Zakk Royce hoists the second of two North Carolina state information he caught inside an 18-hour interval—this one a 105-pounder.

Zakk Royce remembers the day, 17 years in the past, when mega blue catfish first registered on his fishing radar. “That September, we’d had a number of rain and flooding and an enormous hurricane,” says Royce, an distinctive catfish angler and information on Lake Gaston, North Carolina. “The Kerr Lake dam was working continuous, pumping enormous volumes of water. Piles of huge stripers and cats had migrated up into the tailrace to feed.

In December 2015, Royce pulled off an unthinkable accomplishment, boating two mega blue catfish in a single 18-hour interval. Identified for his 72-hour catfish benders on Lake Gaston, North Carolina, he hooked a 91-pound blue whereas controlled-drifting with a piece of white perch. Having weighed the fish on a licensed scale, he launched the brand new North Carolina state file again into the water close to its authentic catch website. “We nonetheless had some good bait left, so my dad and I continued fishing,” he says. “Dad caught a 20-pounder earlier than I acquired one other chunk. The fish ripped critical drag, and after we noticed it, we had been positive it was over 100 kilos.”

Royce’s second monster blue, weighed on the identical licensed scale at Lake Gaston Ace {Hardware}, overtook his fleeting state file catfish by 14 kilos. Lower than a 12 months later, 15-year-old Landon Evans landed a 117-pound 8-ounce Lake Gaston blue whereas fishing from his dock. This explicit big blue, nevertheless, merely represents the subsequent step within the intriguing story of a trio of lakes on the Roanoke River.

Almost 9 years have handed now since high-school soccer coach Nick Anderson hoisted the present world-record blue, a 57-inch, 143-pound mammoth, from the waters of Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir. Kerr, simply upstream from Lake Gaston, has produced quite a few 90- and 100-pound blues in recent times. Seemingly the second largest catfish ever recorded on hook and line was a 141-pound 12-ounce, 61-inch monster caught by Dale Lowe, Jr. at Kerr Reservoir in January 2017. A 135 was additionally caught there in March of 2014, plus quite a few others over 100 kilos, with many of the large fish caught in late fall by way of winter.

Atlantic Catfish Emergence

The rise of blue catfish within the Roanoke River, which flows from Virginia and into North Carolina earlier than getting into the Albemarle Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, stays considerably underneath suspicion. Virginia fishery biologist Dan Michaelson notes that the Virginia Division of Sport and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) stocked blue catfish into a number of smaller impoundments in 1984. “The flood of 1985 subsequently brought on many lakes within the watershed to spill, possible leading to blue catfish becoming a member of the Kerr Reservoir fish group,” he says.

Otolith ageing of Anderson’s blue cat revealed it was 18 years previous. Michaelson says. “The oldest catfish we’ve aged at Kerr have been 19. However there are possible older fish within the inhabitants, provided that the species can apparently reside 25 to 30 years in some environments.”

Farther north into Virginia, blue catfish turned established within the James and Rappahannock rivers, considerably infamously, when VDGIF stocked a small variety of fish into these techniques within the Nineteen Seventies. With a wealthy abundance of forage, resembling shad, herring, and prized blue crabs, the catfish inhabitants has exploded within the tidal rivers, and unfold into the Potomac—additionally related to Chesapeake Bay. A Virginia of examine of over 16,000 blue catfish stomachs discovered that juvenile catfish primarily eat vegetation and invertebrates, switching to a principally fish weight-reduction plan at 20 to 36 inches. Dominant prey amongst bigger catfish was gizzard shad and juvenile blue catfish.

Stephen Miklandric’s James River 102-pounder.

Whereas fishing with information Neil Renouf, Stephen Miklandric boated a 102-pounder from the James River in December 2014. Miklandric and Renouf desire chunks of freshly killed gizzard shad fished on 8/0 circle hooks. Renouf says the James River blue cat chunk peaks when water temperatures dip into the mid-40s in late fall into winter. He believes the very best fishing happens one hour both aspect of the excessive or low tide. “When water’s transferring, blues station in dependable, predictable places,” he says. “A big submerged tree or brushpile on a shallow flat or alongside a channel edge usually maintain large blues. Wing dams additionally appeal to fish.

“Depth isn’t a significant factor,” says Renouf, who’s caught catfish from 5 to 70 toes deep within the James. “Cowl and present are trump playing cards. Deep undercut ledges on exterior river bends might be good, as can the downcurrent aspect of an inside bend the place a small despair has shaped behind a build-up of sediment. Catfish additionally transfer into feeder streams and shallow bays at occasions, if bait is current. This winter motion particularly happens on hotter days in bays with flat mud bottoms.”

Virginia fishery researchers estimated a inhabitants of almost 100 million blue catfish within the Chesapeake Bay area in 2015. Though numbers of blue cats within the James proceed to register off the charts, indications are the potential for large fish could have peaked. In accordance with native anglers like Archie Gold of Night time Stalker Information Service, industrial fishing measures meant to regulate the inhabitants and faucet a rising blue catfish market have made fishing for record-class blues more durable in recent times.

In 2017, industrial fishing crews harvested a file 200,000 kilos of blue catfish in Maryland and a minimum of twice that amount in Virginia. The fishery is probably going nonetheless spreading, nevertheless. Document rainfall in 2018 introduced a freshwater deluge into the bay, permitting blues to disperse into further feeder rivers and estuaries—together with the mouth of the Potomac River. For now, the potential for record-class catfish stays. The following 5 years ought to reveal the area’s capacity to foster a world file.

Document-Looking for on the Roanoke

What stays distinctive and compelling concerning the ongoing story of world-record blue catfish is the likelihood that a number of fully ignored reservoirs or river stretches stay to be found—solely to pop up on our radar with the emergence of a single big fish. The Decrease Mississippi River, south of Memphis and down previous Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is probably essentially the most underfished stretch of this traditional river. Nevertheless it’s simply as possible {that a} world file is swimming in any variety of completely different reservoirs in Arkansas, Tennessee, and South Carolina, the place bass are king and catfish are largely ignored by rod-and-reel anglers. Lake Ouachita, Arkansas, Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee, and Lake Murray, South Carolina, are simply three under-the-radar fisheries with world-record potential.

Cody Mullenix’s former world-record blue cat from Lake Texoma is a reminder of the potential of south-central reservoirs for large blues.

Kerr and Gaston reservoirs stay the present strongholds of record-class blues. Each season, a number of 100-pound fish are caught on these lakes. Lots of them go unreported as a result of they’re now not shocking nor important by way of information. A look at Virginia’s Trophy Fish program alone reveals a minimum of a couple of 100-pound-class blues are caught each season—all from Kerr and Gaston reservoirs.

Of the 2 lakes, Royce believes Gaston harbors extra potential for the subsequent world file. “Gaston’s fish migrated right here from Kerr, so that they’re nonetheless rising and increasing,” says Royce, who often fishes Kerr, as effectively. “Gaston’s blue cats are rising quick. They’re clear, sturdy fish with small heads and big our bodies.

“I consider a practical purpose we’ll see sooner or later is 150 kilos. The fishery began to peak within the final 5 years. Rising up, we caught enormous numbers of 5- to 10-pound catfish. We’re catching decrease numbers of fish now, however high quality has skyrocketed, and we’re taking a look at a real trophy fishery. For me, magic water temps for giant fish vary into the low to mid-60s, with fall, winter, and spring having the very best chunk.”

One main difference-maker, he says, has been his adaptation of walleye-style planer boards for controlled-drift fishing. “The largest secret’s masking as a lot water as potential and maximizing the time my bait’s within the water. Which means spreading traces horizontally in addition to vertically. Planer boards additionally let me steer baits underneath treetops and subsequent to boat docks.

“I run 0.5 mph with six traces more often than not—two rods unfold approach out off either side of the boat. However I additionally unfold my rigs so I’m hitting 3 toes to twenty toes under the floor, at occasions, in addition to proper on the underside with slinky (dragging) weights. I rig two far exterior traces with brief leads behind the planer board, relying on the depth I wish to goal for fish keying on suspended shad. Two extra rods with planer boards run tighter to the boat, rigged to tug backside. Then I would run a couple of extra rods straight off the strict with a big float to maintain the bait up near the floor, or right down to 10 or 15 toes,” he says.

To find out the depth he fishes with suspended three-way rigs, he displays shad on his electronics. Conversely, whereas dragging backside, he’s conscious that catfish might be troublesome to discern on sonar. So, he concentrates on ledges close to the primary river channel, significantly areas with timber or humps close to the ledge, or up on the adjoining flat. Mussel beds on delicate backside produce, too. And creek arm junctions with the primary river channel can be potential blue cat gold mines.

“An enormous issue for dragging backside is to stop your rig from bouncing up and down, or continuously snagging and popping free,” he says. “A delicate, slinky-style sinker is right as a result of it strikes cleanly throughout the underside with out snagging so much, presenting your bait in a extra pure method, which large cats favor.”

Royce makes use of 1.5-ounce sinkers on planer board rigs and a couple of.5- to 4-ouncers on his dragging rigs. He’s developed his personal Zakk Royce Planer Boards, out there at Royce’s Dragging Weights are provided by Hooker’s Terminal Sort out. He runs a three-way swivel with a 12-inch to 4-foot chief of 60-pound-test Berkley fluorocarbon for abrasion resistance. Every backside rig carries a cigar-shaped slipfloat that barely elevates the bait and retains it from fouling snags. Hooks are 9/0 octopus circles for bigger bait chunks and seven/0 for smaller items of lower white perch. Massive Cat Fever 7- and 7-foot 6-inch medium motion trolling rods adorn Royce’s rod holders.

Since that day within the Roanoke River tailrace 17 years in the past, Royce says attitudes towards trophy catfish have improved. “North Carolina has instituted particular rules that permit for the harvest of just one blue catfish over 32 inches day by day.” Now, and into the 2020s, Lake Gaston stays a high vacation spot for “Operation 150-Pounder.”

The Forgotten Stretch

Apart from a handful of hidden gems and the inevitable emergence of the subsequent Lake Gaston, the one different logical place for a blue exceeding 143 kilos is the Mississippi River. In accordance with each Phil King and John Jamison—two of the game’s most completed anglers—the Mississippi River system from St. Louis to Memphis and past is producing as many big fish as any time in fashionable historical past. It’s been over 9 years because the final world file there—Greg Bernal’s 130-pounder, technically caught within the Missouri River close to its confluence with the Mississippi.

John Jamison says he’s seeing extra blues within the 70- to 90-pound vary than ever earlier than within the Mississippi River.

“We’re seeing extra fish within the 70s, 80s, and 90s than ever earlier than,” says Jamison of Spring Hill, Kansas. “A 112 was caught close to Memphis a couple of weeks in the past. And information Ryan Casey has caught a minimum of 3 or 4 over 100 this 12 months alone.”

Jamison believes the uptick in catfish progress is because of a singular standout issue. “The foodbase is totally by way of the roof in abundance. Silver and bighead carp are so plentiful now within the Missouri and Mississippi. Lately, I made one throw with a solid web and it took two of us to tug in over 200 kilos of carp—all 2 to six inches lengthy. You see the identical factor in Memphis and different epicenters. Go behind any barge the place grain enters the water and it’s wall-to-wall carp.”

He says that whereas the catfish are rising bigger quicker, fishing patterns have turn out to be much less predictable. “Catfish now not must sample baitfish actions. Now, they feed any time they need, so a few of our conventional patterns have light. There’s little question somebody on the Decrease Mississippi will ultimately catch a 150.”

King, among the many most generally traveled catfish anglers in America, believes essentially the most ignored stretch of river for a goliath fish is close to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, though he says a couple of different well-known waters proceed to supply world-record potential. “Wheeler and Wilson (reservoirs) have slower-growing fish, however the genetics and massive fish are nonetheless there,” says King, who just lately retired from catfish guiding. “A 115-pounder was caught at Wheeler in a March Cabela’s King Kat event. Santee-Cooper nonetheless has the quickest progress price of any lake I do know of, and a 113-pound state file was caught there in 2017. A 140 was additionally caught on a trotline in 2012.”

Wheeler and Wilson lakes on the Tennessee River proceed to provide world-class blues.

Different entries on King’s record embody the Missouri River. “It holds enormous fish, however the quick present there makes it robust, at occasions,” he says. He additionally casts one other vote for Gaston and Kerr lakes. “I hear tales on a regular basis about guys who hook big fish that simply burn the reel. A lot of fish anglers simply can’t land.”

However for King, all of it boils right down to the Mighty Mississippi, the river that produced his 103-pound whale through the 2007 Bass Professional Outlets Massive Cat Quest. “Through the years I’ve had on the road 12 big fish that both spooled me or that couldn’t be landed. The 103 was fortunate quantity 13”

On his first catfish expedition to Louisiana, he couldn’t consider the fish he caught, nor the shortage of different anglers on the river round Baton Rouge. “It’s untapped water,” he says. “Final time I used to be there, we acquired bit by or caught an enormous fish on each spot I fished. You’ve acquired all types of present breaks down there, with a straightforward circulation of two to 2.5 mph. A lot of 30- to 100-foot holes by way of that stretch. The blues are in wholesome situation, particularly with all of the grain that comes by way of (by way of barge visitors). Once I retire, I’ll make this an annual journey.”

Though subsequent to nobody guides for catfish on this sprawling, decrease river part, redfish captains working out of Cajun Fishing Adventures—a lodge on the river close to Buras—often report seeing and by chance catching mammoth blue cats within the brackish water. Lodge supervisor Ray Stansberry says once they eliminate the filleted stays of saltwater fish, “it friends up large 30- to 60-pound blue cats virtually instantly. We don’t run any catfishing charters, however the fishing is definitely doable, and untapped.”

The present Louisiana state file stands at 114 kilos. However as high anglers start exploring this immense part of river, who is aware of what may come to the floor.

With every subsequent record-breaker, anglers far and extensive ponder the identical query: How massive can these fish develop? Danny Brown, big-river fishery biologist for the Missouri Division of Conservation, may need a solution, and nice information for record-seekers. “We’ve obtained ageing knowledge on Greg Bernal’s 130-pound blue, which was decided from a backbone pattern to be merely 18 years previous,” he says. “This was a wholesome, youthful fish. It’s conceivable that catfish like this might simply proceed rising for an additional decade or two.”

Tanner Tabor, event director for Cabela’s King Kat circuit, summarizes the excitement surrounding record-class blues. “It’s not simply the scale of the catfish which have gotten larger, it’s the variety of anglers focusing on—and releasing—theses monsters. One large distinction between bass and catfish tournaments is that at a bass event, spectators come out to see the anglers who’ve achieved rock star standing. In a catfish event the rock stars everybody involves see are the large fish themselves.”

*In-Fisherman Subject Editor Cory Schmidt is an astute multispecies angler and longtime contributor to In-Fisherman publications.

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