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Fishing: Dixon man snags 2nd place, big fish; Rock Falls duo wins tourney title

Created: Saturday, June 9, 2012 8:06 p.m. CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 1:20 p.m. CDT

Traditionally, a new boat is christened by smashing a champagne bottle across the bow. Dixon's Mike Thomas found a more satisfying – and lucrative – way Saturday.

Mike and his wife Melissa snagged a 23.81-pound flathead catfish during the Cabela's King Kat Tournament Super Event on the Rock River, earning the "big fish" bonus of $1,360 and a fishing rod engraved with his accomplishment. The fish was so big that the Thomases took second place overall, as their three fish weighed in at 28.03 pounds – earning them another $2,000.

And it was all done in a boat Thomas bought Friday.

"I told him as much as that boat cost, the fish should just jump right in," Melissa said with a laugh. "We only had caught two small fish all day, but we finally got a big one."

The 23.81-pounder was nearly twice the size of last year's big fish, a 12.65-pounder reeled in by Erie's Brett Harrison.

Mike spent the day fishing in Erie, using goldfish as bait. After a day without much success, the Thomases decided to drop anchor and try one more spot with about an hour remaining in the tournament.

"That last stop was definitely worth it," Mike said. "I was fishing near a tree, and I couldn't tell how big the fish was because it got caught up in the tree as I was bringing it in. I had no idea what I had on there, but Melissa thought it was a big one."

"At first, I thought it was a big turtle," Melissa added, "because we caught one of those in the first 20 minutes this morning. But as it got closer [to the boat], I knew it definitely wasn't a turtle."

Mike has been fishing his whole life, and has competed in the Cabela's King Kat Tournament all 4 years its been in Dixon. Even with ninth- and 10th-place finishes already under his belt the first 2 years, he still knew he had something special in his hands as he wrestled the behemoth into his brand new boat.

"Everybody wants to stand up there [on stage] and hold up a fish like that," he said. "Last year, I didn't catch any fish; this definitely makes up for that."

Two other locals won the $4,400 top prize, as Bruce and Ray Sanders of Rock Falls caught five fish totaling 36.09 pounds. The duo spent the day fishing in 10 to 14 feet of water near the damn below Prophetstown, using bullheads and bluegills as bait.

After teams struggled under tough conditions the last couple of years at the Dixon tournament, sunny skies and warm weather turned Saturday into an ideal day on the Rock River. The Sanderses, who took fourth last year in Dixon and fifth at the season-ending King Kat Classic in Burlington, Iowa, caught eight fish on the day and figured out early on what the key to success was going to be.

"The water was a lot lower than usual, and that's better for flatheads," Ray explained. "The channel cats weren't biting at all, so we decided to stick with the flatheads – and I'm glad we did, because it really worked out for us. Had we tried the channels, we wouldn't even have weighed in."

Ray and Bruce have spent much of their lives fishing on the Rock River, and Ray has had plenty of success in that same spot before.

But winning a tournament so close to their hometown was something neither man had really thought about until their names were called Saturday afternoon.

"It's definitely special," Bruce said. "Winning any tournament is great, but this one means so much."

"I've caught a lot of fish downriver and upriver on the Rock," Ray added, "but to do so well today, when it really counts, is the best feeling in the world."

The total purse in the King Kat Super Event was $13,000, with the top 10 teams earning payouts and automatic berths in this year's Classic in Alabama at the end of the summer.

Third place was worth $1,200 and went to Bobby Lee and Zac Sharp of Dahinda and Knoxville, IL, with a total weight of 25.88 pounds. Erie's Nick Stern and Jesse Ryan won $1,000 for fourth place with 23.63 pounds of fish, and Dave Melchert and Mike Presson of LeClaire, Iowa, took fifth place and $800 with a total weight of 23.48 pounds.

Rock Falls' David Galvan and Sterling's Tom Walker took sixth ($600, 23.21 pounds); Decatur's David Sample and Clint Paradee placed seventh ($500, 22.65 pounds); Erie's Larry Morine and Fenton's Ray Graham, who tied for second last year, were eighth ($400, 22.59 pounds); Ken Lutrell of LaPlace and Bryan Espy or Moroa finished ninth ($350, 22.50 pounds); and Erie's Adam Tieman and Joseph Morine took 10th ($300, 21.72 pounds).

King Kat Super Event

Teams: 60 (46 weighed in with fish)

Total purse: $13,000 (1st place, $4,400; 2nd place, $2,2000; 3rd place, $1,200; 4th place, $1,000)

Winners: Bruce & Ray Sanders, Rock Falls, 5 fish weighing 36.09 pounds

Runners-up: Mike & Melissa Thomas, Dixon, 3 fish weighing 28.03 pounds

Biggest fish: Mike Thomas, Dixon, 23.81 pounds

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