By Troy Basso
Before I can tell this story properly, we must go back a few months to Memphis, Tennessee. While at the Mississippi River Monsters event many catfish anglers had the honor of meeting Michael Conley. Michael had his life impacted profoundly by fishing and brain cancer. He is a parent, catfish angler, and soon to be grandfather. After the event, Michael had a new list of friends on social media. It was through this new group of friends that he expressed a wish to go to Wheeler Lake and fish for trophy blue cats. He had never caught anything bigger than 17 pounds and simply wanted to beat his personal best. The two flies in the proverbial buttermilk were money and chemo treatments.
Here is where we enter pro catfish angler Cad Daly. Cad heard the wish, and quietly put a plan into motion. Many of you know Cad, as he won the Excel Storm Cat boat in Memphis. Behind the scenes he was able to rally a group of catfish anglers together and began work on making Michaels wish come true. The first hurdle for this endeavor was getting him from Arkansas to Alabama. Cad managed to find someone who donated a plane ticket, and the trip was going to be a go.
Michael Conley's first encounter with a Tennessee River toad.
Now he just needed accommodations and meals. The catfish community, once again, stepped up and donated over $300.00 for meals and travel expenses for Michael though a GoFundMe account. The kind staff members at Joe Wheeler State Park, and the Florence/Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, stepped in and not only covered Michaels cabin but provided a second cabin at a very steep discount. As many know the Florence area has always been kind, and receptive, to professional catfish events.
Since Cad had his new Excel Storm Cat, he covered the fuel expense or the trip. He knew that with Michaels health condition he would need a second set of hands on board. This is where B’n’M poles pro angler Ryan Lawrence stepped in and became metaphorically and physically the trips “first Mate”. Jason McDuffie at B’n’M poles donated Michael a nice two-piece rod, so he could take in home on the airplane as well. As most catfish anglers know you must have good quality bait. Yanmer & Sons stepped in a donated all the bait.
Cad had to pre-fish so getting him from the Birmingham airport was an issue until Jarrett Tempus, of River Rats Reel Repair, offered to get him to and from the lake. As a precautionary measure Cad had a second boat on the lake looking for fish, and in case of a breakdown. Scott Lovelace was that boats Captain and stayed with them all weekend. After that the entire trip came together, or at least they thought it had.
In the Army we had a saying “A plan is always great until you meet the enemy”. The enemy turned out to be air flight. Michael had never flown so he inadvertently missed his flight out on Thursday afternoon. Luckily Southwest Airlines was very understanding and got him an early morning flight Friday.
Friday afternoon turned out to be a little breezy and Michael was tired from his travels. They fished a couple hours and boated a 15-pound blue. After that they had a nice birthday dinner for Michael and retired with hope of a new personal best on Saturday.
Michael trying to fight a big cat out of a tree top.
Saturday dawned with little wind, warm temperatures, and a blue sky. We hit the water at 8am with the motley crew of good-hearted anglers. It appeared the word had traveled throughout the catfish community as there were catfish boats everywhere. They all stopped to check on Michael and share their hotspots with Cad, not something you see every day from competitive anglers. According to my camera the whole adventure culminated at 10:08 am. That’s when Michael landed his new personal best catfish. It was a 28-pound blue that Michael said, “about wore him out”. There were other boats around us waiting on this to happen, and to hear Ryan Lawrence holler “new personal best on board” was a moment that would send chills down even the most jaded anglers’ spine. All the planning for this trip came to fruition at that moment in the form of a smile on Michaels face. The trip was a flaming success by any standard.
Before I can wrap this up, I must share a few things that helped make this trip a true example of catfish Class. Cad’s trolling motor remote failed prior to the trip, and as if on cue Ryan Lawrence pulled his out of a tackle bag. After that the battery that powered the Graphs decided to crap out. Another boat of anglers captained by Robert Scott gave up one of their batteries. If you were to try and find a better group of anglers, it would take a lifetime. Everyone who participated, donated, or just stopped to say hi to Michael exhibited what we like to call “catfish class”.