KANSAS CITY, Mo. (MCT) - Brad Kilpatrick watched as dark clouds rolled in and produced rain and lightning on the Missouri River - not exactly ideal fishing conditions.
But in Kilpatrick's eyes, there was one bright side to that scene. Dozens of catfishermen had gathered to support a cause: to help bring a little happiness into a grieving mother's life.
They were there for a tournament to benefit a fund to build a school playground in the memory of Sam and Lindsey Porter, the Independence, Mo., children whose bodies were discovered recently. "I heard a radio interview with Tina (Porter, the children's mother) one day, and I just felt so bad for her," said Kilpatrick, who runs the KC Catfish.com tournament circuit. "It just touched my heart. It was such a tragic story.
"I thought to myself, 'I just wish there is something I could do to help.' Then I thought of this.
"We have a lot of good people out here in these catfish tournaments. I knew they would be willing to help."
By now, most Kansas City-area residents are well-aware of the Porter case. The children disappeared in 2004 after they had spent some time with their father, Daniel Porter.
For years, he refused to reveal the location of his children, offering several accounts of what had happened to them. But in September, he led authorities to their gravesite in Sugar Creek.
Porter is already serving a 38-year sentence for kidnapping the children and could now face other charges. Meanwhile, the children's mother, Tina Porter, grieves.
"In the interview, Tina said that when she was active with the kids' school (Fairmount Elementary in Independence), they were always trying to raise money to build a new playground," said Kilpatrick, who lives in Kansas City, Kan. "What better way to remember Sam and Lindsey?
"We decided to dedicate this tournament to their memory and raise funds to help out with the building of that playground."
Apparently, Kilpatrick wasn't the only one excited about that project, dubbed Cattin' for a Cause.
When the tournament day arrived, more than 30 fishermen ignored the bad weather and showed up at Kaw Point, where the Missouri and Kaw rivers meet within sight of Kansas City's skyline. They each gave a $25 donation to the fund, stood in a shed and waited for the lightning to let up, and talked about a special tournament.
"The only reason I came out was for this cause," said Craig Collings of St. Joseph, Mo. "Normally this is hunting time for me. Once it's October, I put the boat away and go bow hunting.
"But I had to be here for this. I think everybody just wants to help out."
They also wanted to compete - no matter what the weather.
Most of the fishermen who showed up are well-aware of what the Missouri River can produce. One of the entrants, John Jamison of Spring Hill, landed a 93-pound blue cat out of the big river, not far from downtown Kansas City, several years ago.
Kilpatrick himself has caught catfish as big as 66 pounds on the Missouri. And he constantly sings praise of the river.
"It's the most underutilized resource around," he said. "A lot of people think it's just a dirty, polluted old river.
"But it's a lot healthier than people think. On any given day, you can go out on the Missouri and catch the fish of a lifetime."
It was with that goal that the fishermen set out into the heavy rain and gloom last Saturday.
Collings was one of the first to find success. Just 10 minutes after he anchored and cast his lines out, he watched as one of the rods slowly bent.
When he set the hook, he felt the throbbing pull of a big catfish. He fought the big blue for a while, then led it into a waiting landing net held by his partner, Matt Mertens, also of St. Joseph.
That fish weighed 38.4 pounds, the biggest caught in the tournament.
"It was raining so hard that I didn't want to run very far," Collings said. "So I just stopped along a bank near where some water was coming in and anchored there.
"I've caught 'em 40, 50 pounds before out here, but never in a tournament. This is just my day."
Collings paused for a second, then pledged allegiance to his favorite sport.
"This catfishin' is addictive," he said. "It gets in your blood. Once you catch one of these big ones, you have to come back."
Collings then lifted his shirt and revealed an elaborate tattoo that covered his entire back. It depicted a fisherman in his boat, fighting a big blue cat, with the words "Get Hooked" below.
"See what I mean?" he said with a smile.
Kilpatrick is similarly hooked. He fishes the Missouri River three times a week and has become so enthusiastic about the fishing there that he started a tournament circuit this year.
He and others have caught plenty of trophy catfish there - and last weekend was no exception.
Fishing in the driving rain, Kilpatrick caught a 31.4-pound blue cat along a trail dike on the Missouri. That fish anchored a stringer that weighed 46.8 pounds, enough to give Kilpatrick and his partner, Ben Clumsky of Kansas City, the championship.
But this day wasn't about cutthroat competition and big stakes. It was about a special cause.
Kilpatrick started the weigh-in by requesting a moment of silence for Sam and Lindsey Porter. Then he announced that the tournament had raised more than $1,300 for the playground fund.
"This was for Sam and Lindsey," he said. "What happened was a terrible thing.
"We just wanted to help in whatever way we could."
(c) 2007, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.