Ashland County Wildlife Conservation League catfish tournament

A child holds a fish her father caught during Saturday's catfish tournament. 

ASHLAND — A combination of chicken breast, cherry Kool-Aid and garlic drew in catfish at Ashland County Wildlife Conservation League’s fifth and final catfish tournament of the year on Saturday.

“Smelly side of the pond catches the fish,” said Rodney Holsinger, one of the designated fish weighers. 

While fewer fish were caught at Saturday's tournament than others this year, the side of the pond using the aforementioned concoction as bait did indeed catch the most fish. 

This year’s tournaments began in May and occurred throughout the summer months. Average attendance has been approximately 50-60 people per tournament, ACWCL president Ed Britton said, however a little more than 30 people attended Saturday’s tournament. 

ACWCL has been doing catfish tournaments for approximately a decade, and the organization itself is nearing its 100th year, Britton said. The conservation league is a non-profit organization funded by memberships, barn rentals, donations and special events.

The ACWCL tournament is catch and release, and open to the public — not only ACWCL members.

People began showing up Saturday as early as 4:30 p.m. ahead of the 6 p.m. tournament start time. Fishing lasted until 11 p.m., with biggest weight, smallest length and bounty fish payouts (which are dependent on the money taken in through registration).

“We have fish that are in these ponds that are tagged, and they have numbers on them," ACWL secretary Carmen Armstrong said regarding the bounty fish. "So, we pick a number, say it's number 15. If somebody pulls that fish in and there’s a tag with a number 15 on it, then they would win the pot of money."

The bounty payouts this year have typically been between $200-800, Armstrong said.

Participants also had the opportunity to win door prizes every hour of the tournament. ACWCL gave out five door prizes total (fishing poles, nets, memberships) by picking raffle numbers given to each participant upon registration. 

Participation cost $10 per pole, Armstrong said. And, there are no age restrictions, so long as the participant is able to fish by themselves. (Young children can assist with no extra charge.)

Before the tournament began, Holsinger — one of the designated fish weighers — walked the grounds and rounded up participants who mistakenly went to set up by the ponds early.

Several “early-out” tickets were pulled before the tournament, and those lucky participants were able to pick their spot on the ponds approximately 10 minutes before the 6 p.m. start. 

When 6 p.m. hit, the others raced to secure the remaining areas.

Participants are allowed to move spots during the tournament, Holsinger said, but they must return the fish they catch to the same pond, so as to not disrupt the population counts.

Participants were not allowed to use live bait because of the potential for it to disrupt the pond ecosystems. 

“(The bait) can live and spawn in there and cause big problems,” Holsinger said. 

ACWCL also restricts the hooks participants can use to minimize harm to the fish. 

Stainless steel hooks are prohibited because they will not disintegrate if they get left in fish, and treble hooks (three hooks with a single eye) are prohibited because they cause too deep of cuts, Holsinger said. 

While catfish tournaments have concluded this year, people who have Conservation League memberships ($25 per year per family) can fish in the ponds beyond tournament times. ACWCL has other events scheduled through the fall and winter, and it hosts Muzzleloader Club and a Bow Hunter Club. 

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.