Channel catfish state record is up for grabs
If you've ever dreamed of reeling in a state record fish, it's time to quit dreaming and start fishing. Now that the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has vacated the long-held channel catfish state record, the new state record is up for grabs -- with a catch: this fish must weigh at least 20 pounds.
The old state record, held by Maryville, TN., angler Pete Paine since 1971, was decertified when a photograph in the May issue of Wildlife in North Carolina revealed that the fish Paine caught from Fontana Lake was actually a flathead catfish, a species which grows much larger than the channel cat.
After the photograph was published in the article, "The Ones That Didn't Get Away," several astute readers wrote to managing editor, Greg Jenkins, pointing out the error.
"The photo of Pete Paine's catch was never available to the public until we got a copy from his family and ran it in the magazine," Jenkins said. "Judging by the letters and e-mails I received about the picture, there are some serious catfish anglers out there who know their fish species."
How did this record remain on the books so long? It's simple, explains Bob Curry, the chief of the Wildlife Commission's Division of Inland Fisheries.
"This record was established prior to the Wildlife Commission administering the State Record Fish Program and, as such, our staff biologists were not given the opportunity to verify the species," Curry said. "Upon close examination of the fish in the photograph, and in consultation with a fisheries science professor from N.C. State, we have concluded that the fish is a flathead catfish, which is native to western North Carolina."
The N.C. Division of Travel and Tourism administered the program until the mid-1980s, when the Wildlife Commission took over. The Wildlife Commission now requires anglers seeking state-record certification for freshwater fish to submit with their applications a full, side-view photo of the fish. Additionally, anglers must catch their fish on hook-and-line only; weigh the fish on certified scales and have the fish examined by a qualified expert from the Wildlife Commission.
The time is ripe for a new state record: in 2003 and 2004, six state records were shattered, including the freshwater drum, which was broken twice in three months. In 2005, none so far have been broken, although the next record breaker could be just a cast away -- providing anglers know where to go and how to fish for channel cats.
Channel catfish are found in a variety of waters in North Carolina, from small ponds to big lakes and flowing rivers. The Wildlife Commission, through its Community Fishing Program, annually stocks more than 165,000 channel catfish in 40 program sites across the state.
Gregarious feeders, channel cats will bite almost any type of natural bait, such as minnows, worms, grasshoppers, shrimp and chicken or beef liver and cut bait.
"Channel catfish have relatively small eyes compared to many other fish, so the bigger and smellier your bait is, the better your chances are of reeling in a record breaker," Curry said.
For a list of all freshwater fish state records in North Carolina or more information on the State Record Fish Program, visit the Wildlife Commission's Web site, http://www.ncwildlife.org
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