By Lynn Colburn
Doug Rice, who opened Rice Heating and Cooling LLC in Bluffs, Illinois in 2017, has fished most his life. “My mother and father started me out in drainage ditches and farm ponds.” The childhood experience led to a life-long passion that has taken him to lakes and rivers across the U.S. seeking the big catch. His personal best, a 62-pound Blue Catfish, caught in a tournament in St. Louis on March 3!
Just out of Bluffs High School, Rice did a lot of bass fishing. “I didn’t have a boat, so I did a lot of pond and lake fishing for bass. My big idol was the legendary bass fisherman Bill Dance.” He is referring to 77-year-old Dance, the first bona fide superstar in the sport, who has a few long-running television shows; “Bill Dance Outdoors” on the Outdoors Channel, “Bill Dance Saltwater” on the Sportsman Channel, and many blooper outtakes on YouTube.
“When I got a job, and my supervisor’s dad had an old boat for sale, I thought to myself, ‘maybe I ought to buy this boat.’ It was old and had a few problems but ran and got me out on the water which got me hooked! I began more river fishing because I wanted to catch big fish. Catfish are typically much larger than bass,” explains Rice.
“Back in 2004, I qualified through some local tournaments to go to the Cabela’s King Cat Classic. That’s when I reached out to SeaArk Boats, which was the boat I had at the time,” said Rice, “and asked if they would be interested in sponsoring me for the Classic. Back then there weren’t many people pursuing sponsorships. Today it’s very competitive.”
“At the time, Robert McClendon was the owner of SeaArk Boats,” notes Rice. “They paid for my hotel stay and asked me to tell them how I did in the tournament. I placed 15 out of 156 boats at that tournament in Fort Madison, Iowa. After that I was put in contact with the vice president of sales at the time, Steve Henderson, and then it just snowballed. And I’ve been with them ever since.”
Today, SeaArk Boats is his sponsor and as one of SeaArk’s Pro Staff Rice is provided with premier boats for his tournament fishing. “The evolution of catfish boats has come a long way from back when I started in the early 90s,” declares Rice smiling. “It used to be if you had an 18-foot boat with a 70-horsepower motor you really had a big boat. Now you’re talking 20- to 26-foot boats with 200- to 300-horsepower motors. These guys are serious!” Rice’s current boat is a 24-foot SeaArk ProCat 240 which he received last year. SeaArk Boats, a member of the Correct Craft family has been in business since 1992.
Rice said, “SeaArk boats are the number one catfish boat. They really have the market on it.” He knows all the people that work at SeaArk in Monticello, Arkansas and has the greatest respect for them and the quality product they produce. “I couldn’t be one of their Pro Staff if I didn’t really believe in their products. And the number of SeaArk boats in tournaments I attend, show how much other people believe in their product too.” Rice said, “You don’t have to win every tournament to be a SeaArk Pro. You just have to trust in the product.”
Rice explained typically the best bait is from indigenous to the waters to where one is fishing. Something like shad, Asian carp, skipjack herring, mooneye, or any rough fish. “Fresh-cut bait is by far the best bait you can use and must be used within a day or two after being caught.”
For catfish, which feed mostly by smell and taste, it is all about using the right kind of bait. Various species and sizes of catfish prefer different types of meals. Catfish are just like other kinds of fish, or humans for that matter, their choice of a favorite taste varies from day to day.
Rice will start on Thursday evening to catch and cut enough bait to fish a tournament. He said, “just to get the right bait it takes hours at a time and that is just in the preparation time for the tournament. You’re talking days of preparation for these tournaments. It’s not like you can go to Walmart and buy “stink bait” (manufactured baits), you can catch fish, but the fish won’t be competitive sizes for the tournaments.”
“The financial help from SeaArk has been so significant to staying competitive in the sport. It’s kind of an expensive hobby, like many hobbies, if you take it seriously. You put money in electronics for fish finders and things like that, and with the fast-growing technology that changes and improves so quickly, things depreciate in value and you need to replace them as they evolve.”
It is a very competitive national sport. Rice said typically there are at least 30-40 boats in some of these tournaments, maybe more. Each tournament has set tournament hours and a list of pre-determined rules entrants must follow like rods in use, limits for distance between boats and more. And all the tournaments Rice fishes are catch-and-release tournaments. Tournament limits are weighed and verified at the end of tournaments and the total weight of limit wins the overall tournament.
Rice helps other pros run SeaArk’s Owners Invitational Catfish Tournament at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur, AL which will be held on April 27-28 this year. This tournament is for SeaArk boat owners only and last year more than 140 teams competed for $50,000 in cash and prizes. This year is the 8th annual tournament and is expected to be even bigger. The big giveaway for the tournament is from the line Rice currently uses, the ProCat 200. Any team who participates and checks in one legal catfish for the event is eligible to win this boat, valued at $46,000.
47-year-old Rice is one of the six SeaArk’s Pro Staff, which include Aaron Wheatley from Owensboro, KY; Phil King from Corinth, MS; Jon Warden from Festus, MO; Daryl Masingale from Paragould, AK; Card Ferguson from Fort Worth, TX; John ‘Cuz’ Allen from De Soto, MO; and Jason Masingale from Paragould, AK. As a pro staff member, Rice tries to help dealerships by going to events like the February Springfield Boat Show. In addition, many of the SeaArk Pros are fishing guides, authors or writers for the sport.
Fishing electronics and learning how to read and use electronics properly is very important too. “It’s come a long way. Being able to see structure under water, it’s really stepped up the game in the last ten years, with site imaging and down imaging. There are so many new sonars technologies out there.”
Rice clarified, “Any fish, including catfish, usually tends to hold to structure. Structure could be a brush pile, or it could be a ledge from the shallow to the deep. So, when someone says structure that can be many different things in the world of a fish.”
“There is a tournament somewhere every weekend, but I run my own business, so I can’t go every weekend. I try to go a couple of weekends a month. I used to fish four days a week and my wife Julie (they’ve been married 18 years) used to fish with me some. Now I’m trying to balance running my own business, fishing and family life.
“But fishing is a great family-oriented activity,” says Rice. His 5-year-old son, Gage, fishes with his parents, but not in tournaments, yet. Maybe when he can sit still through an 8-hour tournament… Right now, Rice has a couple of good friends who fish tournaments with him.
Rice wins his share of Catfish Tournaments including the Twisted Cat Outdoor Tournament in St. Louis with his 62-pound Blue Catfish which was as part of the 131.63 pounds of fish he and his friend Dalton Brown caught to win the tournament.
Rice says a terrific way for anyone around here who wants to try a Catfish Tournament is to go try the 2018 Springfield Catfish Series. The spring kick-off tournament was March 10. The next tournament is April 14 from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. and there is one each month through October. Rice encourages anyone to try a tournament. He says all you need a boat, bait, the will to compete and then have fun at the same time.