Tom Dennis can guess the weight of a catfish just by looking at it.
"That thing's got to be in the mid-20s," Dennis said last week at Little's Fish Market in Germantown. "See? I'm getting good at this."
He wasn't ordering his dinner. His catfish was headed for the ice at Bridgestone Arena.
At the final game of the Western Conference Second Round on Thursday, spectators can count on seeing one slightly illicit tradition taking place again — when Predators' fans chuck raw catfish onto the ice.
"Catfish will be leaving our section right after the national anthem to fire the crowd up," Dennis said. "And we will try to have the biggest and best dressed one."
This Nashville tradition started almost two decades ago, when the Predators played the Detroit Red Wings, whose fans have their own tradition of hurling octopus onto the ice. One Nashville fan decided to throw out a catfish for the Predators, and it just stuck.
'Bigger And Better'
But it wasn't until last season that the Dennises decided to join in on the tradition — and take it up a notch. "The first playoff games last year, somebody threw it, and he just he’s like, 'We can do it, but we can do it bigger and better,' " said Heidi Dennis, Tom's wife. "So he sort of started dressing them up, and people just ate it up and loved it, and so we kept going."
Fans might recognize the Dennises' catfish as the one that's always wearing an outfit when it ends up on the ice. They've dressed the fish up in bow ties and tiny jerseys, and sometimes with the opposing team’s mascot in its mouth.
Even NBC has tweeted out pictures of Tom and Heidi's well-dressed catfish, although the Predators tell WPLN that they don't officially condone fans throwing anything onto the ice.
On the first night of the Winnipeg series, on April 27, the couple prepared their fish's tiny outfit for the game: a miniature blue sparkly cowboy hat and a homemade Predators cape. Both items could be zip tied to the flying fish.
This game, however, had another interesting twist.
"(I was) playing with power tools I shouldn't have been, and I had a piece of wood break my hand, so I had surgery earlier this week," Tom said, "but we're carrying on."
Heidi knew this would cause problems.
"He sent me a picture of his busted hand and my first question was, 'Are you okay, are you headed to the hospital?'" Heidi said.
"My next thought was, 'Tom, who's going to throw the catfish?' "
Getting The Catfish In
The couple had to hope that once inside, they could find someone to throw it over the glass and onto the ice.
But first, they had to sneak into the arena with a catfish, which takes a bit of strategy.
Step one: Strap a 15-pound catfish to someone's body. In this case, Tom's.
Step two: Walk to the arena. Try to act natural.
"So the catfish leg, or catfish tail, gets caught between my legs as I'm walking, and it kinda keeps shuffling its way down my back," Tom said as they made their way over.
Three: Make sure there isn't any metal on your person because, as Heidi explains, "They don't do a pat down unless you get dinged on the metal detector."
Four: Throw a sweatshirt over your shoulder to hide the protruding catfish.
"Alright, do it," Tom said as they approached the entrance. "Let's go."
And a few minutes later, just like that, they were through security with a very large catfish, a sparkly cowboy hat, a cape and an intent to throw.
At the seats, people started circling up, asking about the catfish's outfit and for permission to snap a photo. "Because everyone wants to know what he's wearing," Heidi explained.
Flinging The Fish
The only thing left was to prepare the outfit and recruit someone from the section to catapult the catfish. Within a few minutes, a willing accomplice was found.
"I think this guy's going to throw it," Heidi said, indicating a fellow spectator in their section.
Tom showed the fan the proper form in getting the fish over the glass.
"You've got about six or seven minutes, two national anthems," Tom said as the big moment drew near.
Overhead, the announcer's voice came on.
"Fans, please rise and remove your caps."
And right as Dierks Bentley and Del McCoury finished singing the national anthem, the Dennises' giant, well-dressed catfish flopped on the ice and made another appearance on national television.
After Monday's big win in Winnipeg tied the series, the catfish couple has at least one more opportunity to fling a fancy fish, this time at the first ever Game 7 hosted in Nashville.
The catfish's outfit is under wraps, but the Dennises say, no matter what, the plan is to go big or go home.