Where the catfish are big as Volkswagens
As the sport of catfishing grows and tournament trails like the Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest look for new destinations to attract catfish anglers, Henderson Kentucky is high on the list. Setting on the banks of the Ohio River with Indiana on the other side, Henderson is known for catfish, big catfish. But there is more.
The boat ramp facilities are tremendous with two expansive ramps to handle the boating and fishing public. At the top of the ramp is the old town area with plenty of outstanding food choices, boutiques, and gift shops. Nearby parks offer great family opportunities and the community is just plain welcoming.
I had a chance to visit Henderson during a Big Cat Quest event that brought catfish anglers from around the nation to test their skills on Ohio River catfish. The format of this particular tournament was hourly, meaning there were prizes awarded for the heaviest four catfish during each hour of the event. The result was a steady flow of big cats coming to the scales all day long.
Kyle Arnett, Henderson County Tourism Commission Executive Director, met me at the weigh in site with an offer to go to lunch, which I quickly accepted. As it turned out we were there during the W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival. I learned that it was the 25th year that Henderson had held the event. Handy lived in Henderson for about a decade before leaving to make his place in history as an accomplished musician and composer.
The travel time to lunch was short, since the barbecue part of the festival was set up on Main Street, next to a down town park. Vendors lined the street with all kinds of slow cooked pig meat. There were plenty of drinks available to wash it all down. My choice was a large RC Cola from the company that originated in the area and is a sponsor of the event.
I had to make a choice between so many good-looking opportunities and it wasn’t easy. I decided on a Slaw Burger from Tom’s Market. This sandwich on a bun starts with a BBQ pork patty, add somepulled pork on top of that, and then add the slaw. A touch of BBQ sauce makes it awesome. I think I will have to go back next year just for another one. The good thing about this is that Tom’s Market, which includes Mrs. Tom’s Kitchen, has a retail storefront and you can get a Slaw Burger anytime.
The park next to Main Street was full of happy friendly people. We sat at a picnic table to eat lunch and visit with some locals. We talked about everything from catfish to BBQ as if we had known each other all our lives. We had sat only a few minutes before the town’s mayor, Steve Austin, came by to welcome us further. That’s just the kind of town Henderson is.
Earlier in the day there was a New Orleans style walking parade with colorful costumes, moms, dads, kids, dogs and strollers. The parade was a real family affair. A blues band on a flatbed trailer, pulled by a pickup truck, led the whole thing through the downtown streets. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The real kicker for outdoors folks like me came when I learned that the thread that ties this Nature related community together is none other than noted ornithologist, John James Audubon. Audubon chose Henderson in the early 1800s as a place to paint and study birds.
As the story goes, Audubon came to Henderson on a flatboat in 1810 to establish a retail business. The problem was, he was much more interested in birds than business. His business did not prosper, but his legacy lives on in Henderson.
The Audubon Sculpture Walking Tour is an example of his influence and commemorates the relationship with Audubon. Visitors can walk and view bronze sculptures that portray paintings by Audubon. Louisville sculptor Raymond Graf created the sculptures to depict Audubon paintings in three dimensions. It was part of a project to bring public art to the community of Henderson while recognizing the town’s connection to Audubon.
Another sign of Audubon’s influence is the feather logo used by the Henderson County Tourism Commission. “The feather is kind of a multiple thing,” explained Arnett. “It has been around a long time and it means a lot of things. Henderson is a lot of things. It is on the Ohio River with an historic downtown. It has all these great parks and other great attractions. But, the one thing that ties it all together is the feather because of the history of John James Audubon. It is the abundance of nature that is in Henderson that is the reason behind the feather.”
“John James Audubon lived in Henderson in the 1800s and his presence is still well documented,” continued Arnett. “Even the official county tourism car is wrapped in an Audubon print to recognize the Audubon presence in the area. Even if you were not familiar with Audubon you see nature and the birds in the logo.”
“I remember my grandma always telling me about the fish in the Ohio River,” remarked Arnett. “She said they were as big as Volkswagens. “That’s why anglers want to come here and we love it. Having the tournament here means economic development. It me
ans commerce. People are staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and buying gas at the corner station. We hope they will experience enough of the town that they will want to come back and visit again, even when there is not a tournament going on.”
Although the tournament was my reason for being in Henderson, and it did not disappoint, I was taken by the atmosphere and friendliness of the town to the point that I definitely want to visit again.
For more information on Henderson visit the website at http://www.hendersonky.org.