Paul Daniels and his wife Janet, of Hanahan, S.C. decided to catch a few blue catfish for dinner after church on Feb. 11 in the Cooper River. But 30 minutes into the fishing trip, Daniels’ task for the day quickly changed into searching for a certified scale after his wife helped him lift a big flathead catfish — the new South Carolina state record — into his boat.

Daniels weighed his fish at the Cooper River Marina. The 84-pound, 9.6-ounce flathead toppled the previous state record of 79.6 pounds.

It was the biggest flathead he had ever seen, but Daniels had no idea he’d just caught the biggest flathead ever recorded in the Palmetto State. He was just hoping to take the lead in the Trident Tournament, a local three-county contest for the biggest fish in each species. Two years ago, Daniels won the flathead catfish division with a 51-pounder also caught in the Cooper River. 

The new record fish was practically waiting for Daniels to drop the live golden shiner in the hole because he was hooked up within 20 minutes of getting to the river.   

“I knew it was a big one as soon as I set the hook,” Daniels said. “If it wasn’t for my wife, I would have released the fish right back in the river. But she encouraged me to go weigh her first before we released her back in the river. I didn’t want to kill the fish, especially one this big.”

After investing over 50 years in the Cooper River, Daniels has a few good spots that produce enough fish for a fish fry or two. And he obviously knows where a few big ones hide. He caught the 84-pounder while drifting through the same 25-foot hole as the 51-pound fish he caught two years ago.  

“You never know what you are going to catch in there,” he said. 

Daniels had his live shiner rigged drop shot style just above a new drift weight he started using recently. And according to Daniels, the drifting system was the key to catching his record fish. 

“I have started using Drifting Stix and they allow us to fish in heavy cover without getting hung up. The big flathead was in a deep hole covered with structure where the Drifting Stix is designed for,” he said. 

Drifting Stix are flexible, rattling drift weights that hold scent and easily drag baits through submerged log jams and other underwater obstructions.

Even though Daniels didn’t quite get his fish dinner, a new S.C. state record will have to suffice this time, he said.