A flathead catfish caught in May crushed the state record, outweighing the previous top flathead by more than 10 pounds.
Certification was announced last week following an exacting process. The state Fish and Boat Commission confirmed that the big cat caught on the Susquehanna River May 14 by Michael Wherley of Fayetteville, Franklin County, weighed a whopping 66 pounds, 6 ounces.
Caught with a stiff ocean rod and 25-pound monofilament line baited with a live rainbow trout, the flathead was pulled from a 50-foot-deep channel in a lake formed by a 113-year-old dam in Lancaster County. The big fish was 50 1/4 inches long with a 35-inch girth. The previous Pennsylvania record flathead, caught on the Schuylkill River in 2020, weighed 56 pounds, 3 ounces.
Wherley and fishing buddy Tommy Clark, also of Fayetteville, were on the water when the action began picking up around 10 a.m. With four rods out, three tips bent simultaneously.
“It was a little bit crazy, but we managed to start reeling them in,” Wherley told Fish and Boat staff. “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 said he knew the fish on the third rod was big. His arms cramped during the long fight.
“When it finally came to the surface, all I could think was that it was humungous!” he said. “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.”
But before the catch meant anything, the catfish and Wherley were subjected to a rigorous state certification process.
Authenticating a catch for records and tournaments is complicated and there are no universal measurement standards. Was it a legal catch? Was the species properly identified? Was the scale correctly calibrated? Was the fish filled with lead weights, a question asked too late during an infamous walleye tournament last year?
Measuring to see whether a fish satisfies harvest regulations is easy. But as the stakes get higher, measurement certification grows in importance.
A record is rare, prestigious and worthy of bragging rights. In some states, particularly in the South, anglers have landed commercial sponsorship deals or received money or merchandise from tackle manufacturers who want it to be known that their products were used to catch a certified state record.
Apparent competition winners and record setting catches, even world records, have been challenged or disqualified.
Wherley’s state record is uncontested. His whopper is indeed the biggest flathead catfish ever caught in Pennsylvania, as confirmed through Fish and Boat’s record application process.
“The state record process is a stringent one for a reason — because it is difficult to break an actual state record, and a certified state record may last for decades, or forever,” said agency spokesman Mike Parker.
The Pennsylvania State-Record Fish Rules and Application [https://www.fishandboat.com/Forms-Permits/Documents/staterecord.pdf] stipulates that fish considered for record status have to be caught in season by a properly licensed angler using legal gear on Pennsylvania waters open to the public without charge, fee, special permission or membership.
To set a new record, a fish must weigh at least 2 ounces more than the current state record for the species [https://www.fishandboat.com/Fishing/All-About-Fish/StateRecordFish/Pages/default.aspx]. A witness must observe the weighing conducted on a scale certified for legal sale (like at a bait shop or market) displaying a valid current seal and identification number.
An application form found at fishandboat.com must be received by the agency within 60 days of the catch. Color photographs showing a clear side view are used to corroborate length and girth measurements that may help Fish and Boat staff to verify the weight claim.
Fish identification and other characteristics must be verified in person by a Fish and Boat Commission staff member. Despite a common belief among anglers, the officer on hand does not declare the establishment of a state record.
“The assumption by any angler that the officer is there to certify the record is … incorrect,” said Parker. “[The officer] is only verifying species, possibly weight, and [conducting] any investigation that would lend credit to or discredit the weight or other factors of the catch. There is a process that follows, including [verifying] potentially botched paperwork, questionable photos, etc., that could slow the process or even warrant additional requests to see the fish.”
That means that long after the fish has undergone extensive measurements and examination, and the angler has released or harvested it, members of a Fish and Boat state record committee could request another look. It rarely occurs, but if a second examination is considered necessary and the fish is no longer available, the state record application could be denied.
“Some anglers will not have an officer available to view the fish, and will keep it alive for a day or two, or freeze the fish until an officer or biologist is available to inspect it,” said Parker. “There is no scenario where a state record fish could be certified if it is caught and released prior to being personally viewed by PFBC staff.”
Despite the risk of losing a record, catch and release of state record fish is common.
Wherley kept his flathead alive in a plastic tote box filled with water and aerated. He took it to a bait and tackle shop, where it was weighed on a certified scale and examined by a Fish and Boat waterways conservation officer. The officer accompanied Wherley back to the launching ramp, where the catfish was released and swam away.
“This is just incredible, and I’m really glad we were able to release the fish back into the river,” Wherley said.
“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% certain there are even bigger fish out there.”
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Source: Berkshire mont