What started out as a trip to the lake to test his outboard motor after some routine maintenance ended up being the fishing trip of a lifetime for Gastonia, N.C., angler Jeff Manning when he hauled an 82-pound blue catfish into his boat on Saturday, Jan. 24, that is believed to be the biggest ever taken at Lake Wylie on the North Carolina-South Carolina border.

Manning, vice president of the Carolina Catfish Club, said he couldn’t bear the thought of going to the lake and not fishing, so he grabbed a handful of white perch from his bait tank before heading to Lake Wylie shortly after noon.

“I pulled up to a spot and had four rods out,” said Manning, who was fishing in only 10 to 12 feet of water. “I knew there was some structure on the other side, and right after I cast the fifth rod out, I looked back, and half the rod was buried in the water. I must have put it right on his nose.”

Manning was by himself in the upper portion of Lake Wylie on the North Carolina side of the lake. He realized he was in trouble when the big fish dumped all but a few turns of 20-pound line off his Garcia 6000 reel and showed no signs of turning.

“I did the unthinkable and reached over and tightened the drag, long enough for me to get the other rods in and most of the anchor line so I could crank the outboard and try to chase the fish down,” said Manning.

After gaining on the fish, Manning finally wrestled it into the boat, then the leader promptly broke from fraying against the trailing anchor line. After a bit of rest, Manning hoisted the fish on his hand-held scale which tipped at the 82- pound mark.

News of the catch spread fast, and Dieter Melhorn of Cramerton, N.C., president of the Carolina Catfish Club, soon arrived to photograph the fish, which Manning tagged and then released it.

“Our club tags catfish, just to learn about them and their movements,” said Manning. “Would you believe we had one tagged fish that has been caught four times, all from the same 100-yard stretch of water, over a 3-year period? It’s gone from 18 pounds three years ago to 48 pounds the last time it was caught.”

Manning said that as healthy as his catch was, he believes it could soon eclipse the 89-pound Badin Lake blue cat caught in 2006 that is North Carolina’s record.

“These fish are not trash fish; they’re truly magnificent animals and a lot smarter than most people think,” said Manning. “That’s why we need to protect them and preserve them, releasing the big ones for others to enjoy.” 

North Carolina Sportsman has obtained a video of Manning fighting and landing the big catfish. Feel free to give it a look.