Mr. Whiskers Tournament ends today at Mosquito Lake

MECCA – Catfish is on the menu for dozens of area anglers who gathered at Mosquito Lake for the 11th annual Mr. Whiskers Catfish Tournament. The 12-hour, overnight tournament began at 7 p.m. Saturday, attracting competitors from all around Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even a few from New York.

The rules of the competition, which is put on by the Trumbull County Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, are simple: Contestants may weigh-in his or her six best fish and they must be caught by a rod and reel (or hand line). Plaques are given to first, second and third place finishers, as well as the angler who brings in the biggest fish. The competition is free to enter, but there is a catch. Ten dollars entered you into the “largest catch” jackpot and the five dollars put you in the running for the “biggest fish.” All money gathered is distributed to the winners at the end of the tournament.

Many people from the area believe the fish population at Mosquito Lake is about as populated as the nuclear ponds of Chernobyl. Jerry Usselman, Trumbull County Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs president from Champion, was once one of those people but has since learned of the potential trophy sized fish that are lurking in the lake.

“A lot of people say that there’s no fish in here, but I’ll tell you what … I called it the Dead Sea for quite a while, but there are some really nice fish in here,” Usselman said.

That proved to be true at last year’s Mr. Whiskers tournament as the winning weight was around 44 pounds. A similar weight is expected this year as the catfish spawning season is in full swing. Summer catfish will spawn when the water temperatures are in the 70s to low 80s. While the fish are in the process of laying eggs (the females) or guarding the nest (the males), they can become difficult to catch. However, once the post-spawn behavior kicks in, the fish are hungrier than ever and become very active. The water temperatures at Mosquito Lake over the past month have been consistently between 74-79 degrees, according to the United State Geological Survey website, which is a perfect temperature for channel catfish to spawn and thus enter their post-spawn eating habits.

Although the goal of the competitive anglers is to catch big catfish and win the prize money and a year’s worth of bragging rights, the mindset of those involved is to have fun.

“I think it’s basically a lot of guys like this group right here,” said Usselman about why he thinks the tournament has been successful long-term, as he pointed to a few excited registering anglers. “You’ve got three guys who are going to go out there, have fun, tell stories over the night. That’s what it’s about.”

The prize money last year totaled $760 and barring a deterrence from Mother Nature, this year’s jackpot is expected to be similar in size. Former Mr. Whiskers champion Rich Webber enjoys the tournament for its laid-back atmosphere and the fun times spent on the water fishing.

“It’s a blast man,” Webber said. “It’s a good time. And where can you win a possible two to five hundred dollars for 10 lousy dollars? There aren’t too many tournaments like it. If you come out here to do a bass tournament, the whole lake is covered. It’s high, high competition – plus if you do one of those bass or walleye tournaments, it’s hundreds of dollars to even enter. So for 10 bucks you can go out and try to catch some good ol’ catfish. This (tournament) is just backyard fun for rednecks.”