“Redemption” By Ethan Henry
Well it’s that time of the year that’s the worst for most of us fishermen. The air is cold and crisp the, the rods are up to dry, there is not many fish biting and our minds are left wondering about the big one that got away. For some, they just get over it. For others it will drive them crazy. For me personally, I am going insane from the thoughts of the big one that got away.
For the ones who just get over it and think that I will just catch him next year, they stock up on their gear to get at it again next year. For the ones going insane, we try to figure out what went wrong, and what can be done differently. Some are simple mistakes or errors. Others were simply equipment failure. Unfortunately for me is was lack of knowledge.
Some of you may already know about the story of my catfish from this past mid spring. I was fishing one of my favorite fishing spots down the road from the house where I grew up. Not to mention I was just in the recovery stage from major knee surgery. So this particular day of fishing was a huge step to me for a couple of reasons, one it was the first long-term fishing trip of the season, and two, it was my first big step to recovery.
I had just bought a new reel for my surf rod, fresh line, and all that. I figured being the beginning of the river rockfish (striped bass) run I’d bring out the big guns just in case that elusive monster river rockfish came through, not to mention if I hooked into anything it would give that fresh braid a good stretch. Enough boasting about my new gear, on with the story.
My brother Ryan, my buddy Cody, and I get to our fishing spot, get our gear out, and poles rigged. Using our favorite cat fishing bait, we cut fresh chunks out of the still half-frozen bait, hook it up, and throw it out there. We caught a few decent sized cats here and there, and on our smaller rods we caught a few tiger and white perch. It was actually a very productive day on the river. Especially for such early fishing, with very few reports of fish being caught in the earlier weeks. Being the hard-headed group that we are, we fished hard and long. Then about four or five hours into the late evening I look up, and see that my line was swept down the river about thirty yards. Which at times is not uncommon to see. The strange thing was that it was thirty yards down, against the current. At first my initial thought was maybe a big rock came by picked it up, dropped it due to tension, and didn’t like it. So as every fisherman does after seeing their line has moved, and with no bites in a while, I picked up my rod and started reeling it in. My line it gets taught and doesn’t want to budge. Which isn’t uncommon at this spot due to being right on a bend, which tends to collect big branches and old logs. So I tighten my drag all the way down and pull back hard, then I was thrown a huge surprise. On the other end something decided it wanted to pull back. I start yelling for Ryan and Cody to get over to me because I knew it was something big just by the pull. Keep in mind I’m using my 10’ Tica TC1 heavy surf rod with a Penn Fierce II 6000 series reel back with 65 lbs test. It took me every bit of fifteen minutes to drag this beast of a fish fifty yards back to the shore.
Initially we thought it was a good-sized rockfish due to the way it was fighting. That’s when this monster decided to come to the surface and show itself. We were awestruck. It was the largest catfish any of us has ever seen in person. We see all these big cats caught down south, but nothing like this has ever been caught around home. As the beast gets closer to the shore, Cody lies on the ground to try to reach it. It was almost low tide and from the shore to the water it is nearly a five foot drop off. Cody couldn’t reach it from his original position, so he tries to scoot farther out to the point. Ryan grabs his legs so he wouldn’t fall into the still rather cold water. Cody eventually gets his hands on the line to control where the fish could go a little easier. Then he lost grip and the fish ran off a little. In the process Ryan is emptying his pockets so he could just jump in and grab this monstrous cat. But in a last-ditch effort Cody reaches out as far as he could and grabs a hold of this enormous river monster. We immediately put it onto our stringer to make sure it won’t get away. Then the celebration began. Luckily we had a digital hand scale, and weighed it just out of curiosity. It came up as 25.5 lbs, give or take a few ounces, a hand scale isn’t always accurate.
We pulled out our phones to see what the current state record was for catfish. It said 23.6 lbs. We were ecstatic that we have our eyes on the new Delaware state record catfish. Luckily my dad has a huge koi pond that we could keep it alive in overnight due to the fact it’s roughly 8:30 pm. As soon as Taylored tackle shop located on 13 in Seaford opened we show up with smiles on our faces, our hearts pounding with joy, and black circles under our eyes due to the lack of sleep the night before. Mr. Taylor laid eyes on this beast and couldn’t believe what he saw. This behemoth measured at 36 ½” long with a girth of 24 ¾” and weighed in at a whopping 25.8 lbs. Then the breath was taken from us by his following words. “Unfortunately this doesn’t qualify as a state record due to the fact the blue catfish is classified as an invasive species.” None the less we were still happy as a clam, since I caught it. A few days later we were then informed that in fact it was a state record, because no rules or regulations exclude invasive species as state records. The only downside was it would never hold up as a state record because DNREC wasn’t there at the time of the weigh in to verify the catch. In the end all I got was a pretty good-looking citation, a lot of congratulations, and in the minds of many the “unofficial state record holder for catfish”. From that day on until surf fishing started up, we fished hard for another lower slower river monster. We had luck on a few other really big cats, but nothing close to the monster that got away.
So now that the fishing season is over I sit and ponder on how I’m going to catch his daddy. The bigger and stronger more elusive monster. As I prepare for another long hard spring fishing season. I will get more cat fishing gear, new and better line, and a new “river monster” pole. My head is held high and spirits soaring, I say to myself this coming year I will catch another state record and it will stick this year.
To all my fellow fishermen, fish hard fish safe, may all your trips produce and in the words of a good friend “Fish On”