WILTON — Nightcrawlers and live perch squirmed at the end of hooks. Fishing lines zipped through the air before plopping into the murky waters of the Missouri River.
Following the boom of a gun shot, these were the sights that signaled the start of the Wilton Boat Club's overnight catfish tournament Saturday night, which sent 15 boats racing across the river to find fishing spots while avoiding branches and logs along the way.
"Get 'em, get 'em, get 'em. Ah just missed him," one competitor, Dale Allison said while reeling in the fishing line. "I have a feeling that this trash in the river will be a problem tonight."
The tournament sent teams of fishermen out on the Missouri River near Wilton, 20 miles south of Columbia, to see who could catch the most catfish by weight in a competition lasting from 7 p.m. Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday. The largest single catfish also won a cash prize. But most teams didn't catch as many fish as they had hoped.
The event was the the Wilton Boat Club's first overnight tournament. Club president Bryan Crump said he had expected 30 boats to enter the contest, but forcasts for high water levels kept some people home.
"When the river gets that high, it spooks people from coming out," Crump said. "It causes debris to fall in the river and people don't want to wreck their boats. It kind of hurt not to have boats enter as expected."
Many competitors snapped their fishing lines on the branches and other debris in the river, forcing many of them to move several times before finding an adequate fishing spot. Crump said a 6- to 8-inch fall in the water level Saturday made it even harder to catch fish.
Thirty minutes before the weigh-in Sunday morning, participants began to return to the boat dock. Seven teams came back empty-handed. Some participants trudged up the ramp shaking their heads after fishing for 14 hours with no fish to show for it.
Allison and his partner Juile Rybolt, both from Hallsville, were among the competitors unable to haul in any catfish.
"We hooked about five fish, but they all got away," Allison said.
Allison has fished on the Missouri River for 15 years, but Saturday night he ran into difficulties. His fishing rods got caught on tree limbs and his live bait died.
"If we would have kept the perch alive we would've done good," he said.
At the weigh-in, some competitors had full nets of flopping fish. There was a $1,000 dollar cash prize for the competitor who had the largest total weight of a maximum of 10 fish, and a $250 cash prize for the single biggest fish.
Crump and his partner Tim Sherman won the $1,000 prize, weighing in 10 fish at a combined weight of 48.6 pounds. According to Crump, they fished in spots with fallen logs and log jams because these spots give fish a place to hide and ambush their prey.
Overall, Sherman and Crump caught 15 fish which gave them the advantage to toss out the five smallest. Crump said he stayed awake the whole 14 hours and it sowed in his blood-shot eyes.
"We were catching fish all night which helped us stay awake," Crump said. "A lot of caffeinated beverages helped, too."
Justin Cook and Alex Palsmeyer, competitors from Fayette, managed to haul in a 25.8-pound blue catfish to claim the $250 prize. Cook said he used frozen fish bait or "skip jack shad" to catch the winning fish and that it was a pretty easy catch. Despite winning the prize, Cook and Palsmeyer ran into difficulties. He said that their fishing lines broke off six times because the lines got caught in the floating brush in the river. Cook said at one point a 60-foot log landed in their boat, causing them to pull the anchor and move to a different spot.
"This was one of the roughest nights of fishing I have ever had," Cook said. "We were disappointed that we didn't catch as many fish as we wanted."
Despite a lower turnout than expected, Crump said he plans on having another overnight tournament next year.
"Hopefully the river will cooperate with us next year so we can have a better turnout," Crump said.