Almost every weekend, Michael Crochet of Nacodgoches, Texas, runs trotlines on Lake Sam Rayburn near Jasper, Texas. In more than 25 years of running lines, he caught many catfish, including some hefty ones.
He's caught cats up to 38 pounds, but nothing could prepare him for what he landed on Jan. 5, 2001.
On that fateful Friday evening, Crochet and his wife, Danielle, ran their lines in about 12 feet of water near Ewing Park in the northern section of the lake. He baited the lines with dead shiners, each about two inches long. He landed a couple 20-pounders and a 25-pounder that afternoon.
While checking the lines, Tex Davis, one of Crochet's friends, approached just to say hello. They talked for a while, boat-to-boat, while Crochet's continued to hoist his very heavy line. When he pulled up the line, a huge figure emerged from the depths, a giant blue catfish. Crochet's net couldn't handle such a fish, so he enlisted some help from Davis to bring the whiskered leviathan aboard. Davis loaned him a larger net to bring the beast into the craft.
"If it wouldn't have been for my friend Tex, I wouldn't have been able to get the fish," Crochet admitted. "The water was cold that day, so the fish was pretty docile and not active like in the summertime. I had no idea how big it was until I brought him in."
Crochet took the fish home. It measured 54 inches long and 36 inches in girth. Planning to turn the large fish into steaks, Crochet wanted to preserve the memory on film before cleaning it. However, he didn't have a camera.
"I was going to clean and eat him, but I wanted my wife to take a photo," Crochet said. "She went to the store to buy a disposable camera. The man at the store said the fish might be a lake record. He wanted to see it, so we loaded him up and went to the store. In his store, the fish weighed 85 pounds. He told me to go to another store with certified scales. That store had a large vat, so we put the fish in it and revived it."
Crochet kept the fish alive in the vat. On Saturday afternoon, a biologist from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife came to the store to verify it and weigh it on certified scales. At that time, the fish lost some weight, but still pulled the scales down to 83 pounds, 8-ounces.
Despite losing weight, the fish still shattered the old Lake Sam Rayburn record for blue catfish by 13 pounds. In March 1999, Mark Woods landed a blue cat weighing 70 pounds. Woods also caught his on a trotline. That fish measured 46 inches long.
Crochet's fish certainly turned heads, but C.D. Martindale retains the Texas state record for blue catfish. Fishing on Lake Texoma with a trotline, he caught a 116-pound, 59-inch long bruiser in April 1985. Crochet's fish might still break the Texas state record some day.
"On Saturday afternoon, we released it back into the lake," Crochet said. "It was the biggest fish I ever caught. The biologist estimated the age of the fish between 12 and 20 years old. The water was on the rise. We caught about 400 pounds in two days."
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