As waters cool across the Carolinas, trophy blue catfish become active. While they are most often landed with stout tackle, a Wilmington angler managed to challenge the North Carolina state record of 117 pounds with a 112-pound blue that he caught on relatively light tackle and 10-pound test line.

On Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, Riahn Brewington and a friend were casting Gulp minnows for bass and crappie along the shoreline of the Northeast Cape Fear River north of Wilmington. Although the bite was slow, Brewington was surprised to catch several small, 4- to 5-inch shiners as they darted after their baits. When he became bored of casting and retrieving, Brewington had an idea.

“I put one of those shiners on a hook, which just happened to be on my small rod,” Brewington said. “I just threw it out towards the middle and let it sit. In about 10 minutes I had a bite, but, I pulled it a little too soon — didn’t let him take it long enough. I reeled it in and the bait was still attached, so I threw it back out there and let it sit on the bottom for another 10 minutes.”

As the small baitfish struggled under the weight of a circle hook and a split shot, it was picked up again. This time, Brewington paid out enough line to make sure the fish had the hook before driving it home.

“I jerked it, and it was on,” he said. “I started reeling and, man, it was fighting hard. I got some line in when he ran towards me, but he pulled it all the way out. If he gave one little jerk, I knew it was going to pop. I was leaning over the boat, trying to give him a little more.

“I started tightening my drag down a little bit and reeled in some line. At one time, I thought I was getting close, then he took it all out again. We did that for about 30 minutes.”

Knowing he couldn’t land the fish in the boat, Brewington coaxed it to the nearest shoreline, where he hopped out and walked it to the bank. 

“I didn't realize how big he was until I actually went to pick him up and get my hands underneath him,” said Brewington. “Then, I knew that he was a monster. I just picked him up and ran him up the hill.”

After taking some photos and weighing the fish on a set of hand scales, Brewington ignored the urging of his friend to take the fish and have it officially weighed. Instead, he took it back to the water’s edge, where he revived it and watched it swim away.

“I didn't want him to die in the truck,” Brewington said. “I knew it would just be a waste. It was the catch of a lifetime.  I was just happy that I was able to get good pictures and get a good weight on him.”