Tired of same old fishing hole, angler’s trip lands record catfish

Story by Bryan Brasher
Scripps Howard News Service
June 12, 2012
Share this

Memphis angler Matt Bingham has always heard that most state-record fish are caught by accident, by people who never expected to land a fish that would land them in the record book.

Now Bingham understands where that saying came from.

On April 21, he decided to drive to Tunica, Miss., because he was tired of fishing the same old stretch of the Mississippi River in Tennessee.

He was just looking for a change of scenery. But with that change, he found a flathead catfish that weighed 77.7 pounds and now ranks as the largest ever caught from Mississippi waters.

The previous state-record flathead weighed exactly 77 pounds and was caught by Joey Pounders of Caledonia, Miss., from the Mississippi portions of the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway in 2009.

“This is a big deal to me because I’ve always wanted to catch a record fish, whether it was a state record or a world record or whatever,” said Bingham, a 46-year-old civil engineer. “But it’s even more special because I wasn’t expecting it. I was fishing a place that I don’t normally fish -- and even after I had landed the fish, it was a while before I knew it was a record.”

Since Bingham knew little about the area he was fishing, he decided to let the conditions tell him where to fish that day on the Mississippi River.

It was windy, so he started on the Arkansas side of the river and quickly caught three catfish in the 10- to 12-pound range. Then for reasons unknown, he moved.

“I don’t know why I do that,” Bingham said, laughing. “But sometimes when I start catching fish bam, bam, bam like that, I pick up and move for no particular reason.”

Bingham settled on a good spot behind one of the Mississippi River’s many rock dikes. Soon after getting all three of his rods baited and in the water, he got the bite that would land him in the record book.

“One of my rods started bending over real easy like I’d picked up a leaf or something,” Bingham said. “When I first picked it up, I thought it was hung. But then that big fish started fighting.”

Bingham calmly placed the rod back in the rod holder with the fish ripping out line, so he could reel up the other rods to avoid tangles. Then he began a battle with the gigantic flathead that lasted more than 10 minutes.

The fish went straight down under his boat -- and every time Bingham would reel the brute up to within 20 or 30 feet, it would dive back down on another ferocious run.

Bingham finally got the fish up to the side of the boat and made one failed swipe at it with his oversized dip net. Then after standing up on the side of his boat to take a better swing at the giant, he managed to net the fish with one hand while holding his rod and reel in the other.

Then he began a game many fishermen refer to as “guestimation,” trying to decide how much the fish might weigh.

Bingham had talked with his buddy, James “Big Cat” Patterson of Bartlett, before the trip, and Patterson had told him the folks from Tunica River Park were looking for a big catfish to display in their aquarium.

They wanted a blue cat. But since this was an impressive specimen, Bingham decided to call Patterson to ask if he thought they’d take a flathead instead.

That’s when the wheels started turning toward a possible record.

“He said he thought the fish would probably weigh 70 pounds or more, and he asked me to see what the state record was for Mississippi,” said Patterson, a regular in Memphis-area catfish tournaments. “So I looked it up and found that the state-record flathead in Mississippi weighed 65 pounds or so. But as it turns out, I was looking at an old record.”

The state record for flathead catfish was once held by Wade Arnold with a 65-pound, 8-ounce fish that was caught from Pickwick Lake back in 1987. But that record was broken by Pounders’ 77-pounder.

Bingham wasn’t sure his fish would top that, but he decided to weigh it on certified scales to be sure. Those scales read 77.7 pounds.

But there were still hurdles for Bingham to clear.

He was fishing that day on an Arkansas fishing license. That’s legal in some Mississippi waters because the two states share a border, and they have a reciprocal enforcement agreement.

Bingham wasn’t sure if he could qualify for the Mississippi record book while fishing on an Arkansas license. He also wasn’t 100 percent sure the location of his catch qualified as “Mississippi waters.”

But he decided to send in his application with the certified weight and signatures of two witnesses anyway. He included a map from Google Earth to mark the location of the catch.

Since no laws were broken -- and since the location on the Google map suited officials from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks -- Bingham’s fish was certified as the state record on May 8.

“It means a whole lot to me just to be in that record book no matter how long the record stands,” Bingham said. “... No matter what happens, I can always say that I caught a state-record fish.”

(Contact Bryan Brasher at brasher(at)commercialappeal.com.)

Bryan Brasher


blog comments powered by Disqus


The Ogden Nature Center is located at 966 W. 12th St. in Ogden. For more information, visit www.ogdennaturecenter.org or call 801-621-7595.