The final Monsters on the Ohio catfishing tournament could be Oct. 13, depending on how the Kentucky Fish & Wildlife commission votes on Friday.
Held at Owensboro’s English Park, Monsters on the Ohio has grown to become one of the largest catfishing tournaments in the country thanks to the leadership of local catfishing enthusiast Aaron Wheatley.
The growth of the tournament over the past 9 years also coincided with the revitalization of downtown Owensboro and Smothers Park, which helped solidify Monsters as an annual destination for hundreds of teams of fishermen each October.
But that could all be changing.
The problem, according to Wheatley, is that state regulations are not being enforced, allowing the population of large catfish in the Ohio to be drastically depleted by commercial fisherman who take more than legal limits of trophy catfish to paylakes — some of them even out of state.
Speaking from personal experience, Wheatley said he caught 37 catfish more than 50 pounds in the Newburgh pool (located between Cannelton and Newburgh and including the Owensboro riverfront) the year Kentucky statewide regulations for catfish went into effect in 2014.
In the last 14 months, though, he has not caught a single catfish over 50 pounds, and he guessed he’s been fishing more than 200 times in that span — that is why Wheatley said he has become a leading proponent to Kentucky legislature to make existing catfishing regulations into state law so they can be better enforced.
For example, in the past few months, Wheatley has been checked twice by Indiana Fish and Wildlife, but never by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. Other Kentucky fisherman report the same issue.
“Rod and reel anglers of Kentucky feel conservation efforts need to be enforced,” Wheatley said. “We’re not trying to close paylakes or end commercial fishermen. We just want regulations enforced. There needs to be consistency. It needs to be uniform all up and down the Ohio.”
The regulations rod and reel anglers of Kentucky hope to see passed into law are:
• no transportation of live catfish across state lines
• regulating paylakes
• 1 over 35” limit on rod and reel anglers in Kentucky
• tracking commercial fisherman
Friday, the Fish and Wildlife commission will vote to send the regulations on to state legislature for a vote to make those regulations into state law.
That, Wheatley said, will be the deciding point for the future of the tournament.
“If regulations are not enforced and large catfish continue to dwindle, the tournament will no longer continue after this year,” he said. “We’ve been preaching conservation for 9 years. At some point, you have got to draw a line in the sand. If these regulations don’t pass, there’s no point in having a tournament. If regulations aren’t enforced, we can longer invite anglers from California to Florida to come to Owensboro for this tournament. It just doesn’t make sense.”