Big Fish goes to Ron and Wanda Barner.
The King Kat Tournament Trail closed out the 2021 season on the Red River Waterway. Catfish anglers from 14 states traveled to Natchitoches, LA for the year-ending Championship event presented by Bass Pro Shops Cabela’s. The Red River Waterway Commission hosted 22 teams that gathered to test their catfishing skills against other anglers and Mother Nature in an attempt to win against the best of the best in the 2021 Classic.
Anglers fishing the Nov. 5 – 6 event were vying for $127,000 in cash and prizes, including a Lowe Boat Package valued at $40,000, and an opportunity to be crowned as Classic Champions.
Anglers found the waters of the Red River Waterway to be a little stained, but nice fall weather made for great fishing conditions. The air temperature was in the low 40s to begin each day but warmed to the high 50’s both days. The winds were light with sunshine on Friday but cloudy on Saturday.
After a tough bite during prefishing days, day one ended with Charles Blair, Alex Nagy, and Doug Vaughan sitting in the Smooth Moves hot seats. They were leading the day-one competition with 82.88 pounds in the 3-fish competition. Close behind in second place were Ron and Wanda Barner with a total weight of 64.16 pounds that included Big Kat of the day at 50.26 pounds. The big blue put the husband/wife team in the running for the One Bite One Boat Challenge sponsored by Lowe Boats.
Teaming up to take the top spot were Charles Blair, Alex Nagy, and Doug Vaughan. The Altenburg, MO team led the competition after day one and added 61.78 pounds on day two to claim the Championship with 144.66 pounds and earn the $40,000 Lowe Boat Package. They also won 2nd place in the Lowe Boats One Bite One Boat Big Fish competition to add $3,000 to their payday.
The team drove through the night on Tuesday to arrive in Natchitoches around 7:00 am on Wednesday. They went straight to the water and started picking it apart. They studied water levels, temps, current, and any other information they could.
“We had done some research on the way down,” recalled Nagy. “When put to the test, our research ended up being small fish, lots of water, and a cold front. So before we put rods in the water on Wednesday we backed down to our Rippin Lips Fishing
Super Cat mediums. We rigged with 5/0 hooks and bait that ranged from shad, livers, gizzards, cheese, and believe it or not stink bait. We served up a buffet to see what these small fish wanted.”
The team quickly discovered that it was shad that the fish wanted. They pinned 2 to 3 baby shad on a hook and got a few bites and caught one small fish. They went back to the hotel to regroup as it was raining and a developing cold front was making them think the bite would pick up.
“On our second day of prefishing we went to another area and tried a few different tactics,” continued Nagy. “We finally caught a 10-pound blue cat at 3:45 pm.”
Encouraged, the team went back to the hotel and rigged their Rippin Lip HD rods with 8/0 tournament-grade circle hooks. They were sure that they would need heavier tackle and bigger bait if they want to contend.
“On tournament day 1 we went to an area that we thought could produce bigger fish after a cold front,” explained Nagy. “The sun was up and we went to shallow water. We started catching fish, ending up with 25 fish for the day. Our biggest 3 weighed 82 pounds to take the day 1 lead.”
Having been in this position at Cape Girardeau and getting knocked out of 2nd place they were a little worried. They set a new game plan for day two. Their number one goal was to just keep the bait in the water.
“We targeted another area similar to day 1 and hoped we could pick up a few good fish,” Nagy said. “The day started slow but we finally started figuring out what they wanted. We kept bait in the water slowly changing minor things to get bigger fish to bite, things that we have learned over the years. Finally, at 2:10 pm, 20 minutes before we need to reel up and make sure we hit the weigh-in line at 4:00 pm, our Rippin Lips Super Cat HD folds over and starts peeling drag! It was a 29-pound blue cat and it replaced our 12-pound small fish for the day.”
“There is one thing I can tell you about the Red River Waterway,” concluded Nagy. “The blues fight harder pound for pound than any other blue cat fishery in the country. I will be back!”
Nagy also sent a big thank you to the sponsors that have always supported them. SeaArk Boats, Suzuki Outboards, Twisted Cat Outdoors, Pro guide Batteries, Smooth Moves Seats, Rippin Lips Fishing, Bluff City Outdoors, Marine Master Trailers, Off Shore Tackle, Tree Line Trimming and Removal, Monster Rod Holders, Cat River Anchors, Chiller Bait Tank, Off Shore Tackle, Gorilla Gloves, and Dave’s Marine.
The runner-up spot went to Bryan St Ama from Graford, TX, and Coia Sneed from Sanger, TX. They had a two-day total weight of 104.05 pounds to earn the second-place check of $5,000.
The team arrived on Wednesday preceding the tournament to prefish. They found some fish and set a strategy for day one that helped put them in third place with 44.93 pounds after day one.
“We had a great practice leading up to the tournament,” reported St Ama. “We targeted oxbows with the deeper main channels and fished the flats and channel ledges. Our bait of choice was cut skipjack. We used B’n’M Rods to pull parks planer boards. The fish were scattered throughout the day from 4 to 32 feet deep. We landed our bigger fish in 6-foot water adjacent to the channel.”
Both anglers thanked their wives for supporting them in their fishing endeavors. St Ama added a special thanks to SeaArk Boats, B’n’M poles, Parks Planer Boards, and Monster Rod Holders for their support.
“We had a great time,” concluded St Ama. “The tournament location in Natchitoches is top-notch!”
Lonnie Fountain from Ranger, GA, and Donnie Fountain from Jasper, GA teamed up to bring in a two-day weight of 87.44 pounds. The Georgia brothers earned a third-place check of $4,000. They added $500 for 5th big fish, $2,000 for 1st place in the Region 4 points race, $400 for Sportsmen of the Year, $300 Smooth Moves Seats, and $1,000 for 2nd place in the Region 1 points race for a total of $8,200.
Lonnie and Donnie started prefishing on Sunday and found some fish. They marked some fish in deep holes on Monday as well. Having found some fish to target, they left them alone and never put a hook in those holes the rest of the week. They used cut skipjack all week long with big heads performing the best.
The brothers drifted all week while suspending baits. They said the day one bite turned on early as they fished the holes where they marked fish on Monday.
“The day 2 bite was also early,” said Donnie. “It continued until the sun came out and the deep water bite shut down. We hooked up on a couple of really good fish throughout the tournament that came unhooked. They could have potentially changed our results at the weigh-in.”
The brothers indicated that they enjoyed their time on the Red River. They caught lots of fish and would definitely come back to Natchitoches and fish again.”
Donnie and Lonnie were very proud to receive the King Kat Sportsman of the Year award. They have been devoted to fishing the trail for many years and have put in a lot of time fishing different waters. They have always been strong competitors around the national circuit. The brothers fished all four regions this season and stayed competitive in all of them.
They concluded by thanking their sponsors, Pipeline Tackle, Driftmaster Rod Holders, Anvil Rods, Bloodline Tackle, Bottom Dwellers Tackle, and Anchor Wizards.
Levi Sasse teamed up with Zac Kopp to bring 74.85 pounds to the scales. The Vandalia, IL team earned $3,000 for the fourth spot and added $1,000 for winning 2nd place in the Region 3 points race.
“What a week in Natchitoches, Louisiana,” stated Kopp in a Facebook post. “We spent the week on the Red River fishing the Cabela’s King Kat Classic. All the critters down here have big teeth! The bite was slow with the cold front that followed us down but we ended up catching a few in the mid 20’s. Great trip, met new people, and fished new waters.”
Fifth Place and Big Fish
The husband/wife team of Ron and Wanda Barner finished with a total weight of 74.3 pounds to claim the 5th place spot and earn a check for $2,000. The Wheatland, MO team’s bag had Big Kat of the tournament which earned them the top spot in the Lowe Boats One Bite One Boat Challenge. The 50.26-pound blue that they caught on day one earned them title to a 20-foot Catfish Model Lowe Boat complete with a 150 HP Mercury engine, trolling motor, electronics, onboard charger, Power Pole, and Smooth Move Seats valued at $40,000.
“We had fished all week and only caught a drum,” recalled Wanda. “Day one of the tournament we fished in Pool 3, down from Grand Ecore boat ramp. We pulled up on a bank in a couple of spots with no luck. By that time the clouds had cleared and the sun and wind came up so we started pulling planer boards.”
Around 10:00 AM the team caught their first fish. Then between 11:30 and 12:00, Wanda was reeling in a small fish when the big blue hit the middle rod. Ron passed that rod to Wanda as he finished reeling in the small fish.
“The big fish fought really hard” explained Wanda. “I was thinking it might be an alligator because I wasn’t expecting big fish in this area. I was pleasantly surprised. We were fishing in 25 feet of water using shad and skipjack for bait. The big fish bit on shad gut.”
Wanda commented that the second day was cloudy and they think it sent the fish back in the mud. The fish they caught were covered in mud, including their backs.
“We had a really good time in Louisiana,” continued Wanda. “We don’t know why, but we were tickled that the Lord allowed us to catch that 50+ on the first day of the tournament. I think we were in shock. If there had been anyone around they could have heard me yell.”
“We want to thank Natchitoches for bringing Cabela’s King Kat to the 2021 National Championship and for making us feel so welcome,” concluded Wanda. “And to Midway RV Park and Marina for being so accommodating to us. The anglers that fish this tournament trail have become extended family. We love visiting with them each time we meet and making new friends to add to that family. Finally, we want to give a big shout-out to Cory Ramsey and Chris Ramsey for doing a great job.”
Youth Angler of the Year
The Youth Angler of the Year award went to 15-year-old Jordon Rose for the second year in a row. He has been recreational fishing with his dad, Wade Rose since he was big enough to hold a fishing pole. He and his dad have developed a love for tournament fishing and have fished several King Kat events, including the last two Classics.
Anglers came to Natchitoches, LA from 14 states to compete in the Classic. Many of them took home checks for a total payback of over $127,000.00 for the event. Many more were totally impressed with the location and vowed to return in the future.
“Special thanks to Eric and the team from Red River Waterway Commission for hosting the event,” said Tournament Operations Manager, Darrell Van Vactor. “Natchitoches is one of the most beautiful settings we have ever visited with a King Kat event. The area is not only rich in natural history but the most beautiful riverfront I have ever visited.”
“We also want to thank the fisheries crew,” concluded Van Vactor. “They took all the fish safely back to the Red River after weigh-in, helping to preserve our catfish population.”
Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail sponsors include Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s, Mercury Marine, Mustad Hooks, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Gamma Line, Driftmaster Rod Holders, Ego Nets, EFX Graphics, Catfish Now, Fin n’ Frames, Cat River Anchors, Smooth Move Boat Seats, Power-Pole, Lowe Boats, Crockett Creek Beef Jerky, Pesky Bug Repellant, Costa Del Mar, Daisy Air Rifles, and Garmin.