By Maia Bronfman
VIDALIA, The. — Allan Pettis tried to convince his grandson, Levi Fitt, that the bloody black eye lying on the rock under the twin bridges was Japanese sushi. The midday sun was blocked by the bridge, so the fish remains hadn’t really started to rot yet.
“You want something to eat?” Pettis said.
But Levi just squirmed and screwed up his face, then walked up the bank of the Vidalia River toward Minneapolis to throw rocks at pigeons.
Keisha Fitt, Levi’s mom, kept her cross-lined poles that sank in the river. They were looking for bottom feeders during the first ever Miss-Lou Rod N’ Reel Cat Fishing Tournament on August 13, organized by Redneck Adventures and led by Levi’s dad, Billy Fitt.
Levi’s twin brother, Leighton, had also left his line unattended. He was downriver to New Orleans helping a couple, who weren’t in the tournament, untie his line. But they were too close to the boat ramp, Keisha said. They would just get stuck again.
Braxton Hicks was running up and down the boat ramp with a handheld fan but no wand. His father, Bobby Hicks, was the announcer and was working behind a technical facility near a bridge pylon at the top of the ramp.
Braxton couldn’t fish without a rod, but he sat with the Fitts as they waited on their line, sharing his fan with Levi.
Something took a piece of Levi’s bait but didn’t catch on the hook. Maybe they needed big worms instead of fish scraps. With the size of his hooks, nightcrawlers would be the only option, Keisha said.
They eventually abandoned their lines, but not to go for the bait. Levi and Leighton took the stage near the tower during broadcast periods between announcements. Keisha and Pettis sat nearby, listening to the onstage antics of the seven-year-olds and Jimmy Allgood, or “Jim Bob.”
“And how long did it take you to grow to eight feet tall?” Allgood asked Levi over the hum of air traffic and a generator, which powered the broadcast.
In the next commercial break, Keisha took the twins home for a two-hour nap before the final weigh-in at 5:00 p.m.
Nine teams of four or fewer were assembled for the tournament’s conclusion. It wasn’t on the scale of the bass fishing tournaments Allgood usually hosts, nor were the winnings as extravagant.
However, the gift was generous, since it had slightly exceeded the estimate of the number of participants.
“Just like riding barrels and shooting squirrels, it’s all going to get competitive,” said co-host Charlie Anderson. The bass sport and the catfish sport are at different stages of development.
There’s more rhyme and reason to bass fishing, Anderson said, than golf.
With catfishing, there is more brutality. it’s hard. The water is different. You’re fighting the elements, she said.
“If cat fishing is like hillbilly rock,” Allgood said, “then bass fishing is like quiet country.”
“Or even jazz,” Anderson added.
Bass anglers often wear matching uniforms and matching hats. They drive $75,000 boats coupled to $100,000 trucks.
Catfishers drive the same trucks, but attached to the ends of them may be little aluminum rigs for no more than $30,000.
“Everyone could have F-250s,” Allgood said.
But there is little overlap between those who catch bass and those who catch catfish.
Shelby Carrington and her father Casey Carrington of Forrest Hill, Louisiana, won as a team with Jason Hippler of Toledo Bend, Louisiana.
Casey and Hippler returned home from a platform off the coast of Colombia near Cartagena in early August. They had never fished competitively before, but found gold just south of their launch point near three rivers.
“It’s actually a funny story,” Casey said.
“We were near a dam, and these people warned us to back off. So, we started moving and we crossed it,” she said.
It was a school of about a hundred catfish, not bottom-feeding as usual. The team viewed them all through their Garmin LiveScope, suspended 40 feet from the bottom of 75 feet.
Neither Casey nor Hippler had ever seen catfish in the school so big, so far off the bottom. And neither Casey nor Hippler could explain why.
The catfish in Red River, Casey’s home turf, have never acted like this. They sit low, like logs, Hippler said. They are not like basses that run in a zigzag like a more aggressive presentation.
Shelby caught the heaviest fish, 29.35 pounds, just as they were about to pack up in the early afternoon. It was enough to secure first place for £7.55.
The polo shirts that Allgood gave out to the winners were hybrids. They weren’t quite out to sea, and they weren’t quite low.
Below are the results of the inaugural Rod N’ Reel catfishing tournament on Saturday.
- First Place: Shelby Carrington, Casey Carrington, and Jason Hippler
- Second place: Charlie Hutchins and Chris Sisk
- Third place: David Reed, Nick Mitchell