Voracious predators fond of tangled logjams and other gnarly environments, giant flathead catfish records are a challenge to land on the stoutest of tackle. Yet sometimes, as we chronicle in several of the following entries on state-record shovelheads, lady luck intercedes on our behalf. Often, though, true monsters trash even heavy gear and escape. Which explains why commercial trotlines and other Herculean tackle account for some of the largest fish on record.
For example, Tennessee’s state record, taken from the Hiwassee River in 1993, weighed almost 86 pounds. But a 92-pound flathead taken by a commercial fisherman from the Mississippi River in 2000 holds the state’s non-sportfishing record. In Oklahoma, the “unrestricted” record stands at 102 pounds. Texas biologists note that a replica of a 122-pound flathead taken illegally from Lake Tyler in the spring of 1984 is on display at the Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens; that fish tops the current Lone Star record by more than 23 pounds and would have been a world record at the time. Of them all, Arkansas is hard to beat with a brute taken from the Arkansas River on a snagline back in 1982 that tipped certified scales at 139 pounds, 14 ounces. Again, not a rod-and-reel record.
Still, a glance at the nation’s record catfish reveals nine fish breaking the 80-pound barrier, three of which topped 90. We’ll start with the granddaddy of flathead records, the world all-tackle, then offer a sampling from around cat country to whet your appetite for monster mud cats of your own.
Taken from Elk City Reservoir, Kansas, on May 14, 1998, the fish stretched the tape a whopping 61 inches and sported a pleasantly plump, 42¾-inch girth. Paulie was crappie fishing at the time, and hooked it on a jig-and-minnow. Like many world records, it was not without controversy. It was verified while alive by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks fishery biologist Sean Lynott. But details of the catch—such as the relatively light tackle Paulie was using, and his statement that it didn’t put up much of a fight—raised eyebrows in the cat community. Still, the record stands to this day as a testament to the immense proportions flatheads are capable of attaining.