Pictured is Jeff Kirkpatrick and Chris Stephens with an 82-pound "Big Fish" from their winning stringer at the Bass Pro Shop's Big Cat Quest tournament in New Madrid, Mo.
I spent the weekend over at Reelfoot Lake, but instead of fishing, I was peddling boat seats at the Arts and Crafts show. Fortunately, the wind blew pretty hard every day, so I wasn't too tore up about not being on the lake, and I got to talk to a ton of fishermen from as far away as Pennsylvania and Texas. I stayed at the Chipman's trailer over in Sportsman's Resort South, and the campground was abuzz with activity. Chippy and I are generally the youngest participants at the seemingly always blazing campfire by a few decades, and we couldn't ask for a nicer bunch of folks to sit lakeside with and shoot the bull. There's a nonstop flow of information and tips on everything from crappie fishing to love, and we soak it in! This past Friday night we got to help burry a pig with a pile of blazing coals and what must have been $100 worth of aluminum foil, which was a first for us. Chippy brought me a plate while I was hustling discount fishing gear the next day, and man was it good!
Regardless of which side of the political isle you're on, or if you just scratch your head in a general state of confusion like many of us, the effect of the current government shutdown on the outdoors has been much more dramatic than anyone could have guessed. I realize that 2 million government employees are without a paycheck and the sudden or looming closure of programs like Headstart, cancer research programs, the CDC, the FDA, and the Department of Veteran Affairs are more detrimental to civilization than the inability to hunt and fish, and while sensitive to those issues, I am here to report on the outdoors.
Fishermen and hunters across the country have been forcibly evacuated from campgrounds and faced barricades and closed gates at fishing ramps, all owned and operated by the Core of Engineers, an apparently non-essential government program. On many lakes there are alternative ramps to use, but for the hunters and their families who've scheduled time off from work to spend time in the same areas they've frequented for years, on public land which is billed to be owned by the people, they are being denied their place to hunt and fish. I called and spoke to some of the COE guys from the region, and they're extremely disheartened to have to enforce the closures, especially with no clear end in sight. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has closed nine national wildlife refuges in Missouri alone, the closest one to us being Mingo. I've spent plenty of time on national wildlife refuges and have never seen a federal employee, nor have I witnessed a COE employee monitoring fishing ramps or primitive campgrounds, and yet we are being barred from entrance. Public land, is apparently not always public.
My good friend and resident catfish pro for this column, as well as a fellow Grizzly Jig Pro Staffer, Chris Stephens from Dyersburg, Tennessee won the Bass Pro Shop's Big Cat Quest at New Madrid, Missouri this past weekend, along with his partner Jeff Kirkpatrick. They won the tournament with a total, 5-fish weight of 226.05lbs! Chris also took the "Big Fish" prize with an 82.4lb Mississippi River blue cat! Chris said they were anchored on the upside of an eddy, casting out into the swirling current with a rig that held 900ft of 80lb Cortland Braid from Catfish Connection. He would let the current swing the bait out and settle the 6 oz. sinker on the back ledge, where the water went from 40 -- 80 ft deep. He said all of the fish, including a 62lb and 47lb to go along with the big fish, were caught on one pole. They were using fresh cut skipjack on a 10/0 Mustad Demon Circle hook from Grizzly Jig Co. Chris and Jeff took $1000 and a new Minn Kota trolling motor worth near that much for the win, congratulations!
October 24, 25, and 26, the "Fall Inventory Reduction Sale" is going on at Grizzly Jig in Caruthersville, Mo. Wally Marshall, Billy Blakely, and other professional fishermen will be on hand. Everything's getting marked down, and you get $5 off for every $30 you spend, up to $20 off. There will be a ton of close-out boat seats and poles that come with free reels, so come see me and hang out with the pros!