One Whopper Of A Tale

Weekly news, tips, trivia, fun facts and wild tales from the outdoors

May 25, 2005

One Whopper Of A Tale

It began, as many big outdoor news stories do these days, with an e-mail. This one, from a sender identified only as “BassMan423,” contained a subject line that was certain to grab any angler’s attention: “World Record Blue Cat,” followed by a string of exclamation points.

J.R. Absher

This Is Big

Some people say they can feel a rush of adrenaline when they’re faced with a daunting, physical challenge. I guess I’m different in that respect. Nothing gets me juiced like being in the middle of a really big news story when it’s breaking — and when no one else has published a report or has yet had a chance to broadcast the details!

Such was the case Monday when “BassMan423” alerted me to a story that was just beginning to grow legs (an old reporter’s term — I’m an old reporter so I’m entitled to use it, OK?). I discovered there was quite a buzz occurring on several Internet fishing forums, including the one he operates called the Heartland Outdoorsman.

The Bassman — aka Mike — directed me to an online forum where participants were discussing the “rumored” catch of a 124-pound blue catfish over the weekend, poundage that would definitely place both the catcher and the catchee in the world record category.

The Scoop

About the time I was clicking on the image of a big, burly fellow holding a fish that looked like it was the result of electronic photo manipulation, I received another e-mail. This one was from friend and fellow outdoor writer, Jeff Lampe, a columnist for the Peoria Journal-Star. Without divulging details, Jeff wrote that he had “a big, fat story” that would appear in Tuesday’s paper that I might be interested in. When I queried him back, asking if it had anything to do with a new, world record blue catfish caught early Sunday morning on the Mississippi, my old pal began to cough up the details.

Story Certified

The long battle between Tim Pruitt and the 124-pound blue catfish began below the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers about 11:30 p.m. Saturday night. More than 40 minutes later and well into Sunday morning, the angler triumphantly grabbed the lower jaw of the 58-inch (that’s just shy of 5 feet) monster and wrestled it into his boat.

Tim Pruitt holds up his new, world record blue catfish that weighed 124 pounds.

The 33-year-old Pruitt, who lives in the small southeastern Illinois town of Fosterburg, was accompanied by his wife, Carla, and friend Tony Phiffer. A longtime catfishing aficionado, he said he has targeted the big Mississippi blue cats for the past 14 years. He fishes one or two evenings each week during the warmer months, using 40-pound test line, heavy-duty reels and stout 8-foot rods. He uses herring heads for bait.

“I don’t know how many 80-pound fish I’ve lost right beside the boat,” Pruitt told Lampe for his Peoria Journal-Star article. “If you don’t quite play them enough, or they come in on you too soon, as soon as you put the glove on their lower lip they go crazy. They start doing death rolls and snapping line.”

Fish Certified

Two years ago, Pruitt reported catching a 95-pound blue cat that he released without obtaining a certified weight.

“I didn’t keep it because I didn’t have a boat equipped to keep it alive,” he said. “I’ve got one with a big (80-gallon) livewell now. So I was able to hold this fish and to transport it safely.”

So, what does a fellow do with a potential new record catfish at 1 a.m.? Well, in this case, Pruitt and his cohorts rousted Dale St. Peters, owner of St. Peters Hardware in nearby Alton, Ill.

The fish was weighed on the hardware store’s propane scale and was witnessed by St. Peters and a conservation police officer. Then, later Sunday morning, Rob Maher, commercial fisheries biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, officially certified it as a blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) with a length of 58 inches and a girth of 44 inches. It is the heaviest verified fish caught in Illinois and a state record for blue catfish.

“You hear stories, but until you see it, you have no idea,” St. Peters said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “I told my wife, ‘You won’t get that smile off their faces for two weeks.'”

When Pruitt submits the required paperwork to the International Game Fish Association his fish will surpass the current record, a 121-pound, 8-ounce blue catfish that Texas angler Cody Mullennix pulled from the waters of Lake Texoma in January 2004.

Star Treatment

Through an agreement with a Kansas City outdoor superstore, Pruitt’s record catch will be displayed in a 55,000-gallon aquarium during the summer. A strong proponent of catch and release, the angler said he’d like to return the big fellow back into the Mississippi around August.

The current record blue catfish has received the celebrity treatment since Mullennix landed it nearly 18 months ago. Nicknamed “Splash” by local schoolchildren, the big bottom feeder has been the star attraction of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, Texas.

After verifying the news of Pruitt’s record-breaking catch, I felt it was only proper to notify my friend Larry Hodge, the Texas Fish and Wildlife Department’s chief public information officer for the fisheries center.

Not surprisingly, Hodge e-mailed me a response indicating that he was rather unhappy to hear of Pruitt’s good fishing fortune.

“Oh, well. I guess records are made to be broken,” wrote Hodges. “I just don’t know how I’m going to break the news to Splash.”

Don’t worry, Larry. He’s a big fish — 121-and-a-half pounds — he can take it!

J.R. Absher is a freelance outdoor writer whose articles and columns appear in numerous national publications. Visit his Web sites, The Outdoor Pressroom ( and The Outdoor Weblog ) to find the latest outdoor news of interest. He offers his unique perspective of the outdoors weekly for You may contact him at

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