Monster Catfish

As a Christmas gift for my sons this year, my wife and I decided to hire a guide to take them on a monster catfishing trip.  My sons are really into the Monster Fish type shows that are on Animal Planet, National Geographic Channel and the Discovery Channel.  After reading a great article in the Huntsville Times by Frank Sargeant about the Albertville, AL guide, Mike Mitchell I knew that I had located our guide.

Kid's Eye View
I had read about Mike's guiding abilities before.  He had been featured by ESPN in an article that I had stumbled across. He also has a documented success rate at leading his clients to the extremely large catfish.  Catfish, as in, over 50 pounds, and a few that even weighed more then 100 pounds.  Therefore, it was with great anticipation that the kids and I made arrangements with Mike to meet up on December 31, 2010 at 8:30am at the Rock Pile boat dock located on the TVA reservation on Pickwick Lake.

Pickwick Lake is one of several "lakes" that were created by the damming of the Tennessee River.   Pickwick, Wilson, and Wheeler lakes along the Tennessee River provide some of the best chances of any place in the world for catching world record size Blue Catfish as well as many other species of fish, including Smallmouth Bass.

The weather on the 31st was ominous.  Severe storms were being forecast for the evening, and Mike was concerned about the wind- which is why he chose to fish below Wilson Dam (Florence, AL) as the river is narrower there which would help block the wind and make the experience more enjoyable.  A slight warm rain was falling when we left the house to meet up with him at the boat ramp.  The kids and I had donned our rain "gear".  The gear was chiefly constituted by a waterproof jacket for each of us.  My wife made sandwiches and packed snacks.  Hardly anything makes the kids happier then knowing that they have a sack full of snacks at their disposal.

We arrived a few minutes late to the boat dock.  Mike had already backed his G3 aluminum boat into the water and had it tied off to the floating dock.   The rain had stopped and the temperature was a warm (for late December) 50 or so degrees.   He helped us into the boat and without much preamble started up the boat's very quiet and smooth running Yamaha 115 4-stroke engine.  We were en route to the first spot.

One of my goals for the trip was to learn more about how to fish for monster catfish.  I had questions such as:  What bait and size should be used?  What size and type of  hooks?  What line strength, rod types, etc.

"The bait question" was promptly answered..  Mike stopped the boat and tossed out the anchor.  We were about 75' from shore with a bottom depth of 7'.  We were anchored near overturned trees that had fallen and extended out into the river.  The water surface temperature gauge on the boat's depth finder read 43 degrees.  Mike removed a frozen Skipjack Herring from a large green cooler and began quartering it into large slabs of bait.
Preparing the bait
A #8/0 size Team Catfish circle hook was pushed through the head of a Skipjack Herring.  Another hook was applied to the bottom of the head.    Mike completed baiting four rods and cast the bait out from the boat.  The rods were then placed  into very sturdy Monster Rod Holders that were bolted to the gunnel of his boat.   (One may be inclined to think that by including detail about the type of rod holder, that I am providing too many mundane details. The type of rod holder isn't a mundane detail.  Imagine the force that a 50 to 100 pound catfish can place onto such a rod holder when the catfish suddenly realizes that it has a hook and line restricting its movement. . . suffice it to say that it isn't happy and it will attempt- rather forcibly- to dislodge the hook and will fight vigorously against the invisible force that is holding it.  The rod holder has to be extremely strong and designed in such a way that the rod and reel can't be jerked from the mount.)

As the bait lay on the bottom of the river, we sat back and enjoyed the tranquility of being out on the water. Suddenly, the first rod dipped.   Less then 10 minutes had passed since we had arrived at the spot and anchored.   "A fish!" my sons exclaimed excitedly.  "Who want's it?" I asked the boys.  My two younger sons, aged 10 and 7, quickly nominated the oldest, Sebastian, age 12, to reel it in.  Sebastian took the rod from the rod holder and began reeling.    Mike instructed him to keep the line tight as he retrieved the extremely large landing net.
Reeling in the big one.  Our guide, Mike Mitchell, is ready with the landing net.
Sebastian cranked in line and fought the fish for about 5 minutes.  His arms were getting tired- "my arms are rubbery", he said.  Mike noticed some slackness in the line and reminded Sebastian to keep the line tight.  Sebastian pulled the fish in close enough for Mike, who was by this time sitting on the top of the outboard motor, to net the fish and swing it into the boat.

The boys and I were speechless.  This was by far the largest freshwater fish that we had ever seen.  I think "Woah" was the word most heard, followed by "That's incredible."  Mike weighed the fish.  It weighed 48 pounds!  He said, "This fish is a male. And as long as this fish is, if it had been a female, it would have probably weighed around 60 pounds."  (Female catfish typically weigh more then the males of the same length.)

Sebastian had caught a 48 pound Blue Catfish!  It was a real beauty (for a catfish).  It was lean and long.  The photos tell the story regarding its size.
A 48 pound Blue Catfish
After weighing the fish and taking a few photos of Mike and the boys with the fish, we released it back into the water and our hopes were high that that would be the first of many fish that day.

Unfortunately, that was the last fish that we caught that morning.  But nature kept us entertained.  We saw a young raccoon eating berries up in a tree.  Mike threw the raccoon a piece of herring which it promptly left the berries for and raced to the ground and snatched it up and ran off with it.  We were also happy to see a Bald Eagle, which is always a treat to see.

As we continued to fish, I asked Mike many questions about catfish, how long he had been a guide, how did he learn to catfish, etc.  We also talked about Skipjack Herring (the bait that we were using).  He mentioned to me that he had enjoyed an article that I had written about the Skipjack Herring.  He didn't know that I was the writer of that article until he began talking about the Skipjack and I recognized some of the facts from the article!  It really is a small world!

One of the questions that I asked Mike was in regard to where his clients originate.  It seems that he gets more clients coming down from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, etc. then he gets from locals (those from North Alabama).  I highly recommend Mike to all, especially the "locals".

The trip that we had chosen from Mike's packages of trips, was the five hour trip.  I had been concerned that the boys might get too antsy by being in a boat for that long, but the time flew by far too quickly.  The adrenaline rush provided by the catch of that first fish held throughout the trip.  Furthermore, we really enjoyed learning more from Mike about catfishing and appreciated his willingness to share with us stories from his many experiences.  He is a great asset to North Alabama.

If you are interested in a trip or would like to see other monsterous catfish that Mike's clients have caught, please visit his website at

By the numbers:
  • 130 lb - the World Record weight recognized by the IGFA for a Blue Catfish
  • 111 lb - the Alabama state fishing record for a Blue Catfish
  • 80 lb - line strength of the leader used
  • 43 degrees - surface temperature of the water
  • 30 lb - line strength of line used
  • #8/0 - size of Team Catfish circle hook used
  • 7' - depth of water catfish was caught in
  • Priceless - my sons catching a fish that was nearly as big as them


Chad Ferguson said...

Awesome report and those are some great photos you have taken as well. Very well done and looks look an awesome day on the water with kids, and that my friend is what it is all about!

If you are ever down in Texas look me up!

Chad Ferguson

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Thanks, Chad!