Nick Holjak often fishes from his family’s dock at Lake Norman, or in a nearby cove from a makeshift boat, but the 10-year-old wasn’t even holding a rod when he landed the kind of fish many anglers spend their lives pursuing: a flathead catfish that weighed close to 40 pounds.

And the experience produced memories that will last.

With the help of his father, Phil, Nick Holjak pulled in a 4-foot flathead catfish one afternoon last month. 

“I’ve never seen a fish that big in the lake, so it was really surprising,” said Nick Holjak, who loves fishing so much that he did a science project on bluegills and the flies they prefer to strike.

The Holjaks were at the top of their sloping backyard that day when they noticed something large floating near their dock. They went to the dock to explore, only to discover it was a catfish floating on its side. Initially, they thought it was dead.

The catfish, though, was very much alive, but it was sluggish for an undetermined reason. So the Holjaks retrieved their large landing net — which wasn’t nearly large enough — and tried to pull the fish from the water. It took a few minutes.

“It didn’t have the strength to fight us,” Nick Holjak said. “The weight was the only problem.”

The Holjaks managed to get the fish onto the dock, and they were in awe. They snapped a few photos; Nick said the inside of the fish’s mouth was like “sharp sandpaper.” 

The Holjaks shifted their focus to safely returning the fish to the water, only to be surprised once again. When released, the fish swam away and dove deep into the murky water, like nothing had happened.

“We were just astonished because we (first) thought it was dead,” said Nick Holjak, who has been fishing a few times recently and has kept his eyes open for any signs of the giant catfish. But he hasn’t seen it again, except maybe in his dreams.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to catch a fish that big again,” he said.