This Fishing Rod Brand Will Pay You $15,000… On One Catch!

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So let’s play out a hypothetical dream scenario…

Imagine you are an avid angler (which we already know you are). You have been hunting down a state record fish for over half your life (which we already know you have). On a cool Sunday in mid-December, you hit the water, just as you have countless times before.

And then it happens…

You get a bite. On the other end of the line is a 91-pound blue catfish — the largest ever recorded in the state of North Carolina.

You haul in the monster, take some unofficial measurements, celebrate and make a few phone calls, patiently wait overnight, and get the fish weighed on a certified scale the next morning.

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a new state fishing record.

You’ve got lots of live bait left, though, so you decide to go back out for another round of fishing with your dad.

And then it happens… again!

This time, on the other end of the line, it’s a 105-pound blue cat.

Within an 18-hour span, you have now broken a decade-old North Carolina state fishing record not once, but twice.

No matter what your future holds, your name and fishing legacy will forever remain synonymous with an achievement more rare than being struck by lightning twice in the same spot on the same day.

For Zakk Royce of Murfreesboro, North Carolina, this “dream scenario” actually became a reality — an early Christmas present of sorts in 2015.

As if this once-in-a-century feat wasn’t enough, however, Royce just happened to have paired with the right upstart fishing company at the right time…

Catch the Fever: The Brand That Pays to Fish

For those involved in the catfish scene, both Catch the Fever and its subsidiary brand Big Cat Fever have probably been on your radar for some time — the Big Cat Fever Facebook page alone is quickly approaching 200,000 followers.

If we jump into the time machine and revisit Zakk Royce’s catch in late 2015, however, Catch the Fever was anything but an established name in the catfish rod industry. In fact, the company had only been operating officially for around one month. Its marquee products — the Big Cat Fever Rod Series — would not debut commercially until the next calendar year.

To raise brand awareness, however, the company took a mighty gamble in offering a significant monetary reward to the first angler who caught a state record each year while using a Big Cat Fever rod or wearing Catch the Fever merchandise (the payout for anglers landing a qualifying record in 2020 could be as high as $15,000!)

It just so happens that Zakk Royce — who paired with the brand as a Pro Staff during its earliest days — was the first to accomplish this feat.

Kaleb Page, co-owner of Catch the Fever, recalls the day Zakk rung him up to share the news about the first of his two record fish.

“I’m thinking, ‘this has got to a hoax,'” said Page, who was only in his mid-twenties at the time.

Video: Zakk Royce Catches the North Carolina State Record Blue Catfish

“At this point, we are only one month into business. We had sold maybe one hundred rods,” recalls Page. “I’m at my job and the phone rings. It’s Zakk. He says, ‘I just caught the state record on a Big Cat rod. I have (him) in the net, and I filmed the whole thing!'”

Upon realizing that Royce was legitimately sitting on a potential state record, Page hit the road and made the roughly two-hour drive to Lake Gaston to see this fish for himself.

Brand Awareness: Big Buzz for Some Big Cats

As you can see in the video above, Royce had the foresight to capture footage of both his state record catches. According to Kaleb Page, this single feat really helped put his company on the map.

“You couldn’t ask for better publicity than that,” Page said. “It was a perfect storm!”

News media had shared Royce’s story and photos of his monumental catches circulated across various mediums, including social media, for weeks afterwards. The video of Royce’s back-to-back state records still garners attention to this day and has been viewed roughly 1.5 million times.

Now, having been firmly entrenched in the catfish industry for over four years, Page credits the in-depth research, testing, and versatility of the Big Cat Fever series rods for helping the brand exceed expectations after the initial surge in attention.

Creating a Unique Product

As an experienced angler whose fishing journey started with humble origins — growing up fishing with his dad using an old boat that wouldn’t start a third of the time — Kaleb Page eventually transitioned to the world of catfish after landing a 40 pounder on the James River.

Before forming Catch the Fever with his business partner, Page held a good job outside the fishing industry. He made time to hit the water 2 or 3 days per week, however, and began to question whether the gear he used was ideal for catching catfish in the area.

Based out of Roxboro, North Carolina, Catch the Fever is located in relatively close proximity to two of the top blue cat fisheries in the country: the aforementioned James River and the Kerr Reservoir, also known as Buggs Island Lake.

For catfish aficionados, Buggs Island Lake, Virginia, is notable for being the home to the world record blue cat — a 143-pound mammoth caught in 2011.

Being situated so close to these popular fisheries, Page and his colleagues were able to garner insight and suggestions from experienced anglers as to what specifications they would want to see in a new rod.

According to Page, outside of some larger, established brands, there were not a lot of quality catfish rod companies at the time. Moreso, there were few, if any, that featured the light tip popular in lake fishing while also having the durable backbone necessary for river fishing.

The inspiration to create a more versatile product, capable of adapting to both lake and river fishing, came to Page back in 2014.

“I wanted to build a rod that works for both,” Page said.

Page began looking at different materials before eventually settling on the highly durable S-Glass. After pairing with a manufacturer, they tested and tweaked several prototypes before finally settling on a model that met their specifications in the Spring of 2015.

“The samples were dead on,” Page said. “The way these rods were constructed, you could make catching a 15-pounder fun. But you could really catch anything with them.”

Early Intrigue, Rebranding, and Expansion

Once Catch the Fever had settled on a design that would appeal to anglers across North Carolina, Virginia, and beyond, they slowly started production.

“On that first order, we had ten rods made,” said Page. “And people just started going crazy for them.”

Originally branded as Big Cat Fever — based off a Facebook group Page was running — the company ultimately rebranded as Catch the Fever in the Summer of 2015, maintaining the original moniker for its catfish rod series.

“We’re not just solving catfish problems,” said Page, whose company also features the Striper Stealth Rod Series and the popular Slime Line fishing line. “With our rods, we aren’t just selling a product — we are selling an experience.”

That experience, Page believes, starts with offering a product that holds up against any others on the market.

“In person, it’s the prettiest thing you’ve ever laid your eyes on,” he said.

If Catch the Fever’s success across its first four years is any indication, Page isn’t the only angler who feels this way.

An Even Bigger Blue Cat Helps Build the Brand

Earlier, we mentioned that the world record blue catfish was caught on Buggs Island Lake. For the purposes of this article, that catch, while amazingly impressive, is merely a footnote.

In regards to Catch the Fever, however, it is actually the second largest blue cat pulled from Buggs Island that is worth talking about.

That fish — which, coincidentally, also happens to be the second largest blue catfish on record in the United States — was caught in January 2017 by Dale Lowe Jr. It weighed an astonishing 141.76 pounds — a mere two pounds shy of both the Virginia state record and the world record.

Like Zakk Royce some thirteen months prior, Dale Lowe was also a pro staffer for Big Cat Fever. The notoriety the brand received from these two catches alone would be enough to propel them to the top of the industry.

But the catches kept coming…

“Within the first two years, fifteen people had caught hundred-pound catfish on our rods,” Page said. “That just doesn’t happen.”

More recently, pro staffer Justin Conner caught the West Virginia state record blue catfish. Last month, another pro staff, Mike Mitchell, almost broke the Alabama state record — and the internet — with a 117 pounder.

Catch the Fever quickly went from ordering ten rods at a time to two-hundred. Today, the company has just built a new showroom where customers can test the rods using an in-house fight simulator. Visitors are able to simulate a battle against a massive lake cat or, if feeling especially daring, battle a several hundred pound blue fin tuna.

Catch the Fever’s products can also be found in around 140 retailers across the country. To date, Page estimates that the company has sold roughly 40,000 rods with no plans of slowing down any time soon.

Catfish fanatics or even other anglers simply interested in learning more about a new species can also listen to several episodes of the Big Cat Fever podcast on Spotify where names like Ronnie Dixon, Paul Blackwell, Aaron Wheatley, Trey Thorpe and Jason Jackson share their experience and insights.

As the brand continues to expand, Page credits his team for all the work they put in to handling logistics, increasing awareness, etc. He thanks Ashleigh (Office Coordinator), Payton (Inventory), Adam (Video Production), Graham (Social Media), and John (I.T.) for their contributions in helping more anglers Catch the Fever.

How to Qualify for a Catch the Fever “Payout”

If you stumbled in here for the sole purpose of seeing how you could get your hands on that $15K, thank you for your patience.

According to the Catch the Fever website, anglers can qualify for a total of $15,000 in payouts per year. That said, no reasonable company can simply fling five figures around for every record catch. The brand wisely limits these payouts to the first qualifying catch of an annual payment cycle that meets set criteria across two promotional categories: Apparel and Rod.

Apparel Promotion ($5,000): To qualify, an anglers must catch a state record fish (from the species list below) while wearing an official company hat, shirt, hoodie, etc. Qualifying species include:

  • Largemouth Bass: (Micropterus salmoides)
  • Blue Fin Tuna: (Thunnus thynnus)
  • Blue Marlin: (Makaira nigricans)
  • White Crappie: (Pomoxis annularis)
  • Black Crappie: (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
  • Arkansas Blue Catfish: (Ictalurus furcatus)
  • Flathead Catfish: (Pylodictis olivaris)
  • Walleye: (Sander vitreus)
  • Channel Catfish: (Ictalurus punctatus)
  • Coho Salmon: (Oncorhynchus kisutch)
  • Smallmouth Bass: (Micropterus dolomieu)
  • Northern Pike: (Esox lucius)
  • Chinook Salmon: (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
  • Dolphin Fish: (Coryphaena hippurus)
  • Summer Flounder: (Paralichthys dentatus)
  • King Mackerel: (Scomberomorus cavalla)
  • White Seabass: (Atractoscion nobilis)
  • California Halibut: (Paralichthys californicus)
  • Spotted Seatrout: (Cynoscion nebulosus)

Rod Promotion ($10,000): Much like the apparel promotion, anglers can qualify for a $10,000 payout if they catch a state record using an official Catch the Fever rod. The list of qualifying species is considerably smaller, however:

  • Arkansas Blue Catfish: (Ictalurus furcatus)
  • Flathead Catfish: (Pylodictis olivaris)
  • Channel Catfish: (Ictalurus punctatus)

A complete description of the rules can be found on the Catch the Fever website.

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