On Aug 1, guide Zakk Royce of Murfreesboro headed to the upper section of Lake Gaston to continue an assault on a section of the main river channel that had been producing good blue catfish over the previous weeks. The result was Royce’s second largest blue ever, a 102 pounder that stretched 54 inches long and carried a girth of 41 inches.
Royce (919-724-2474), who runs Blues Brothers Catfish Guide Service, is best known for breaking the North Carolina state record for blue catfish twice, on consecutive days at Lake Gaston. He caught a 91 pounder on Dec. 20, 2015 and then topped his own record the next day with a 105 pounder. Although that record has since been replaced by Langdon Evans’ 117-pound, 8-ounce fish, Royce has continued to land trophy blues for himself and his clients ever since.
Royce was slow trolling with his friend, Tyler Schultze, and running a spread of 4 suspended baits between 15 and 25 feet below the surface in about 40 feet of water, neglecting the dead zone below the thermocline. Two baits ran directly behind the boat on slip corks, while the other two were pulled off the sides by his signature Zakk Royce planer boards. Royce was using cut gizzard shad on 9/0 circle hooks with 3-ounce egg sinkers.
“Tyler caught one early on that weighed about 25 pounds,” said Royce. “We were happy to be off to a good start. We could see bait fish coming up, stripers busting on top, there was a lot of life out there. We kept seeing huge fins coming out of the water and the only thing out there that big is catfish.
“Then, suddenly, one of the floats went under really slow. The rod slowly started bending over and I started reeling to get the circle hook in the fish. When I grabbed the rod out of the holder it was like I just hit a wall. It was dead weight. Within about 15 or 20 seconds, the fish came up to the surface and slapped its tail hard on the water. I thought to myself, this is probably a 100-pound fish.”
After 5 to 6 minutes of what Royce recounted as an “usual fight” that lacked the strong runs to the bottom that are typical with a big fish, he managed to drag the fish to within 10 feet of the boat, where it displayed a peculiar tactic to delay its capture.
“I had never had a big fish do anything like this one,” said Royce. “The fish was opening its mouth really wide and it was catching water like a parachute would catch air. It was just dead weight. I could not get the fish within the range of the net.”
But, eventually, the fish tired. It came just within striking distance and rolled, where Schultze was ready with the net. With just enough of its body inside to be contained, Royce stowed his rod, grabbed a section of net, and the anglers brought it aboard.
“We were yelling and screaming,” said Royce. “We couldn't believe the size of the fish.
When you see it in person, in the bottom of your boat, it's just mind blowing.”