A North Carolina farm pond produced this 27-pound-plus record channel cat for
Justin Hall of Reidsville, NC. (Photo courtesy of Hall and NC Wildlife Resources Commission)
More State Records Broken
By Keith “Catfish” Sutton
A trio of massive catfish establish new state records in North Carolina, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In our last issue, we shared with you the amazing story of the 122.3-pound Tennessee state-record blue catfish landed by Micka Burkhart. Against all odds, it seems that the 118.7-pound blue caught and released by Burkhart to establish a new state record in September 2022 was caught again by him while fishing in the Cumberland River on June 28, 2023.
Burkhart’s catch wasn’t the only one to establish a new state-record benchmark recently. On May 21 this year, Justin Hall of Reidsville, N.C. reeled in a 27-pound, 7-ounce channel catfish from a local farm pond near his home in Rockingham County, breaking the previous record of 26 pounds caught in the Neuse River in July 2021.
Hall has been fishing this pond for years but rarely caught channel catfish from it until May 2023 when his 13-year-old son caught what he estimates to have been a channel cat over 25 pounds. They returned it to the water, unaware of the record held at that time.
“I told a friend about my son’s catch, and he told me it might have been big enough to beat the state record,” said Hall. A week later, using bread dough as bait and his Big Cat Fever Casting Rod and Zebco Big Cat XT reel, he hooked and landed the record-breaker.
“My wife went down to the waterline to bring it in with the net, and it bent the net,” he said. That fish, which measured 36-1/4 inches long and 24-7/8 inches in girth, has now been certified by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission as a new state record.
While Burkhart’s catch was massive for its species, an even heavier channel catfish caught on July 20 established a new state record in West Virginia. That fish weighed an impressive 37.5 pounds, and it was caught by Allen Burkett of Moorefield who caught the previous record holder, a 36.96-pounder, on June 20, 2022.
Both of these record-breaking channel cats were caught at South Mill Creek Lake in Grant County. Before then, West Virginia’s largest channel catfish record stood for 17 years.
Yet another state record—this one a Pennsylvania flathead—was caught on May 14, 2023, by Michael Wherley of Fayetteville, Pennsylvania while fishing on the Susquehanna River section in Lancaster County known as Lake Aldred. Wherley was using a live rainbow trout for bait while fishing with his friend Tommy Clark, also of Fayetteville. Around 10 a.m., three of the four lines they had in the water hooked fish simultaneously.
“It was a little bit crazy, but we managed to start reeling them in,” said Wherley. “There was a 30-pounder, and then Tommy brought in a 45-pounder that ended up breaking the net when we tried lifting it into the boat.”
Wherley says as he reeled in the third rod, he knew right away it was a very large fish, and his arms started to cramp as he continued to battle the catfish for the next 30 minutes.
“When it finally came to the surface, all I could think was that it was humungous!” Wherley recalled. “When I got the fish next to the boat, I handed the rod to Tommy, and I stuck both hands in the fish’s mouth and pulled as hard as I could to bring it aboard. We knew we had something.”
When later weighed on certified scales, that fish, a flathead catfish, tipped the scales at 66 pounds, 6 ounces, exceeding the previous state record by more than 10 pounds. Thanks to careful handling by the anglers, it was released alive back into the river and swam away. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has confirmed it is a new record.
“This is just incredible, and I’m really glad we were able to release the fish back into the river,” said Wherley. “My previous personal best flathead was 44 pounds last year. I know I’ve had bigger ones on the line, but they got off before I could get them on the boat. I’ll enjoy this record as long as it lasts, but I’m sure it will probably be broken in a year or two, if not sooner. I’m 100 percent certain there are even bigger fish out there.”