Some of the best trophy catfish pulled from Lake Wylie would be bait for the beast Jeff Manning just scored.
Local fishing experts say his 82-pound blue catfish caught Jan. 24 is unofficial lake record, just 7 pounds shy of the North Carolina record.
“It was a beast,” said the Gastonia angler, who was on a mid-day run to check his boat repair work when he decided to drop a few lines. “It was definitely a beast.”
Manning videoed the almost 10-minute fight. He nearly let out a full reel of line and pulled up his anchor to follow the fish. He cut the line on another bent rod, focusing on what he could tell right away was a massive fish. When finally he pulled it from the water, Manning found something bigger than he expected.
“That’s when reality struck,” he said. “That’s what you realize this is up there with the biggest things you’ve ever caught.”
Marty Green, organizer with Catawba Catfish Club, saw the photo.
“It was gigantic,” Green said. “That’s the biggest fish that’s been caught out of Lake Wylie. It was about as impressive a fish as you’ll find.”
Manning fished on three of the past four club championship teams, including the past two seasons. His 62-pound blue catfish from Lake Wateree in 2009 is the second largest caught in competition. Through five out of nine tournaments this season, his team sits fourth out of 40 boats.
“If somebody is going to find them,” Green said, “Jeff will.”
But the size stands alone. In the most recent club event on Wylie in December – Manning’s team finished second – the winning three-fish weight was 82.4 pounds. The biggest fish ever caught in a club tournament was 14 pounds lighter.
Green shook his head to think of his own personal best, in the 50-pound range, compared to what Manning caught.
“That would swallow that one,” he said.
Dieter Melhorn, president of Carolina Catfish Club, was sitting at home when his vice president called talking about a “fish of a lifetime.” Manning sent Melhorn a picture, the fish boated and looking like it weighed 50 pounds. Melhorn packed up and drove about 5 miles to meet Manning on the water, camera in hand.
“That’s our thing,” Melhorn said. “If there’s not a picture of it, it wasn’t caught.”
Once on the water, it was clear this was no 50-pounder. Both anglers have scales, and also a fish formula that involves girth squared times length at one point. The formula came in within a pound of the scale reading.
“That’s an anomaly,” Melhorn said of an 80-pound catfish. “Genetically, and the chances that it’s never been caught and kept. That’s a tenth of 1 percent of the fish that are out there.”
Now, anglers are thinking even bigger. A relatively unencumbered life at the bottom of Wylie means an 82-pounder released could grow to 90 pounds and secure a new state record.
“Wylie grows fish pretty quickly,” Melhorn said. “It could be a new state record within two years.”
Manning says conservation efforts will lead to bigger fish.
“If we continue with the conservation they’ll keep growing,” he said. “Lake Wylie will hold the state record. There’s no doubt in my mind.”