Guide Chris Simpson proved last Wednesday why he and Lake Monticello go together when members of a guide party landed and released a huge blue catfish estimated to weigh around 97 pounds.

Simpson said the big cat was the first fish of the day for members of his party, who preferred to remain anonymous. The fish’s weight was estimated based on length and girth measurements and a formula commonly used by catfish anglers. The fish was 51 inches long with a girth of 39 inches.

“The same week last year, I caught an 82-pound blue from Monticello that was 49 inches long and 37 inches around,” said Simpson. “When we got this fish to the surface, I knew it was bigger than that, and I got a little nervous, that this fish might even take the state record.”

South Carolina’s state-record blue catfish is a 109-pound, 4-ounce specimen caught from the Santee Cooper Tailrace Canal in 1991 by George A. Lijewski of Summerville. Two commercial fishermen caught a 136-pound, 6-ounce blue out of Lake Moultrie on a trotline in 2012. That fish was 56 inches long and had a girth of 42 inches. The world-record blue catfish was a 143-pounder caught in 2011 from John H. Kerr Reservoir on the North Carolina-Virginia border. It was 57 inches long and had a 47-inch girth.

Originally, Simpson wasn’t thrilled with the prospects of fishing on a day with heavy rain and wind gusts up to 20 mph.

“I tried to get the party to cancel, but about 8:30, the rain let up, even though the wind stayed,” said Simpson (864-992-2352). “We fished from 8:30 till 11:30 without a bite. That’s when this fish hit, then the bite came on, and we caught several more in the 20- to 30-pound range.”

The huge catfish ate a piece of cut white perch, a preferred bait for many anglers that target catfish, and it was drifting Santee-style, with a slinky weight to gets the bait deep and a small, inline float that holds the bait barely off the bottom.

“We were drifting between about 40 and 65 feet of water on this particular drift,” said Simpson. “The fish hit in about 60 feet of water.”

Simpson said October, November and December are the best months on Monticello for targeting large blue catfish, because the fish are following large schools of threadfin shad. With the current water temperature around 60 degrees, Simpson said the big-fish pattern until the surface temperature drop below 47 to 48 degrees.