Paul Blackwell and his two daughters all caught their “personal best catfish” while fishing on Lake Moultrie on March 3.

Blackwell caught an 82.79-pound blue catfish, his 11-year-old daughter and tournament partner, Madison, caught a 59-pound catfish, and his 16-year-old daughter, Trinity, caught a 54-pound catfish; they also caught five more in the 30-pound range that day.

In 14-mile-per-hour winds and with a water temperature of 56 degrees, Blackwell and the girls headed to one of his favorite fishing holes near the Santee Cooper Power Plant.

They anchored up with two, 18-pound Hurricane anchors in eleven feet of water and cast their lines to a flat that ran along a ledge from four to nine feet of water. By 8 p.m., they had eight lines out.

Blackwell fishes with medium heavy, 7’6” Big Cat Fever rods and with Abu Garcia 6500 reels spooled with 150 to175 yards of 50-pound Slime Line. Fishing a Carolina rig, Blackwell slides on a 3-ounce river or flat sinker and ties a barrel swivel to the main line. Then he ties on a two to three foot 50-pound leader with a 9/0 Charlie Brown circle hook to the terminal end.

For bait, Blackwell uses live gizzard shad and river herring or “spring herring.” He cuts the gizzard shad into two pieces at an angle and throws the tail away. With the river herring, he cuts the bait into three pieces which includes the head and two pieces from the “gut pocket” and also throws the tail away.

It was around 9:30 p.m. when the big blue grabbed the bait and “he ran hard.” Blackwell said that he had to put his thumb on the spool to slow the fish down.

The reel was almost empty when the big cat stopped. Blackwell had to “lay into him” to get the fish turned around. Then the catfish came straight to the boat, and Blackwell had to “reel hard” to catch up with the slack line.

It took Blackwell only ten minutes from the first strike until he landed the catfish in the net. After weighing the fish, taking pictures, and tagging the fish, he released the big catfish back into the water.

A little later, Madison caught her 59-pound catfish and shortly thereafter, Trinity caught the 54-pounder. After catching five more catfish in the 30-pound range, the wind started getting up, so at 10:30 p.m., they loaded up and headed home.

Blackwell is a firm believer in catch-and-release for big catfish.

“Keep ‘em today and you won’t have ‘em tomorrow!” he said.

Blackwell is no stranger to catching big catfish. He fishes four catfish trails and fished 18 tournaments in six states last year. He won two tournaments last year, had eight top 5 finishes and six in the top 10. His youngest daughter, who fished with him some last year, will be his exclusive partner this year.