F&S Classics: Take a dive into the archives for the stories and photos behind record fish that are still as impressive today as when the giants were first landed.
On November 2, 2009, 27-year-old Mississippi angler Joey Pounders caught a 77-pound flathead catfish in the Tennessee – Tombigbee Waterway. The fish topped Mississippi’s old state record by 11 pounds. Here’s the story of how Pounders hooked, landed, and released this enormous cat, as told to David Rose.
The big cat was 49 1/2 inches long, and had a girth of 35 inches. Pounders, who lives in Caledonia, was fishing in the Tenn-Toms River (as it’s called by locals) near his home after working his shift at the Lowndes County Road Department. He hooked the fish at 2:15 p.m. F&S
Pounders was fishing with 50-pound-test PowerPro main line and a 50-pound-test Vicious monofilament leader. The hooks were Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp circle hooks. “I like using circle hooks as they don’t hurt fish, and we release any catfish over 15 pounds. Anything bigger and the meat’s not as good; besides that, we want them to grow into trophies,” says Pounders.
Pounders kept the fish alive in a stone live well until it could be weighed and certified. In this photo the angler’s dad, Jerry Sr., is pulling the fish from the live well (which was built by Joey’s brother, Jerry Jr., on his property on the banks of the Tenn-Toms River). The fish was released two days later.
On the day he caught the fish, a few minutes before 2 p.m., Pounders rigged four Bass Pro Shops CatMaxx spinning rods with vintage Daiwa 9000C spinning reels and live bait rigs — 7- to 8-inch gizzard shads on 7/0 circle hooks tied to 18-inch, 50-pound mono leaders. He connected his leaders to his main lines using 3-way swivels, tied 12-inches of mono to the bottom eye of each swivel, then tied the other end of the mono to a 3-ounce bank sinker.
Pounders fishes from what he calls his “party barge” — a 21-foot pontoon boat he has rigged for chasing catfish. On the day he caught this fish he had tied up to a section of tree that had fallen into the water a few weeks before. He cast his shad directly into the branches, which were in 18 feet of water. (The fish in this photo was caught on a previous trip.)
“The hit was light, as catfish strikes usually are no matter their size,” said Pounders. “I had to pull hard and fast to steer it out of the branches. When it first rolled on the surface I guessed it was 50 pounds. Then it dove, and I realized I had an issue. No net!” F&S
Pounders had broken his net on a 50-pound blue cat two weeks prior. “So I called my dad as the fish made its first dive to bottom, to see if he was nearby and could bring me out a net. He wasn’t. So I had to open the back gate on my boat and reach down and grab its bottom lip. The adrenaline rush allowed me to pull it in on my own.”
As soon as Pounders landed the fish he placed it into this cooler, which he filled full of river water, then brought to his brother’s live well.
The fish was verified as a flathead catfish by Mississippi Fish and Wildlife conservation officer Darren Coggin (right).
The fish was weighed on the certified scale seen in this photo, behind Pounders, at the 4-County Electric Power Association in nearby Columbus.
“Records show the oldest flathead catfish ever aged was 24 years old,” says Tom Holman, Mississippi fisheries coordinator. “My colleagues and I feel this fish is right around that same age.”
Pounders fishes catfish year-round. Flatheads in the 30-pound range, as seen here, are common in the summer months, with 50-pounders caught every year. In the winter months, blue cats, in the same size range, are most commonly caught.
The previous state-record flathead in Mississippi was this 66-pounder. It was taken in the Mississippi River by Brad Hillhouse, on May 22, 2005. It had a length of 47 inches and girth of 33 inches.
Photos courtesy of Joey Pounders