Record flathead taken at Blue Marsh
By Bob Frye
Boyertown, Pa. – James Shabrach Jr. spends a lot of nights
fishing the spillway below Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County, but few
of them end up like the night of Dec. 21.
Shabrach, of Boyertown, had cast out a fire tiger-patterned Luhr
Jensen Sugar Shad. It’s a lipless vibrating crankbait. He’s had a
lot of success with that lure, bouncing it off the bottom to catch
walleyes and striped bass.
He got a surprise on that night, though.
“The lure stopped dead, so I thought I had a snag,”
Shabrach said. “Then I lifted the rod, and it started
bobbing. That’s when I knew I had a fish on.”
And what a fish it was. Not a walleye or a striper, or even the
muskie Shabrach thought it might be. This was a flathead catfish,
44.75 inches long and 30 inches around. When weighed on a certified
scale – a full four days after being caught – the fish weighed 48
pounds, 6 ounces.
That makes it a new state record.
Shabrach’s fish bettered by almost a pound and a half the
existing record, a 47-pound flathead pulled from the Ohio River by
Vic Zendron, of West Sunbury, in Butler County.
Ironically, Zendron just caught his fish last September, so his
time as the official record holder lasted only a few months. Prior
to that, Seymore Albramovitz, of Pittsburgh, had held the state
flathead record since 1985 with a 43-pound, 9-ounce fish from the
Shabrach had caught three other catfish – two channel cats and a
much smaller flathead – from the spillway just a few weeks before,
also on lures. But he never fished specifically for them, and he
certainly never expected to get a flathead of that size.
“When I finally saw the fish, I was like, wow. I was
shocked,” Shabrach said.
“It went up and down that canal a lot. I caught it on
12-pound test line, so it was fun. It muscled me a lot more than I
There’s no denying the awesomeness of a fish as big and old as
the flathead Shabrach reeled in, said Dan Tredinnick, press
secretary for the Fish & Boat Commission. Biologists from the
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission did not examine it, but
they estimate it was probably about 14 years old.
There is a downside to his catch, though, Tredinnick said, and
that has to do with the fact that it came from Blue Marsh Lake.
Flatheads are native to the Ohio River drainage in western
Pennsylvania, Tredinnick pointed out. They are not native to
eastern Pennsylvania, however. In fact, they’re considered an
invasive species there.
They’re known to have been in the eastern part of the state for
a while. Flatheads were confirmed in the Susquehanna River
downstream of York Haven Dam in July 2005, and in the Susquehanna
and Schuylkill River before that, in July 2002.
They were first identified in southeastern Pennsylvania in Blue
Marsh Reservoir in 1997, though. Based on its age and size, that
first flathead found had likely been there a while, biologists
believe, though they don’t know where it came from or how it got
Biologists have been suggesting ever since that anglers keep
every flathead they pull out of southeastern Pennsylvania waters,
regardless of size, but obviously the fish are still surviving.
“We don’t want to take anything away from Mr.
Shabrach’s record, because he caught a heck of a fish, by any
standard,” said Tredinnick. “But by rights, that fish
should not have been there.”
It was, but it almost didn’t get its place in the record
Shabrach stopped at his parents’ house on the way home from
fishing to show his father his big fish. It was his dad who
suggested he get the fish weighed as a possible record.
Shabrach called the Fish & Boat Commission. Carl Richardson,
coordinator of the records program, agreed that he should get it
weighed on a certified scale right away.
Shabrach tried. He took the fish to a feed mill, which claimed
to have a certified scale. The flathead registered 45.75 pounds on
it. That didn’t seem right, though.
“I have a 7-year-old daughter who was weighed at school
just two days before I caught the fish, and she weighed 52 pounds.
And the fish is two inches taller than her,” Shabrach said.
He decided to take the fish somewhere else to have its weight
checked again. One scale put the fish at 48 pounds, another at 49,
and a third at 49.2.
Fish & Boat Commission record guidelines require any fish to
be measured to the nearest ounce, though, so Shabrach finally took
the fish to a meat market.
There, on a certified scale, the now-4-day-old fish weighed in
at 48 pounds, 6 ounces.
That was good enough for the Fish & Boat Commission, which
recognized the fish as a new state record in mid-March.