A Tennessee man surprised state wildlife officials last month by catching a monster blue catfish that weighed more than 100 pounds. Angler Micka Burkhart caught the 118.7-pound bluegill while fishing the Cumberland River last month. Pending official certification, Burkhart’s catch as of Sept. 24 will likely hold the new Tennessee state record, breaking the one that had held for more than 24 years.
Burkhart was fishing with his wife on a stretch of the Cumberland River in northern Tennessee when he hooked a seemingly “decent” fish, Burkhart told News Channel 9. He was using a three-inch piece of barrel that caught with an 8. /0 Gamakatsu hook, trodden or slightly above the bottom in 40 to 50 feet. The catfish swam toward Burkhart’s boat and then took off on an aggressive first run, proving that Burkhart was dealing with more than an average fish.
“Apparently he saw me and realized he was hooked,” Burkhart told News Channel 9. “When he took off that time he almost hooked me.”
He said the fight took roughly 45 minutes from hook to net. From there, Burkhart drove to meet a friend at the boat launch and weighed the catfish on an unofficial scale, where he discovered he had potentially broken the record.
A certified scale is required to be accurate when considering a record catch. Without such a ladder, Burkhart waited nearly 4 hours with the 118-pound catfish in his life well for local Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials to find one. Burkhart and TWRA officers prioritized keeping the fish alive and healthy, so finding a scale nearby that could support the weight of the fish was critical.
“I almost didn’t certify it because I didn’t want this fish to die,” Burkhart said. “I wanted to do everything in our power to free him.”
Finally, TWRA agents found a decent ladder at a local butcher shop. The catfish weighed 6.7 pounds more than the previous record set in 1998, also caught in the Cumberland River. Burkhart’s fish measured an astonishing 54 inches long with a girth of 41 inches. Blue catfish are one of the largest freshwater fish in North America, but the average blue rarely exceeds 20-40 pounds.
“All my friends are probably more excited than I am,” Burkhart said. “It hasn’t hit me yet.”
After weighing the giant blue, Burkhart brought the fish back to the Cumberland River, where he successfully released it. A video posted on Facebook shows Burkhart and another person in the river reviving the shoulder-length catfish. Burkhart told reporters that the two-minute video is just a fraction of the roughly 30 minutes he spent in the water, making sure he was swimming healthy. People on TWRA’s Facebook page praised Burkhart for releasing the fish and taking steps to keep it healthy.
Tennessee anglers may legally harvest one catfish larger than 34 inches per day. But Burkhart released the big blue, saying he would keep the small ones but let his big catch live to “catch another day.”