Over 40 years of fishing, including 23 years spent as a guide, the biggest catfish Gene Bell managed to wrestle from the waters of Santee Cooper was a 74-pound fish. That all changed on Thursday, April 16 when a 94-pound, 2-ounce blue catfish picked up a piece of cut shad Bell had soaking on the bottom of the Diversion Canal.
“I left Hill’s Landing about 9:30 p.m. and already had two fish in the 20s in the bottom of the boat,” said Bell, 68. “The fish hit, and it took me 45 minutes to get it to the boat, then I had to figure out how I was going to net it. I nearly lost the fish trying to get it in the net, and my heart just sank, but she stayed on, and I got her in the net then had to slowly roll the net up over the side of the boat.”
The official weight on the scales at Hill’s Landing was 94 pounds, 2 ounces. Bell had earlier commented on a catfish approaching the 80-pound mark that was on the monthly tournament board. A spectator surmised that the fish had the monthly prize, sponsored by Santee-Cooper Country tourism, sewn up.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Bell said. “This is Santee, where you never know what the next bite will be.”
Bell, who lives in Rock Hill, said the moving water through the canal after spring rains is always good for catching trophy blue catfish. The ocean herring are moving through the lakes, and the catfish follow. He said the combination of big fish and current requires stouter tackle.
“I normally use 30-pound test down in the lake, but in the canal, I move up to 50-pound test,” said Bell, who released the fish alive after taking it down from the scales. “I had to fight this fish against that current most of the battle, and I was never sure who was going to win. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.”