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Walton caught the enormous fish at 6 p.m. using a night crawler, egg sinker and 20-pound test line. A novice angler who had landed just two fish in her life prior to her record catfish, Walton admits she was overwhelmed and "shocked" by her achievement.
"When I first picked up the rod and started reeling I thought I was snagged on a rock," said Walton. "I pulled again and that's when the fish just took off. I reeled some more and the fish came towards the surfac--that's when we saw how big it was and I just started shaking."
After 10 minutes of careful give-and-take, Walton landed her prize catch with the help of her boyfriend's parents, John and Eva Clark.
The catfish measured 40 4/8 inches in length, boasted a 28 5/8-inch girth and tipped the scales at 43 pounds, 6 ounces--more than 7 pounds heavier than the previous 35-pound, 8-ounce record caught by Daris McKinnon at Aurora Reservoir on June 28, 2010.
Walton's fish is the latest in a trio of state-record channel catfish taken from the now-famous metro area fishery. Prior to Walton's and McKinnon's records, Aurora resident Mike Stone landed a 35-pound catfish from the reservoir on July 26, 2009, breaking a longstanding 15-year state record set by John McKeever at Hertha Reservoir in 1994.
DOW aquatic biologists say the recent succession of record fish from the fertile, urban impoundment is no coincidence.
"Aurora Reservoir has ideal forage conditions to produce very large fish," said Paul Winkle, DOW aquatic biologist who manages the fishery. "There's an outstanding population of crayfish and yellow perch, which provides an excellent food source for fish to grow to enormous sizes."
Known primarily as "bottom-feeders" that scavenge muddy lake bottoms for food, channel catfish become adept predators when they grow to large sizes.
"When catfish get big they will eat everything in sight," said Winkle. "This means they will go after fish, crayfish and other aquatic organisms. This predator behavior and voracious appetite allows large cats to grow even bigger."
In the last decade, the DOW has stocked more than 135,000 fish at Aurora Reservoir, including trout, bass, catfish, walleye and wiper, helping to establish the 640-acre reservoir as one of the state's most popular fisheries. The DOW began stocking channel catfish in the reservoir in the early 1990s, and biologists speculate that Walton's record fish may have been one of those planted nearly 20 years ago.
"Based on the fish's length, we estimate its age to be around the 15- to 18-year mark," said Winkle. "Therefore, it's very likely that this fish is close to the same age as the angler who caught it."
Although not present when Walton caught her catfish, Walton credits her boyfriend Chris for supporting her budding angling interests.
"I have to admit, Chris was pretty upset at first when he heard that I was the one who caught the state record because he puts so much time into fishing and it's his favorite thing to do," said Walton. "But he's also happy for me because he's the one who taught me how to fish. Before I met him, I was the typical 'girly-girl' who was afraid to put the worm on my hook."
Walton says that she hasn't decided what to do with her trophy fish but is considering getting it mounted to preserve the memory of her once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The DOW added the record channel catfish to the Colorado State Fishing Records and issued Walton a Master Angler award certificate and patch, recognizing her outstanding accomplishment.
"We want to congratulate Jessica for her record-setting fish," said Greg Gerlich, DOW fisheries chief. "It's always exciting when someone breaks a state record but even more so when it's someone who's new to fishing. This is a great example of how anyone, regardless of experience, can have a tremendous day fishing with their friends or family."
The DOW tracks fish records by weight in 43 different species categories. Potential record holders must have a valid Colorado fishing license or be under the age of 16. The fish in question must be weighed on a state-certified scale, and a weight receipt must be signed by a person who witnessed the weighing. The fish, before being frozen, gutted or altered in any way, must be examined and identified by a DOW biologist or wildlife manager before an application is submitted.
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