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South Dakota's State-Record Channel Catfish Reconsidered

South Dakota's State-Record Channel Catfish Reconsidered
Roy Groves’ former 55-pound South Dakota state-record channel catfish, caught from the James River, is believed to be a blue cat.

South Dakota fishery biologists voided the state’s oldest record fish, a channel catfish caught by Roy Groves in 1949, according to a press release by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP). The record was opened due to a 70-year-old fish misidentification.

“Ever since I started working for GFP, anglers have believed it was not a channel catfish, and many of my colleagues have seen that picture and have quickly said that Mr. Groves’ fish is a blue catfish,” says Geno Adams, GFP fisheries program administrator, in the news release. ”I sent the picture to two South Dakota State University fishery professors and fish identification experts, and both agreed. We feel that, while this is a great fish and a great story, it is time to open the channel catfish category and start fresh.”

GFP announced they have begun “Catrush 2019,” a social-media push to increase angler interest in catfish, which are abundant and underutilized in South Dakota. It’s also designed to make anglers aware of the Proud Angler and State Record fish platforms that now provide anglers with detailed information on all proud angler fish caught in South Dakota as well as current and past state-record fish.

“Our hope is that people target channel catfish and we have the state record broken multiple times in the next few weeks,” Adams said, in the May 2019 release. “I will go through the state-record applications by the date and time the applications were submitted. We will be keeping the public informed through our Facebook page and our state-record fish webpage. We think it will be a fun way to create interest in catfishing.”

In a 2001 article in In-Fisherman magazine, former managing editor Steve Hoffman wrote about the controversy surrounding Groves’ state record, and that the In-­Fisherman staff believed it likely was a blue catfish. He wrote that, beyond Groves’ fish and the world-record 58-pounder taken by W. B. Whaley from Santee-Cooper in 1964, “Our research found only three other fish exceeding the 50-pound mark, two from separate pay lakes in California and a third from Tom Baily, a tiny state-owned lake in Mississippi. From the photos we’ve obtained and conversations with lake managers and biologists, these fish might also be blue catfish or even blue and channel cat hybrids misidentified as channel cats.”

Recent evidence showed that the “hybrid” explanation holds possible answers. In March 2019, Josh Garcia, fishing with Michael and Teri Littlejohn’s Guide Service, caught a 47-pound catfish from Lake Tawokini in Texas, believing it was a new state-record channel catfish, which would have exceeded the previous record by more than 10 pounds. The fish was weighed and a fin clip taken before it was released. Discussions of whether the catfish was a blue or channel cat played out on social media before DNA evidence confirmed that it was in fact a hybrid channel-blue catfish.

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