

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Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FISHINGRED RIVER
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