by Ron Presley
The Ohio River and catfishing was the main attraction at Owensboro, KY. But fantastic food and spectacular lodging was a welcome part of the deal.
The occasion was the Ninth Annual Monsters on the Ohio catfish tournament (MOTO). The sport of catfishing is growing rapidly and Monsters on the Ohio was one of the first to see the possibilities. Now MOTO is looked on by others as a model to follow when conducting a catfish tournament. With help from city officials and tourism assets, it has become one of the most popular tournaments going.
The 2018 MOTO Tournament
Tournament director, Aaron Wheatley and his crew had to deal with abnormally high water served up by Mother Nature preceding the tournament Basically, it wiped out a parking area down on the river that normally holds about 110 boats. This year all those boats had to be parked up on top instead of passing by the weigh-in stage and straight into the area to park.
The city is fortunate to have an outstanding facility at English Park to hold the tournament. It includes a berm seating area, restrooms, and other visitor amenities provided by a city that understands the importance of the river. Wheatley adapted, went to plan B, and with the help of numerous volunteers it all worked out fine.
Even Bill Dance showed up with his fishing partners, George Young, Jr. and Ben Geobel. Although recognized for his bass fishing exploits, Dance is a catfishing fanatic. The team finished ninth in the competition and were a big hit at the weigh-in where Dance signed autographs for the kids and other fans.Dale and Matt Kerns, from Illinois, claimed the top spot at MOTO with a total weight of 129.31 pounds. They fought off fogy conditions, loss of fishing time due to waiting for a lock through, and an operator error that beached them on a sandbar to pull out the win.
The second-place team also weighed more than 100 pounds of Ohio River catfish. Willie & Stacie Smith from Ohio weighed in their limit of 5 fish at 108.60 pounds. Their bag included the biggest fish of the day at 46.70 pounds. Stacie earned the title, “Queen of the Monsters on the Ohio,” as the highest finishing female.
The presence of female anglers and families with kids are a big part of catfish tournaments these days and a beneficial part of the sport. A commonly heard phrase among anglers says, “Families that fish together, stay together.”
The stats from those teams and others serve to point out the fishing possibilities at Owensboro, but there is much more to visiting than the fishing.
Other than Fishing, What?
Road trips require lodging. Owensboro is large enough that any and all possibilities for lodging exist. However, to make the visit special you should consider staying on the riverfront.
The downtown riverfront district has undergone multimillion-dollar improvements. The results of the investment from a public-private partnership is stunning. Nearly six acres have been developed that includes a veterans memorial, three fountains with water shows every 15 minutes, a cascading waterfall, a large playground for the kids, and seating that allows visitors to enjoy the Ohio River as they view the commercial and recreational traffic it carries.
I was overly impressed with a walk through the area. Each exhibit flows seamlessly from one to the other on a beautiful brick paved promenade. It is hard to describe just how relaxing it is with the river so close at hand.
If you have kids, Smothers Park is a must visit as part of the riverfront. It actually dates back to 1816 when it was the first city park. In the newly developed park, the kids will enjoy the Lazy Dayz Playground, the Ronald Lee Logsdon SprayPArk, and the Fountains. Everyone can enjoy the concession stand and picnic areas and take advantage of the restrooms and porch swings.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn. Our room was spacious, comfortable, and clean. The view, overlooking the Ohio River and the well-developed riverfront, was nothing short of spectacular. It is pretty hard to beat waking up to a cup of coffee and the stunning view of the Ohio River and the well-used amenities along the river. People were walking, jogging, and just plain relaxing at one of the many benches and overlooks available along the riverfront.
Good local food is always high on my priorities when I visit a new area. In the case of Owensboro, I used social media to gain some recommendations. Several establishments were recommended that I had the pleasure of visiting. In each case, I found accommodating people, good service, and good food.
Our first opportunity was the Moonlight BBQ on our first night in town. We chose to do the carryout and take it back to the Hampton Inn where we could dine and enjoy the nighttime view of the river. It lived up to all expectations. In fact, my wife, Karen, was ready to return the next day.
Well the next day came and it began with coffee and a view from the room, but quickly transitioned to Dee’s Dinner. It was awesome. My wife had a traditional breakfast with eggs, bacon, home fries, and rye toast. Her comment was, “We can eat breakfast here every day.”
I was craving pancakes and the menu offered small and large. The waitress warned me that the large ones were “this big” as she spread her hands to show me. I took her to heart and ordered the small ones. I later posted on Facebook to all my friends warning them not to order the large, because the small ones completely covered my plate. Don’t miss Dee’s Diner when you visit Owensboro.
We always look for “local” diners where everyday residents eat. Madewell’s Corner Cafe filled the bill perfectly. They offer breakfast and brunch in a family-friendly atmosphere with good food to boot. The kids can play with the matchbox cars to occupy their attention while you enjoy a scrumptious made-to-order breakfast or a daily special lunch plate that varies day to day.
These are just three of many restaurants recommended by friends, so I guess it will require a return visit to test out the others. Bernie's BBQ on 18th, JD'S on Breckinridge, or Gary's Drive Inn on Schrem Road were also on the list. Then there’s Old Hickory BBQ and Mendy’s Kitchen. We needed more time.
Other Things to Do in Owensboro
Depending on when you visit, there are tons of things to do in Owensboro. The best way to line them up is to visit the website at Visit Owensboro. Once on the site just click on the “What to Do” tab and the online “Calendar” tab to choose from available happenings and attractions.
One example we enjoyed was the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market which is open Saturdays 8:00 am – 12:00 pm from April thru May. Beginning in June, the market is also open on Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 am – 12:00 pm. A visit will reveal locally grown veggies, flowers, meats, and baked goods.
It is that same “can-do” attitude that makes MOTO successful that also makes the city of Owensboro attractive as a destination to visit for other reasons. Good people and great attitudes always make a visit more fun and relaxing. Those characteristics were prevalent in Owensboro and make me want to return.