A Mississippi man broke state records on July 31 with a 104-pound blue cat caught after a long weekend in the Mississippi River near Natchez. Christopher Halley of Brookhaven, Mississippi, caught the giant fish of biblical proportions in a palanquin, setting a state record for blue catfish in the trophy category.
“I didn’t know it was a record when I first got in the boat, but I knew it was a really big fish,” Halley said.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fish and Parks maintains three categories for fishing records: “Rod and Reel”, “Fly Fishing” and “Trophy”. While the “rod and reel” and “fly fishing” categories are straightforward, the trophy category is defined by less traditional fishing methods such as longlines, shovels, jugs, bowfishing, and noodles. Halley’s catch broke the previous record set by Freddie Parker and Brad Smith in 1997 by three pounds.
Halley went fishing the day before, but a bad storm caught him out on the river and he ended up having to sleep in his boat. Shortly after breakfast the next day, Halley checked her lines and could feel something tugging.
“I knew it was a good fish, but I didn’t think it was that big,” he said.
When the catfish was revealed, Halley knew it would pose some logistical problems. She tried to catch the fish in her net, but it wasn’t big enough. Half of the fish was hanging from the net and she was worried that it would be so big that it would fall off. Then, in an incredible feat of strength, Halley, who at the time thought he weighed 70, maybe 80 pounds, grabbed the fish by the gills and hauled it into her boat.
It was then that Halley realized the magnitude of what had just landed. “I knew it was the best fish she had ever caught,” said Halley, whose previous personal record weighed in at about 50 pounds. She tried to weigh the fish on her scale and saw that the marlin danced around 100 pounds. “That’s when I really started to realize what I had,” she said.
Being particular about how he keeps his fish, Halley was determined to freeze the fish right away. However, while he was trying to pack his catch into his new cooler, the fish broke the cooler.
On the way home, he stopped at his favorite bait shop, Joe Bob’s, to get the fish properly weighed. With the help of a stranger, Halley lifted the fish onto the scale. She weighed 103.8 pounds.
Halley’s brother started Googling the state records and told Halley she should probably call the ranger. After finding a certified scale and weighing the fish again, the warden confirmed that Halley had just broken the state record.
After returning home with his record-breaking catfish and about 40 other fish, Halley knew he’d find a suitable fish fry.
“A lot of people will tell you ‘why eat fish like that, it’s not good,'” Halley said. “But that’s not always true”.
Halley is a lifelong fisherman whose father taught him how to fish when he was a little boy. However, he credits his father-in-law and mother-in-law, David and Sandra Case, with teaching him how to fish for catfish properly.
His fish was the second record blue caught in Mississippi this year. In April, Eugene Cronley landed a 131-pound blue catfish also near Natchez in the “Rod and Reel” category, making it the largest fish caught in recorded state history.
Although it may seem like a coincidence, or that something in the water near Natchez is breeding monster fish, Jerry Brown, director of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fish and Parks, suspects it’s more likely because of the abundance of ramps for boats near Natchez, making it a popular fishing destination. He points out that other parts of the Mississippi River can be quite remote and inaccessible to anglers.
However, that’s not to say there isn’t great cat fishing in Mississippi. There’s plenty of food for the notoriously gluttonous fish to gorge on, as well as fertile waters and a long growing season that allow for monster catfish like the Halley, according to Brown.
“It just shows that we have some really good fish here in our state, [that] one of our fish gets as big as that with lots of food and the right environment,” Brown said.
Images via Christopher Halley.