Refusing to be ignored as one of North Carolina's premier trophy catfish destinations, Lake Gaston unveiled another monster last Friday.  Shortly after breaking off one huge fish, Zakk Royce of Murfreesboro rallied his efforts to overpower a massive 81-pound blue cat that he released.

Royce, who runs Zakk’s Guide Service, is the son of Jon Royce, who caught an 86-pound blue at Gaston this past March. After jigging up a supply of white perch to use for cut bait on Friday, Royce (252-398-7192) went to one of his favorite creeks on the upper end of Lake Gaston.

“I started drifting at the mouth of the creek,” said Royce. “The wind was blowing towards the back, but not too bad, so I put out a couple of drift socks off the back and used the trolling motor on the lowest setting just to steer down the channel.”

Royce fishes cut bait on slip bobbers set just above the thermocline, noting that summer catfish suspend and feed just above this cooler layer of poorly oxygenated water. He sets out up to six rigs at varying depth until he dials in the bite.

“The first rod I threw out went down before I could get my hand on the second one,” said Royce. “I missed that fish, but less than a minute after I threw out the next two rods, one of them went down. I was catching doubles and several 15- to 20-pounders. They were biting and burying the rod tip in the water.”

Royce moved a little further back into the creek.

“There’s an area that has some humps; it’s a real snaggy area,” he said.  “When I went over that area, a fish bent the rod over and started pulling drag right away. I’ve never felt anything like that in fresh water; there was no stopping it. I thought it might be over 100 pounds, but it ran right into the structure.” 

After trying for some time to free the fish, the line broke.

 “I was real frustrated about that; I felt like I had just lost my biggest catfish ever. But I retied my rigs and went back to the mouth of the creek to do the exact same drift. When I got over that same area, a rod went down again,” said Royce, noting that the rod bent over slowly this time. “Once the fish realized it was hooked, it really took off. It burned off 20 yards of drag and came back towards me.”

Once Royce reeled in the slack, the fish was in front of his boat, where he admired its strength. 

“It was actually pulling my boat as fast as the trolling motor will run,” he said. “Now I was wondering what I was going to do with it once I got it to the boat.”

Royce let the fish tire itself out for more than 20 minutes. 

“Whenever it wanted to take line, I let him have it,” he said. “It came up to the top several times, splashing water on me, it was extremely powerful.”

“Whenever it wanted to take line, I let him have it,” he said. “It came up to the top several times, splashing water on me, it was extremely powerful.”

Royce, who was fishing by himself, missed the fish twice with his landing net. 

“I finally got the head in the net, the tail was hanging out, but it was in there good enough where it couldn’t get away,” he said. “I reached over and grabbed the hoop of the net and took a deep breath. It took everything I had to pull it over the side.”

After weighing the fish on his digital scale, Royce released the fish.