Record Catfish, Bizarre Weigh in

05/30/03 by MIKE ZLOTNICKI


Want to catch a state-record blue catfish? Go striper fishing. By yourself. And make sure that your tackle is too light by several magnitudes to handle a fish that weighs more than your average fifth-grader.

That's what Concord, N.C., resident Andy Richmond did on May 1, when he trailered his 24-foot Scout bay boat to nearby Badin Lake for a morning of striper fishing.

"I left the house at 5 a.m. to catch some bait (shad) with a cast net," he said. "My intent was to fish for stripers, but I only caught a couple of small channel cats in the river section of the lake."

Richmond, a self-employed engineering consultant, had fished the previous Tuesday and had marked some fish in another section of the lake. The arcs on the fish-finder display were huge, so he knew these were not panfish or schools of bait.

Using a slow-trolling presentation, "I drug bait over the top of those fish until I came to the conclusion that they were catfish," Richmond said.

A confessed opportunist when it comes to angling, Richmond decided to make catfish lemonade out of the striper lemons he'd been given.

"The water was about 40 to 42 feet deep, and the fish were holding close to the channel," he said, "so I adjusted my baits down, dropping them down to the bottom and cranking them up a few feet."

It wasn't long before his patience was rewarded: A 40-pound blue cat hit one of his big Carolina-rigged gizzard shad. That would have been a career fish for most people, and it was for Richmond, whose biggest cats had been in the 20- to 25-pound range.

"I put (the baits) down again, and it wasn't 10 minutes before the big fish hit," he said. "I knew within the first 30 seconds that he was something special. I thought he had run into a tree; I couldn't move him. We sat in a stalemate. Then I fought him for 20 minutes while trying to get the other rods up (lines out of the water)."

Richmond said he doesn't carry a net because nets take up too much room, but he had a homemade gaff. After 30 minutes of fighting the fish on 14-pound test Stren line, he hooked the gaff in the fish's mouth.

"I don't know how I got him in the boat," he said. "After I did, I just sat down for a while before putting him in the livewell. I caught some other cats, including a 40-pounder at about 5:30 p.m. and then packed up to get the fish weighed."

That's when another battle of sorts began. First, Richmond went to Hwy 49 Sporting Goods to weigh the fish, but the scale went only to 50 pounds and was not certified by the state. The next stop was a Food Lion, where the scale was certified but went to only 30 pounds. Meanwhile, Richmond called his wife to help in the search for certified scales. He called the Bass Pro Shops store in Concord and was told to bring the fish in - to shipping scales topping out at 50 pounds. Another Food Lion had 30-pound, uncertified scales.

At that point, Richmond had "four or five" friends gathered around his truck, all working cell phones trying to find scales.

Finally, at 10:30 p.m., the fish was weighed at Tru-Value Hardware in Hickory Grove, N.C., on an outdoor platform scale with a balance arm - and a sticker stating the scale was state-certified. Randy Thomas, a hunter education specialist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, had joined the party and was on his cell phone getting specifics from state fisheries employees on certifying the fish. Richmond said that Lawrence Dorsey, District 6 fisheries biologist, was one of those contacted.

"I put the fish on the scales, turned and walked away," Richmond said. "I turned it over to Randy at that point."

The scale read 83 pounds even. The fish had a length of 49 inches and a girth of 37 inches. Richmond had intended to weigh and release the fish, but it died during the scale scramble. Now, the angler plans to have a fiberglass replica made.

Although Richmond has 40 years of experience fishing, he said this is his most memorable catch. What makes it even more memorable is that he was using standard striper tackle to do it: a 7-foot live-bait rod from Bass Pro Shops, a BPS baitcasting reel similar to an Ambassadeur 6500C, 2/0 Daiichi light circle hooks, 14-pound test line and a 7-inch gizzard shad for bait.

His plans?

"I'm still going to fish for stripers," he said. "But, I'm going to pay greater attention when I see big arcs on my graph."





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