The Cats Incredible Catfish Tournament is in trouble, and without an influx of teams signing up for the July 27-28 event, organizers say they might cancel the tourney.
Cats Incredible is open to 125 two-person teams.
An East Grand Forks fixture since 1988, Cats Incredible has endured some rough waters in recent years. In 2013, the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, which ran the tournament, was ready to get out of the tournament game and pull the plug before the East Grand Forks firefighters union stepped in to rescue Cats Incredible.
The International Association of Firefighters Local 3423 has run the tournament ever since.
During Cats Incredible’s heydays, organizers conducted a lottery to select participants because the number of potential entrants exceeded the tournament’s capacity.
At one time, the tournament was open to 150 two-person teams, and there regularly was a waiting list of teams ready to step in if a team canceled.
This year, by comparison, only 25 teams had signed up for Cats Incredible as of Monday, June 17, said Jeff Anderson, a fire department employee and tournament organizer.
That means 100 tournament slots haven’t been filled. Normally, about 60 teams have signed up for Cats Incredible by this time, Anderson said.
“The tournament is in jeopardy if we don’t get an increase by early July,” he said. “There’s a possibility it could be postponed.”
Postponed in this case means called off for the year. And perhaps longer.
“That’s kind of where we’re at,” Anderson said. “We want to get the word out, and maybe get some people who are kind of procrastinating to get off their butts and get their entries in.
“It takes a certain amount of (teams) to make it function.”
Anderson says he’s not sure why entries are lagging this year. Red River catfish guide Brad Durick organizes a smaller event, the Scheels Boundary Battle Catfish Tournament, that reached its 50-team capacity early in April.
That tournament is set for Saturday and Sunday, June 29-30.
Unlike Cats Incredible, the Boundary Battle tournament allows a third person age 16 or younger to be in the boat as long as only two people are fishing and have no more than four lines in the water. That might be more attractive to families, Anderson says, and perhaps is a policy Cats Incredible organizers should consider.
The Boundary Battle tournament also has a two-day payout, which means prize money for each day of the tournament and not payouts limited to both days’ weights.
Another big difference: The Boundary Battle moves from the North Landing below Riverside Dam for the first day of the tournament to the LaFave Park boat ramp in East Grand Forks for the second day.
Many teams that faithfully fished Cats Incredible quit the tournament after organizers opted to pull the river below Riverside Dam from tournament boundaries because of state rules prohibiting the transport of water and fish from the Grand Forks side of the river to tournament headquarters in East Grand Forks. Cats Incredible organizers wanted to keep the weigh-in event anchored in East Grand Forks, so they extended the south boundaries to compensate for excluding the river below the dam.
By switching sites each day, Boundary Battle organizers give teams a chance to fish both sides of the dam.
A look at the Facebook pages for each of the tournaments also tells a story. The Boundary Battle maintains an active social media presence, with regular Facebook updates, even though the tournament filled to capacity more than two months ago.
Cats Incredible, by comparison, had a posting March 20 indicating entries for this year’s tournament were being accepted. There were no further postings until this week, when organizers put out the word the tournament is in jeopardy.
Despite a strong brand, Cats Incredible isn’t marketed as well as it could be, and the name alone obviously no longer is enough to get teams onboard.
Anderson said Cats Incredible organizers will continue to discuss options for salvaging the tournament. They’ll have to make a decision by early July, he says, to give longtime teams traveling from out of state enough time to make alternate plans if Cats Incredible doesn’t happen.
“There’s a lot of ideas out there,” Anderson said. “Maybe we have to rethink the tournament a little bit and probably make it cater more to the people than just the tournament fishermen — I don’t know.”
Better marketing would be a good first step; the tournament is worth saving.
In the meantime, anglers thinking about fishing Cats Incredible should get off the fence and sign up before it’s too late; the entry fee is $230 per two-person team.