Aaron Wheatley, founder of Monsters on the Ohio catfishing tournament, gets to do something he’s never done before when the event returns this October after skipping a year for Covid-19: actually fish in the tournament.
Wheatley announced on Facebook recently that after 12 years of being the tournament director, he will be handing over the responsibilities to two anglers he met through Monsters: Craig Collings and David Studebaker.
“I have complete and total trust in Craig and David and I know they will do a great job,” Wheatley told Owensboro Times. “They’ve fished this tournament eight years, so they know how we run things. They’ve been to the captains’ meetings, they’ve seen the weigh-ins, they know how we handle parking all those boats at English Park. They’ve seen it all. One year they even helped hang banners before the captains’ meeting. And they do their weigh-ins at their series the same way we do.”
After competing in Monsters and several other catfishing tournaments, Collings and Studebaker started their own tournament series that currently includes seven other events. Monsters on the Ohio will now be part of that series.
“I’ve just reached a point in my life where I want to spend more time with friends and family, especially my grandkids,” Wheatley said. “I’ll still fish and be involved. And I’ll continue to fight for catfish regulations in Kentucky waters like I always have, but it’s time for me to step down.”
At first, Wheatley considered shutting down the tournament altogether. But when Collings and Studebaker caught wind of that, they offered to step in.
“I didn’t go asking for this,” Wheatley said. “But they came to me with the idea to keep it going under their leadership. They said, ‘Aaron, we know you put a lot of work into this. And we know what it means to your city. Why don’t you let us come down and manage it, and then you can enjoy it.’ So I feel like having them take over is a gift that was given to me.”
Wheatley said it’s unbelievable how big the tournament grew in 12 years.
“The City of Owensboro, Daviess County, Tyler Boats, and other local sponsors make it what it is and the volunteer crew we have that work this tournament every year make it special too,” he said. “We’ve built something that brings fishermen and women from all over the country to enjoy our riverfront. And now these guys will keep it going.”
Since announcing on Facebook, Wheatley has gotten comments from people from California to Texas and North Carolina thanking him for his commitment and congratulating him for keeping the tournament going, which highlights another aspect of the tournament Aaron loves.
“Running Monsters helped build a ton of great relationships in the fishing community from all over the country,” he said. “There’s only three or four guys out there I would completely trust to take this tournament over, but they’ll do a great job keeping it growing.”
Looking back, Wheatley says it’s been a lot of work, but it’s also something to be proud of.
“The city, the county, the sponsors, the volunteers, we’ve all built something that became the standard for catfishing tournaments across the country,” he said. “Monsters was not the first catfishing tournament or the biggest, but we were the first to do it right, in my opinion. And that’s why so many teams come back year after year.”
Thanks to Collings and Studebaker, they’ll continue to come.
Monsters on the Ohio returns Oct. 9 at English Park.
This year, Wheatley will help Collings and Studebaker as they take control to ensure a smooth transition, but when the boats are launched that morning as the tournament begins, Aaron plans to be chasing monsters like the rest of the participants.
“The best part of Monsters for me is that it’s a great event for the whole family. Over the past 12 years I’ve seen so many smiles on kids’ faces when these guys hold those monster cats up at the weigh-in,” he said. “I’ve had so many great experiences with Monsters. Running this tournament has taught me about so much more than just fishing. It’s taught me about leadership and what you can accomplish by working together. But I’m 51 years old now, and it’s time for me to enjoy life more with my friends and family and not be as busy as I have been the past 12 years.”