by Eric McGovern
It was a warm, humid night, as are most nights of August in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It was ten p.m. and, as I loaded my fishing gear into my truck and looked up at the full moon, I was getting anxious to fish. I started up the truck, drove about three miles, and turned down a dark dirt road that dead-ended. I had to drive kind of slow as some of the roads in Bay St. Louis weren't the best, particularly some of the dirt roads, and this was one of them.
The road ended at the base of a large patch of woods. I grabbed my gear and began walking. I hadn't been to this spot in a few months and I was really glad I'd brought my machete with me, as the briars and poison ivy had gotten out of hand again. And if you've never tried walking through woods that are overgrown with briars and poison ivy, I have some advice for you ... Don't try it!
It was about a ten minute walk to the lake, which isn't far when you take into consideration that only a handful of people ever fished this particular lake, and the fishing was pretty darn good. As the lake came into view, I could I could hardly wait to get started. Piney Lake, as I called it, wasn't very big about ten acres but it was quiet, secluded, and full of fish. I was ready.
I set my small ice chest and tackle box down. I opened up the ice chest and took out a small brown paper bag containing my bait. I have used all sorts of bait for catfishing, from chicken livers to live earthworms, but tonight I was using dead shrimp, which I consider prime catfish bait. I took one of my rods, and rigged it up with a cork, having decided to try topwater first. I baited my hook and cast out about forty feet.
It was a beautiful night. The full moon gave me plenty of light, so I didn't need to bring a lantern with me. There was no breeze whatsoever, and the lake was as smooth as glass. You could cut the thick, humid air with a knife, and I pulled a bandanna out of my pocket to wipe the beads of sweat from my forehead. I heard a buzzing sound which sounded like a small plane overhead, but of course I knew it was just the overgrown mosquitoes that had zeroed in on me and were ready for a feast, which I was in no mood to give them. I quickly opened my tackle box and grabbed my Deep Woods Off, and covered myself in a fog of the stuff. The mosquitoes took off and I got back to fishing.
It had just been about three minutes since I had made my cast and I was just about to set my pole down so I could get myself a nice cold beer when the fish struck so hard it nearly yanked the rod out of my hands! "Yeah! Instant action!" I yelled as I tried to turn the fish towards me. He didn't seem to want to cooperate. As he continued to strip line from my reel, I realized I had hooked a "really big" one. Two minutes went by and the fish continued to slowly, but consistently, take line. I wondered if I would be able to turn him before he stripped my reel clean.
Of the many times I had fished here, I had caught many cats, mostly channel and a few yellow mud. The biggest channel cat I ever caught here was a nine-pounder. This was definitely a channel cat, but he was considerably large than nine pounds. I was using a bait casting reel rigged with seventeen pound test Berkeley Big Game line and a stiff graphite rod, and had never had a whisker fish give me this much trouble before.
I only had about fifteen feet of line left when I finally turned the big cat towards me. I had to work him slowly to avoid breaking my line. I had to be careful because there was a lot of structure in this lake, mostly submerged trees and stumps, and I didn't want him wrapping around anything and breaking off. I got about three quarters of my line back when the big fish made another run, nearly stripping me again before I regained control.
I could feel the old catfish wearing down and I was glad because I didn't want to lose this whopper. But it wasn't over yet. There was a submerged pine tree about ten feet offshore and three feet to the left of me and I had a feeling that this fish was going to make one final attempt to get away.
I continued to reel the fish in when suddenly I got my first look at him. I got a lump in my throat when I saw the dinosaur of a catfish. He was about four feet long and must have weighed about sixty pounds! The biggest catfish I had ever caught was thirty pounds, and now I was nervous. "Please don't let me lose this fish," I thought to myself as he made one final run.
Just as I thought he would, that catfish headed right into the submerged pine tree. "Get outta there!" I yelled as I tugged on my rod with all my might. Now, I don't know if someone was watching over me on this particular night, or what, but I somehow managed to work that crusty old codger out of the branches of the submerged tree and I pulled him up onto the bank of the lake. It was hard for me to believe that there was even a catfish this big in this lake, let alone that I had caught him.
I could see his battle scars from where he had been hooked before. He had two rusted hooks in his right upper lip, one in his left lower lip, and a beat-up old crank bait hooked into his dorsal fin, which is something I had never seen before, and knew I never would again. He also had some old wounds that were probably caused by a gar, as well as several large leeches keeping him company.
I didn't know how old this guy was, but I knew he'd been around for a long time. I knew this old channel cat had gotten away from other anglers, and he put up such a battle that even though I knew I may never catch a fish like this again, I had to let him go. I removed the old hooks from his lips, as well as the old crank bait from his back.
"Take it easy, gramps!" I said as I guided the old sucker back into the water. I felt good watching him swim off. "He'd have been too tough to eat, anyway," I said to myself as I re-baited my hook to try my luck again.