Catfish fiddler shortage causing headaches for restaurants, festival

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NEWBURGH, Ind. (WEHT)- For years, the Fiddler Fest has been bringing fiddler aficionados to the shores of the Ohio River in Newburgh. Organizer Byron Sherman says community events like the fest keeps a community alive.

On Thursday, Sherman’s organization, Friends of Newburgh, announced the fest would be postponed for a second year in a row. In 2020, the fest was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year? Sherman says the guest of honor- catfish fiddlers- couldn’t make it.

Sherman says the organizers had every intention of bringing back the fest, which helps local organizations, this year. In the run-up to the event, Sherman says the organizers soon realized there were no catfish fiddlers to be had, either locally or across the country.

Without the fiddlers, Sherman says they really couldn’t have a fiddler fest. Sherman notes they don’t call it a filet fest, so they can’t replace the fiddlers.

Catfish fiddlers are a Newburgh delicacy. Rather than a simple filet, fiddlers offer the whole fish- minus the head and the guts. Sherman says anyone who tries the fiddlers can taste the difference. Sherman adds that the bones in a fiddler add flavor to the fish that filets simply cannot compare to.

But it’s not just the Fiddler Fest that’s feeling the pain. The hot fiddler sign is still lit up above the iconic Knob Hill Tavern in Newburgh but general manager Aaron Mauck says some customers have left disappointed. Mauck says a couple that lived in Newburgh and moved to Florida came back to the tavern just to have some fiddlers- only to find out the restaurant was out.

However, not everyone is experiencing a food issue. While the Vanderburgh County Fair may not sell fiddlers, organizer Scott Berry says locating food has not been an issue for them as they expect a larger than usual crowd at the fair this year.

Sherman says he’s disappointed that the Fiddler Fest has been postponed once again, but says fiddler fans should look forward to the fest’s return in 2022.

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