Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

96-pound blue catfish a new Ohio state standard

Meldahl Dam, Ohio – Two southern Ohio fishermen had their hands
– and later their boat – filled with a state record 96-pound blue
catfish.

Chris Rolph of Williamsburg, and, Jon Owens, of Amelia, fishing
buddies of 33 years, set out June 10 in the Ohio River for catfish
about a mile upstream from Schmidt’s Boat Ramp. It wasn’t until the
early hours of June 11 that Rolph’s fishing rig “bent double,”
Rolph said. “We knew we had a good fish.”

The two anglers wrestled the catfish aboard at 1:15 a.m., about
30 minutes after the cat struck the bait, Rolph said. They had been
fishing since 6 p.m. the evening before and had hooked a few
channel cats, flatheads and blues from 1 to 5 pounds, he said.

“It was a tremendous struggle,” Rolph, 49, said of the big cat.
“It surfaced a good bit from the boat and began to roll,” in an
attempt to dislodge the bait.

As Rolph slowly reeled the fish closer, Owens, 49, saw the
fish’s white belly next to the boat, and knew “this is a monster,”
he recalled.

The fish was too big for their net, so the fishermen grabbed the
cat and hauled the fish into their 16-foot boat. Owens said he
wasn’t about to let go of his gloved grip on the lower jaw, “or I
was going to go in the river, too.” After heaving the behemoth into
the boat, Owens told Rolph, “You have a state record blue catfish,”
he said.

The fishermen’s next problem was to try to keep the 561/2
inch-long blue cat alive in their boat’s 50-inch container so that
they could transport the fish to Rolph’s pond in Williamsburg,
Ohio.

With just enough room for the head and part of its body, Rolph
said he was able to aerate the container with an air pump and, once
home, transfer the fish into a 100-gallon feed through and into his
pond.

Since the catch, Rolph said he has seen the catfish nicknamed
“Moby,” surface four or five times in the pond. Moby won’t be
lonely. Rolph’s pond is home to about 40 flat-heads, 20 blue cats
and several channel cats that the fisherman has caught and
released.

Rolph’s 7-year-old daughter, Jordan, “has loved it,” her dad
said of the pond’s largest inhabitant, even though the catfish is
longer than Jordan is tall and is double her weight.

Rolph said he hooked the record fish using a 7-foot Berkley
lightning rod, equipped with an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6000 bait
cast reel, Berkley Trilene Big Game 25-pound test line, Mustad No.
5 circle hooks, and 6-ounce egg sinkers.

For a fish to be certified as a state record tackle fish, it has
to be weighed on a scale certified by the county auditor and
witnessed by two people. In addition, the fish species must be
verified by a fishery biologist of the Ohio Division of Wildlife,
and the fish must be taken legally. Fish taken from pay lakes are
not eligible for consideration as a record, according to the
rules.

The record fish committee of the Ohio Outdoor Writers of Ohio
certified Rolf’s catch as a state record, said Tom Cross, committee
chairman. The organization is the keeper of Ohio fish records.

In 2007, the Ohio Division of Wildlife removed the blue catfish
from Ohio’s endangered species list and reclassified the fish as a
“species of special concern.” The reclassification allows fishermen
to legally catch and possess the fish.

The decision to downlist the blue catfish was based on findings
by a joint research project by fishery biologists of the Ohio DOW
and the Kentucky Department of Fish & Game. Biologists found
substantial numbers of blue catfish in the lower Ohio River.

In 2008, a blue catfish was added to state records for the first
time to recognize a 57-pound, 3.2 ounce blue cat that measured
451/2 inches in length. The fish was caught in the Ohio River by
Keith Setty of Lynchburg, Ohio.

“I have seen some big fish, but that’s a monster,” Cross said of
Rolph’s catch. “That thing is huge. The head is as big as a
basketball.”

Equally impressed were employees at the 19th century landmark
Bethel Feed and Supply in Bethel, Ohio, where Rolph took the blue
catfish to be officially weighed and witnessed.

“I have heard of big fish, but once you see it, the pictures
don’t do it justice,” said Michael Reeves, a feed supply worker.
“There was a lot of excitement when it came in,” he said.

Using a century-old Howe Scale with a platform 4 feet by 4 feet,
the fish was certified as weighing 96 pounds.

“We have weighed deer and things like that, but that was the
largest fish we weighed,” owner Susan Reeves said.

Rolph doesn’t think his record will last long. A 104-pound blue
catfish was pulled from the Ohio River in 1999 by a Kentucky
fisherman in tail waters of the Cannelton dam and remains the
Kentucky state record.

“There are bigger ones in there,” said Setty, who hooked last
year’s record catfish. He said he was “shocked” that his record
lasted as long as it did.

In the fall of 2007, Rolph said he hooked onto a fish he near
saw near the Meldahl Dam because it broke his fishing line. “It
fought hard and was swimming toward the dam,” he said.

“I think he may be downplaying this,” said Doug Maloney, Fish
Management Supervisor for DOW’s District 5, who assisted in
certification of Rolph’s blue catfish. “It was a significant
catch.”

The world record for a blue catfish is a 58-inch long, 124-pound
fish caught in the Mississippi River by Illinois fisherman Tim
Pruitt in 2005.

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