The state-record for flathead catfish has been broken. On Thursday, June 22 Carl Sawyer of Screven pulled a monster catfish out of the Altamaha that weighed 83 pounds — smashing the previous record of 67-lbs., 8-ozs.
Carl and fishing buddy Ben Poppell of Jesup were camping on a sandbar and catfishing. Thursday evening they were fishing an “undisclosed area” near Jesup and had hit one hole before moving to set up on a hole 15 to 17 feet deep near a downed tree. Carl was fishing with an Ambassadeur 6000 spooled with 50-lb. braided Spider Wire. On the business end of the line he had hooked a hand-sized bluegill on a 7/0 Eagle Claw Circle C hook. The bait was held down by a 3-oz. bank sinker.
Carl chunked the bait into the hole and set the bait-clicker on the reel. At about 9:30 p.m., after only a 10- or 15-minute wait, the reel began to click.
“When I pulled, he pulled back,” said Carl. “I told Ben that this was a big one. Thank God that he went toward a sandbar and not into the tree. He was out in open water away from any snags where I could play him.
“When I would get him close to the boat, he would make another run,” said Carl. “I had the drag as tight as it would go, and he was still taking it with him. There was nothing I could do. If I had used a bigger reel, I would have broken the line. It was fun. There wasn’t a lot of moving and fighting, it was just power, sheer power. He went where he wanted to go, and I would reel in line when he let me, and then he would pull it back out again. He went where he wanted to go until he wore himself out.”
Finally, after about 15 or 20 minutes, the huge fish played out and came to the side of the boat. It was Ben who put the 54-inch-long catfish in the boat.
“Ben got it in,” said Carl. “I brought the fish alongside the boat and he reached down and put both hands in the fish’s mouth and used his weight to flip it into the boat. As soon as he did, he said, ‘That’s an 80-pounder!’”
Carl and Ben immediately went looking for certified scales. They broke two 50-lb. scales before getting a weight of 83 pounds on a cotton scale.
The next morning the weight was verified on certified scales by WRD Fisheries technician Chad Sexton at 83 pounds even.
Heather Altman, executive director of the Wayne County Tourism Board, said the Board is going to pay to have the fish mounted so it can be put on display.
The day after the catch, Carl was back on the river fishing for flatheads.
“I don’t care about the record,” he said. “If is was broken tomorrow, it was still fun. I don’t care about all that. I am still a novice at this. I have only been fishing for flatheads four or five times. I probably just got lucky and hit a lucky hole, but you’ve got to go to catch them.”
Carl’s new state record follows by a month the disqualification of Gene Middleton, who held the previous state record for flathead catfish. Middleton entered the Wayne County Catfish Festival tournament May 20-21. With two fish totaling more than 80 pounds, he stood to win nearly $8,000 but could not pass a series of three polygraph and voice-stress tests administered by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. His failure to clear the lie-detector test had cast a shadow of doubt over the state record.