New Madrid hooks catfish tournament

Monday, May 9, 2005

NEW MADRID - Jerry Whitehead understands the lure of fishing the Mississippi River for catfish.

"The excitement of catfishing is that you never know when he is out there. It is so exciting to think that someday there will be that 100-pound catfish bite my bait," said Whitehead.

On May 28, fishermen from across the United States will cast their lines into the murky waters of the Mississippi in hopes of pulling up that monster fish and winning the first Cabela's King Kat Tournament Trail at New Madrid. More than 100 teams are expected to hit the waters at 6:30 a.m. and return by 3 p.m. with prize-winning catfish.

The winners will not only get bragging rights but also earn cash, prizes and the chance to advance to the Cabela's King Kat Classic this September at Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina.

Hooking the national tournament began with a call to New Madrid businessman Mark Kolwyck.

According to Kolwyck, general manager of Martindale Chevrolet in New Madrid, he was approached by another fishing tournament about sponsorship. He explained that while he wasn't interested in that one, if they ever sponsored an event closer to home, he would be.

"When the King Kat representative came to see me, he explained they were looking for sponsorships along the Mississippi River. With the new $2 million renovation of our riverfront complete, I thought this was an ideal way to kick it off and create more enthusiasm," said Kolwyck.

And, he said, it is a way to associate his company with others who have a strong belief in what they do, yet also like to have fun.

"Men are competitive to begin with," he admitted with a laugh. "If your passion is playing golf, then you probably love to play against others to see how competitive you are. If your passion is fishing, you want to see how good you are against others. My passion is selling cars but anything that I can do and be associated with loving a sport and having fun, I'm going to be there."

While the primary focus of the event is on the teams fishing, the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce has turned the day into a family affair. Margaret Palmer, executive director of the Chamber, is encouraging the merchants and historical sites to be open throughout the day for visitors.

In conjunction with the tournament, a children's fishing rodeo is planned for youngsters age 12 and under. Registration is from 8-9 a.m. at the St. John Bayou River Access on Road WW. Prizes will be awarded to all participants with special prizes planned for the winners of two age groups - ages 7 and under and the 8-12 age group.

Also planned is a scavenger hunt for locals and visitors. Entry forms for the event are available at the Chamber office and Martindale Chevrolet. Also the sponsors of the tournament which including Cabela's, Minn Kota Trolling Motors, Eagle Claw, Heartland Outfitters, Evinrude Outboards and others will display their wares.

However, Whitehead, Kolwyck and Palmer agreed the real event of the day will be the 4 p.m. weigh-in when the teams must report with their catch. The tournament organizers note that to preserve the sport only live fish are weighed in. After the tournament is completed, all fish are returned to the river.

"That is the grand finale," said Kolwyck about the weigh-in. "It is exciting to see what they pull out of the river. You will be surprised, it will be amazing."

Whitehead said he has landed some catfish in the 40-pound range so far this year, and other local fishermen have brought in even larger catch.

"If the conditions are what they should be I expect to see somebody scale a 60-pound fish, said Whitehead. "Everyone will want to see Moby Catfish - the Moby Dick of all catfish."

But no matter who walks away with the fishing titles, Palmer sees the real winner from the event as New Madrid.

"This is going to bring in fishermen from all the over country, some people will come in and fish before the actual tournament, just to get a feel for the river and try to locate their sweet spot. Then they will come back and bring their families," she said.

"We think this is the perfect place to host a tournament. We want to make them feel welcome here and we hope they will come back."

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