Outdoors / Sports

Brooke Wilkins, left, helps her tournament partner David Shipman hold up a big catfish just before taking it to the scales during Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest event on the Mississippi River, June 14 2014. (Bryan Brasher/The Commercial Appeal/MCT)

Corinth, Miss., rapidly becoming known as 'Catfish USA'

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Catfish tournament veteran Larry Muse is the furthest thing from a boastful person.

He always says "please" and "yes sir" and "thank you," and he's always happy to help young anglers hone their skills so they become more competitive on the tournament trail.

But on one issue, Muse doesn't mind blowing his own horn. He wants to make sure people remember the 101.5-pound blue catfish he landed during the Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest national championship on Wilson Lake in 2008.

Not only does he want his fish remembered, Muse wants it noted that only three catfish have topped 100 pounds in Big Cat Quest events -- and two of those giants were caught by anglers who live in his beloved hometown of Corinth, Mississippi.

The other two monsters were caught by Corinth angler Phil King and Missouri angler Cary Winchester.

Corinth, a city in Alcorn County with a population of 14,573, had already been dubbed "Catfish USA" with anglers like Muse, David Shipman, Tim Haynie and Phil King calling it home. Then last week 20-year-old business owner Brooke Wilkins added her name to the list, joining forces with Shipman to win the Big Cat Quest event on the Mississippi River from Tunica River Park.

It's a catfish culture that Muse said starts early for Corinth residents.

"I think it's our proximity to the Tennessee River, and we all grew up fishing below Pickwick Dam," Muse said. "Just about every one of the guys from Corinth who fish these tournaments, I can remember seeing them in the boat with their daddies and granddaddies when we were all kids. It starts early here."

Muse said most of the Corinth anglers started young learning a technique called "bumping bottom" below Pickwick Dam. Now they're applying modern technology to that tactic, and the results have been amazing.

Muse recalled a past catfish tournament in Clarksville, Tennessee, with a field of 80 boats. Eight of the top 10 spots went to teams from Corinth -- and there were only eight Corinth boats in the tournament.

"Think about that," Muse said. "Eight boats from Corinth in the whole field, and they all made the top 10. That's real solid."

Last week's event out of Tunica also had a distinct Corinth flavor near the top of the standings, as Shipman and Wilkins took first with 128.70 and Muse teamed with fellow Corinth anglers Dino Meador and Frank Meador to finish second with 112.20.

"I've just always loved to fish," said Wilkins, who owns the restaurant Martha's Menu in Corinth. "David (Shipman)'s been coming into my restaurant for a long time, so we just decided to see if we made a good team. It's been a lot of fun."

Perhaps the biggest honor involving a team of Corinth anglers came in 2011 when Haynie, King and Shipman were invited to represent the United States in the World Catfish Classic on the Ebro River in Chiprana, Spain.

While fishing waters they had never seen before and targeting species of catfish that aren't likely to show up below Pickwick Dam, they missed claiming the world title by 1 pound, 3 ounces.

If ever there was a second-place finish to be proud of, that was it.

"That was kind of a unique deal because I was the runner. I couldn't touch a reel-and-rod," Shipman said. "They were fishing off the bank. So it was my job to take a baited hook out in a row boat with a depth finder to look for those big Wells catfish and drop the bait on one of them. I feel like I did a pretty good job."

Still, finishing second in the world isn't the accomplishment Shipman is most proud of. He's most proud of holding the Big Cat Quest record for heaviest five-fish stringer caught in a competitive event.

The five fish, which were caught from Alabama's Wheeler Lake, weighed 270.95 pounds -- and could have weighed more.

"At 10 o'clock that morning, I had three 60s, a 30 and a 14 in the live well, and I decided to go ahead and weigh some of them because I didn't want them to die," Shipman said. "I weighed the three 60s and then went ahead and weighed the 30 -- and that was a mistake. I should have waited and I could have had five fish that weighed over 300 pounds."

Shipman's record has stood since 2008.

If it's ever broken, don't be shocked if it falls to one of Shipman's Corinth neighbors.

(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

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