Many fishermen have had the experience of hooking a small fish only to have that fish swallowed by a larger one. It happened on March 25 to John Koonce and Ryan Bell while fishing for shad in the tailrace canal below Lake Moultrie. The big difference was that the larger fish, a blue catfish that tipped the scales at 82½ pounds, never quite took the bait.

“Ryan and I were lined up along with other boats fishing for shad in the canal and had caught several shad from out of the current,” said Koonce, who is, by trade, a saltwater guide based on John’s Island. “As we were reeling in one of the shad, there was this big rush of water right in front of the boat. The water rises straight up out of about 18 feet onto a shelf of rocks that’s barely under the water, and this big blue was coming up after the fish and beached itself on that shelf.”

Before the catfish could wiggle back into deeper water, Koonce and Bell jumped out of the boat, onto the rocks and chased the fish through the shallow water. One of them was able to get a landing net over the fish’s head, but the rest of the fish wouldn’t fit in the net. After a little wrestling, Koonce managed to get a rope into the fish’s gills and hauled it back to the boat.

“I’ve seen big redfish do this in the surf when they’re chasing baitfish real hard,” said Koonce. “I guess it was after the shad we were reeling in and built up enough momentum in the current that caused it to beach on the rocks.”

Koonce reported that after they caught their limit of American shad, which have been running in the Cooper River pretty heavily over the last few weeks, they switched over to catfishing and caught several nice catfish in the 20- to 30-pound range from the same location.

“We thought the fish was only about 50 pounds when we first saw it, but when we got it up on the boat, we knew it was a lot bigger,” said Koonce (843-425-2939). “We tried to stay and catfish longer but we knew we’d already had our excitement for the day and were anxious to go find a set of scales to weigh it.”