Chamber explores Cats Incredible options

The organizers of a popular catfish tournament on the Red River in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are looking for a group to either help run the event or take it over completely after this year.

Cats Incredible logo

The organizers of a popular catfish tournament on the Red River in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are looking for a group to either help run the event or take it over completely after this year.

The Chamber, with members from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, has run Cats Incredible since 2005, when the chambers from each city merged. The East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce previously ran the tournament founded in 1988.

"We would be interested in working with another group to put Catfish Days together," said Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of The Chamber. "Whether The Chamber is involved, at this point we haven't made any real plans one way or another."

Wilfahrt said he recently contacted the Red River Valley Catfish Club about partnering or taking over the tournament. The Catfish Club holds a series of Wednesday night fishing league events on the river throughout the summer along with a season-ending tournament.

Rob Raymond, president of the Catfish Club, said they considered the offer but decided to decline.


"I called every board member," Raymond said. "A couple said, 'We should do this.' But I said, looking at how many volunteers and boats are needed, who's the 'we'?

"I let them mull it over for a week, called them back and they all said no. I just don't think we could do it justice."

Top tournament

Cats Incredible has earned a reputation as one of the top catfish tournaments in the country and routinely draws anglers from states such as Iowa, Nebraska and Montana. The event also has expanded into more than a catfish tournament. Catfish Days now is a community celebration that has included live bands, kids' games and a chili cook-off at LaFave Park, the tournament headquarters site.

This year's Catfish Days is set for July 27-29.

Wilfahrt said The Chamber annually looks at the return on investment of its programs and projects. Cats Incredible, he said, has been a "break-even" venture, requiring more than 200 volunteers in addition to Chamber staff.

"When you put our staff time into it, that's what we've been doing historically," Wilfahrt said.

He said The Chamber will operate this year's tournament as usual.


"We continue to take a look at the future of the tournament -- future options," Wilfahrt said. "If The Chamber were to look at turning it over to a different group, we would want to make sure it was a very smooth transition with assurances the tournament would continue."

That's why The Chamber contacted the Catfish Club before this year's Cats Incredible, he said.

"If there was a group interested in running the tournament, it would be nice to have a segment of their volunteer base at the tournament," Wilfahrt said. "It would be nice to be able to have them walk side by side and see, behind the scenes, how it was run.

"That would ensure the best possible transition."

Rules challenges

Wilfahrt said new regulations aimed at preventing the spread of aquatic nuisance species such as zebra mussels also have complicated the operation of Cats Incredible. The rules committee this year, for example, decided to reduce tournament boundaries and require all teams to launch at LaFave Park because of regulations prohibiting the transport of fish and water in live wells or other containers away from a boat ramp.

Because the tournament is a live-release event, keeping the fish in water is essential.

The new regulations created problems for continuing the tournament downstream from Riverside Dam, which only is accessible from the North Dakota side of the river. In essence, it's now illegal to transport fish in water from the North Dakota side of the Red to the weigh-in site in East Grand Forks, even though it's the same river.


"We think it's fairly important that our tournament be an example to fishermen on how to comply with those rules and regulations," Wilfahrt said. "But it does create additional work."

To compensate for the smaller boundary, organizers reduced the tournament field to 125 teams from 150. The boundary change hasn't been well-received by some anglers who preferred fishing downstream from the dam, and there still are about a dozen openings for this year's Cats Incredible.

"This is a great tournament, and as a staff and as volunteers, we enjoy the relationships we have made with the fishermen," Wilfahrt said. "We're really looking forward to a successful tournament in 2012."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send email to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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