Thousands of folks are expected to attend various festivities at the annual Catfish Derby Days this weekend at the little river town of Franklin in southwestern Minnesota

Including about 300 or so anglers hoping to hook a monster catfish.

No doubt they'll catch cats, both channels and flatheads. But odds are against a lucky angler topping last year's winning behemoth, a 52-pound, 5-ounce whiskered beauty — the largest taken in the 38-year history of the event.

"We had never hit the 50-pound mark before,'' said Mark Pederson of Franklin, who helps coordinate the fishing contest. "I didn't think we'd do it last year.''

Steve Fisher of South Haven, Minn., caught the big cat, winning the $100 top prize — and bragging rights. Anglers seeking inspiration, both spiritual and liquid, can see the mounted fish at the Longbranch Saloon in Franklin.

This year's contest starts at 3 p.m. Friday and runs until noon Sunday. Registration is $10 ($5 for kids). Anglers come from near and far to fish for cats.

"We get a lot of people from Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin,'' Pederson said.

The fish are weighed in Franklin (they must be alive), then deposited in a tank behind City Hall. Department of Natural Resources employees return 95 percent of the fish back into the river; larger ones will be displayed at the DNR's State Fair fish pond.

"It's a catch-and-release tournament,'' Pederson said.

The high water levels from spring have mostly subsided, and Pederson doesn't expect that to hamper anglers, many of whom fish from shore.

"There may be some spots people used to go that they can't get to, but there should be other areas they can get to — it's a big river,'' he said.

Franklin calls itself Minnesota's Catfish Capital, but Derby Days is more than a fishing contest. There's softball and volleyball tournaments, beanbag tourney, parades, music, food and more. Even a "kiss the catfish contest.''

"There's always something going on,'' Pederson said.

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