Nine states represented as anglers battle low river levels for successful ‘King Kat’ tournament


After all of the flooding that Switzerland County has experienced over the past month, it was falling river levels that presented the biggest challenge for fishermen in last weekend’s “King Kat” catfish tournament sponsored by Cabela’s.

“We had 60 boats over the two days, with 126 fishermen representing nine different states,” tournament director Tanner Tabor said. “It was some tough fishing, especially on Friday, because when the river level is low, it’s harder to get the fish to hit. Overall, however, it was a great tournament for us.”

Tanner Tabor said that the teams, consisting of two or three fishermen per entry, had two days to fish along the Ohio River. Each team was allowed to weigh in up to five fish on Friday and another five on Saturday, with the highest total weight of the catch over the two days being the winners.

First place paid $4,000 in the tournament, with $2,000 going to the second place team and the top nine teams received some sort of payback, with the total of cash and prizes reaching just over $11,000.

Tanner Tabor stressed that all five of the fish that are brought in for weighing have to be alive; and once the fish are weighed, they are returned to the river.

“We try to preserve the resources as much as possible,” Tanner Tabor said. “We do what I feel is a good job of that. Throughout the year, we may lose two or three fish the whole year. The last thing we want is to create an image that our guys are coming in and hurting the fishery. These guys care about these fish and the well being of this fish.”

Tanner Tabor said that he’s had teams in the past who knew that they were out of the running to win prize money at a tournament who had a fish that was weak. Instead of weighing in the fish and jeopardizing its life, the fishermen went ahead and put the fish back in the water.

“These trophy fish that these guys are targeting are hard to come by,” Tanner Tabor said. “It takes a while to grow a 50-pound catfish. These guys practice catch, photo, and release; and they have live wells that can handle these fish and they have oxygen in them. They take as best care of these fish as they possibly can.”

Tanner Tabor said that organizers were very fortunate to even hold the tournament in Vevay, noting that the river levels were too high from the recent flooding, but that 10 days ago the river began to drop, allowing the tournament to proceed.

“The worst case scenario is a dropping river,” Tanner Tabor said. “When the river levels drop, the fish tend to shut their mouths and not eat as much, which makes them harder to target. Yesterday (Friday), five fish with a weight of 102-pounds is leading it, and the big fish is 26-pounds. If you would have asked me what it would take to compete in this tournament, I would have said 150-pounds and have a big fish of 60- or 70-pounds.”

Tanner Tabor said that of the 60 teams that were out on the river for day one, 30 of the teams caught fish.

“Half the teams didn’t catch fish, and we’ve got some of the top teams in the country,” he said. “We’ve got national champions fishing here. Everybody struggled on the first day.”

The stop in Vevay was part of the Cabela’s King Kat National Tournament Trail. It was the third stop of the season, and Tanner Tabor said that it was the first ever two-day, $10,000 super event. He said that a typical tournament has a guaranteed payback of $5,000, so fishing the Vevay tournament was a big draw for tournament trail regulars as well as local and area fishermen.

All of the fishing will culminate in October at the King Kat Classic, which will be held this year in Burlington, Iowa. Some of the teams at the Vevay event qualified for the national tournament through their placings this past weekend. Spots in the classic are determined by a points system that is kept throughout the season.

So what conditions is the catfish fisherman looking for on the Ohio River?

“It all depends on the conditions, at different times of the year it varies,” Tanner Tabor said. “Ledges and areas like that. With the river on a drop like this, one of the areas that they’ll be targeting is to try and find schools and find where these fish are grouped up ands staying, which hasn’t been too easy.”


If Friday was a tough day on the anglers, Saturday proved to be just as challenging, but onlookers in the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park were treated to some huge catfish as the teams began to come to the weigh station just after 3 p.m. on Saturday. All teams had to weigh in by 4 p.m. top qualify, so once boats started into the park, it was a steady stream for the entire hour.

One of the first boats in proved to be the winning team, a three-man effort made up of Elzie Lewis and his son, Ken from Brooklyn, Indiana; and Dale Kerns from Norris City, Illinois.

The trio has been fishing all of their lives, and although they don’t consider themselves to be “regulars” on the tournament trail, they do say that they fish quite a few of the tourneys. Normally, the group are competitors, with Dale Kern fishing with his son, Matt, in most tournaments, but some scheduling and work conflicts led to the trio teaming up for the Vevay event.

“We fish maybe one or two tournaments a year together, but most of the time we’re competitors,” Ken Lewis said. “It’s my team versus his team, but when Dale didn’t have a partner, we said ‘hey, why don’t you fish with us?'”

Ken Lewis said that he and his father will probably fish about 25 tournaments this season, noting that they have fished as many as 40 in a year; while Dale Kerns said that he fishes about 15 tournaments in a year. The trio said that the typical season used to run from March through the middle of November, but now it’s become pretty much a year round sport.

The team said they’ve gone as far as Levenworth, Kansas, to fish in a tournament, and all are expected to be at the classic in Iowa this October.

Here in Vevay, the team caught a total of 18 catfish over the two days, weighing in their biggest five each of the two days for a total weight of 223.25-pounds – including a pair of 33-pounders caught on the second day. The team weighed in just over 102-pounds to lead the tournament after the first day.

The second place team had just 22-pounds of catfish to weigh in after the first day, and the team of Rob Benningfield of Bowling Green, Kentucky; and Ed Moore of Louisville managed to catch only one fish on the second day.

But, oh – what a fish it was.

To the collective mixture of gasps and applause, the duo unloaded their one fish – a blue catfish that weighed in at a remarkable 73.65-pounds. They came to the scales at the end of the weigh-in hour, providing a little drama to the end of the event.

The big catfish pushed the team’s two-day total to 96.2-pounds, earning them the second place prize money and also an additional $500 for catching the biggest fish of the tournament.

“We only caught one fish today, but it was the right one,” Ed Moore said with a smile.

Third place in the tournament had a local flair, with Max Howard of Rising Sun and his teammate, Eean Bailey of Aurora, weighing in 81.1-pounds of catfish to earn the $1,000 prize. Over the two days, the team caught 13 fish.

Fourth place was earned by the team of Willie Smith and Drew Benner of Frankfort, Ohio with 77.7-pounds; and fifth place went to the Bloomingdale, Indiana team of Josh and Jeff Schmeltz with a two-day total of 75.25-pounds.

Overall the anglers had high marks for Vevay’s first event, and with big prize money and lots of big catfish, the Vevay stop figures to become a regular on the Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail.

- Pat Lanman