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 quite a lot 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 operating continuous, pumping large volumes of water. Piles of massive 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. Recognized for his 72-hour catfish benders on Lake Gaston, North Carolina, he hooked a 91-pound blue whereas controlled-drifting with a bit of white perch. Having weighed the fish on an authorized scale, he launched the brand new North Carolina state document again into the water close to its unique 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 obtained 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 document 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 following step within the intriguing story of a trio of lakes on the Roanoke River.

Practically 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. Probably 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 massive fish caught in late fall via winter.


Atlantic Catfish Emergence

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

Otolith growing old of Anderson’s blue cat revealed it was 18 years outdated.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

Farther north into Virginia, blue catfish grew to become established within the James and Rappahannock rivers, considerably infamously, when VDGIF stocked a small variety of fish into these programs within the Nineteen Seventies. With a wealthy abundance of forage, similar to shad, herring, and prized blue crabs, the catfish inhabitants has exploded within the tidal rivers, and unfold into the Potomac—additionally linked 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 largely fish weight loss 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 choose 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 perfect fishing happens one hour both facet of the excessive or low tide. “When water’s transferring, blues station in dependable, predictable areas,” he says. “A big submerged tree or brushpile on a shallow flat or alongside a channel edge sometimes maintain massive blues. Wing dams additionally appeal to fish.

“Depth isn’t a significant factor,” says Renouf, who’s caught catfish from 5 to 70 ft deep within the James. “Cowl and present are trump playing cards. Deep undercut ledges on exterior river bends will be good, as can the downcurrent facet of an inside bend the place a small melancholy has fashioned 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 might have peaked. In response to native anglers like Archie Gold of Evening 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 harder in recent times.

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

Report-In search of 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 missed 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 probably the most underfished stretch of this traditional river. However it’s simply as possible {that a} world document 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 not stunning nor vital by way of information. A look at Virginia’s Trophy Fish program alone reveals at the least 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 following world document. “Gaston’s fish migrated right here from Kerr, so that they’re nonetheless rising and increasing,” says Royce, who sometimes fishes Kerr, as properly. “Gaston’s blue cats are rising quick. They’re clear, strong fish with small heads and large our bodies.

“I consider a sensible objective we’ll see in some unspecified time in the future is 150 kilos. The fishery began to peak within the final 5 years. Rising up, we caught large 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 perfect chunk.”

One main difference-maker, he says, has been his adaptation of walleye-style planer boards for controlled-drift fishing. “The most important key’s masking as a lot water as doable and maximizing the time my bait’s within the water. Meaning 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 ft to twenty ft beneath 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 pull backside. Then I’d 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 ft,” 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 will be troublesome to discern on sonar. So, he concentrates on ledges close to the principle river channel, notably areas with timber or humps close to the ledge, or up on the adjoining flat. Mussel beds on mushy backside produce, too. And creek arm junctions with the principle river channel will also be potential blue cat gold mines.

“A giant issue for dragging backside is to stop your rig from bouncing up and down, or continuously snagging and popping free,” he says. “A mushy, 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 massive 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, obtainable at Royce’s Dragging Weights are supplied 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. Huge 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 laws 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

Aside from a handful of hidden gems and the inevitable emergence of the following Lake Gaston, the one different logical place for a blue exceeding 143 kilos is the Mississippi River. In response to each Phil King and John Jamison—two of the game’s most achieved 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 for the reason that final world document 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 at the least 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 via the roof in abundance. Silver and bighead carp are so ample now within the Missouri and Mississippi. Just lately, I made one throw with a solid web and it took two of us to drag 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 sooner, fishing patterns have develop into much less predictable. “Catfish not have to sample baitfish actions. Now, they feed any time they need, so a few of our conventional patterns have light. There’s little doubt somebody on the Decrease Mississippi will finally catch a 150.”

King, among the many most generally traveled catfish anglers in America, believes probably the most missed 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 fee of any lake I do know of, and a 113-pound state document 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 supply world-class blues.

Different entries on King’s checklist embody the Missouri River. “It holds large 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 throughout the 2007 Bass Professional Outlets Huge 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 dearth of different anglers on the river round Baton Rouge. “It’s untapped water,” he says. “Final time I used to be there, we obtained bit by or caught an enormous fish on each spot I fished. You’ve obtained every kind of present breaks down there, with a simple move of two to 2.5 mph. A lot of 30- to 100-foot holes via that stretch. The blues are in wholesome situation, particularly with all of the grain that comes via (through barge site visitors). After 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—sometimes report seeing and unintentionally catching mammoth blue cats within the brackish water. Lodge supervisor Ray Stansberry says after they eliminate the filleted stays of saltwater fish, “it friends up massive 30- to 60-pound blue cats nearly instantly. We don’t run any catfishing charters, however the fishing is definitely doable, and untapped.”

The present Louisiana state document 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 broad 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 growing old information on Greg Bernal’s 130-pound blue, which was decided from a backbone pattern to be merely 18 years outdated,” he says. “This was a wholesome, youthful fish. It’s conceivable that catfish like this might simply proceed rising for one more 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 greater, it’s the variety of anglers concentrating on—and releasing—theses monsters. One massive 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 enormous fish themselves.”

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

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