Across the Mountain State

Ohio River catfish

The attention of those who follow the goings on in the catfishing world turned to Buggs Island Lake, Virginia, this past June. Really, the turn was more like whiplash. With the super efficiency of social networking on the Internet, it wasn’t hours before the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and hows about the pending world-record blue catfish filled comment threads on Facebook and fishing forums. Digital photos of Richard Anderson’s 143-pounder were posted ­lickety-split for all to gaze at in amazement. Barnum & ­Bailey couldn’t have dreamed of working it better. Step right up folks and see the giant whiskered beast!

It hadn’t been a year since the previous world record 130-pounder gulped up a chunk of Asian carp that Greg Bernell was soaking in the lower Missouri River near St. Louis. Bernell’s fish surpassed Tim Pruitt’s record blue, a 124-pound brute caught on the Mississippi River near Alton, Illinois, in 2005. Prior to that, Lake Texoma was it, giving up the 121.5-pounder caught by Cody Mullennix. The fish called Splash captured the imagination and fascination of thousands of visitors at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center aquarium in Athens.

Reports of remarkable fish have come in from rivers and reservoirs from Virginia to California, the big rivers in the Heartland producing perhaps the most consistent legacy of giant fish, although waters like Santee-Cooper, Texoma, Wilson, Wheeler, and So-Cal reservoirs, among others, put up points on a fairly regular basis. But when the topic of the next world record comes up, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are always key players in the conversation.

Besides giving up three of the last seven world records—a number no other system can claim—we’re frequently reminded of the beastly bounty the lower Missouri and Mississippi rivers can deliver. For example, in November 2007 Phil King, fishing with partners Tim Haynie and Leland Harris, astonished the crowd with a 103.11 pounder caught during a Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest tournament out of Memphis. That was the first blue over 100 pounds weighed in at a catfishing tournament. Then came number two—not one year or two years later. The next day of the event, Harold Dodd and Cary Winchester hauled a 108-pounder to the scales.

Giant catfish are being targeted with unprecedented precision as anglers begin to better understand blue catfish and use new sonar technologies to discover untapped spots.“The lower Missouri and Mississippi have always been unbelievable fisheries, ” In-Fisherman Editor in Chief Doug Stange says, “and they’re still largely untapped for big blue cats. Historically that’s been the case. We hear about early accounts of fish to 200 pounds and even heavier. We can never be sure those sizes are accurate, but fish up to 150 pounds must have been common and fish of that size likely still swim there today. If I had to fish one water in search of a 150-pounder, I’d head there. Anglers have a better shot today of catching a catfish that big than they’ve ever have had.”

Catfish Renaissance
An amazing statistic indeed, the world record has been broken seven times since 1991, and there hasn’t been another species that has flipped records that many times in such a short time. That wasn’t always so. Prior to 1991, Ed Elliott’s 97-pound blue caught from the Missouri River near Vermillion, South Dakota, reigned at the top for over three decades.

“After Elliott’s catch, reports were stagnant for giant blues for about 30 years, ” Stange says. “Then in the mid-1990s, more huge fish were showing up. It’s not like we didn’t hear about any big fish in the meantime. Trotliners, jugliners, and a handful of rod-and-reel anglers were occasionally reporting giant fish. These guys were the best of their time and ran in small circles. So you had pockets of activity here and there and when a big fish was caught, news didn’t spread far or quickly. Not like today. Communication in angling has changed dramatically over the years.”

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