Blue catfish have become an increasingly important part of the fishery at Lake Wyle, but the monster caught last week by Dieter Melhorn – 60 pounds and three ounces – put an exclamation point on the status of this fishery.

Melhorn, who caught the huge fish on Dec. 20, is a diehard catfish angler who fishes a lot of lakes out of his Cramerton, N.C., residence but calls Lake Wylie home.

I’ve fished Lake Wylie for years, and right now is an excellent time to catch huge blue catfish,” Melhorn said. ”I caught one that weighed 51 pounds in the same area last year, so that’s why I was fishing there. We’re about three weeks ahead of schedule in terms of water temperature. I keep detailed logs on every trip, and with the water temperature at 50 degrees, this is about where the water temperature would normally be in January.”

Melhorn said this fish was caught near the South Point Boat Ramp.

“No one that I know of keeps official lake records,” he said, “but I know a couple guys in the Catawba Catfish Club who have caught fish just over 60 pounds. This is not the first over 60 pounds, but it’s in the top tier that we know of. I believe there are some larger ones out there.

“The day I caught the big fish, I marked some huge fish on the graph, “he said. “You never know if they’re cats, but I had to try. I only had three hours to fish, so I anchored on the ledge of the river. The river channel was 28 feet deep, and the top of the ledge was 19 feet deep. I cast out eight rigs, four with huge baits and four with fileted perch strips. All my bait was white perch, and I cast to the top of the ledge, along the drop and into the deepest water. Basically about half of a half-pound perch was what I used for the big baits. That is usually very good for big fish.”

Melhorn said that that action started quickly, and he had three fish in the boat weighing 22, 14 and eight pounds with the big fish hit.

“Í started at about three in the afternoon, and at 5:30, I was beginning to clean up my boat when the big fish bit,” he said “It was a good bite, but I didn’t realize how big the fish was for a while. It really wasn’t until I finally netted the fish and tried to pull it in the boat that I realized how heavy it was.

“When I actually saw the fish I knew it was special and I would need my ‘big fish’ scales to weigh it. After weighing it and taking pictures and measuring it, I released it alive back into the lake. The fish was 42 inches long.”

Melhorn said he is a believer in big baits for big fish, but he always offers options. He said this fish was caught on a perch filet on top of the ledge in 19 feet of water.

“I guess this one wanted an appetizer first,” Melhorn said, “but that’s why I use different-size baits. I do know there are scads of big white perch in this area right now, and I believe that’s why the big blues are there, following the perch. I caught some up to three-quarters of a pound while waiting on the cats to bite.”

Melhorn uses C3 ABU reels with 20-pound mono on the reel and an 18-inch, 60-pound mono leader. He rigs that on 7-foot Ugly Stick catfish rods, an 8/0 circle hook with a 2-ounce weight.