A fishing trip that almost didn’t happen wound up being the best in a Lenoir guide’s long career. On Oct. 18, Stanley Correll of Catawba Lakes Guide Service, nearly cancelled a trip when two buddies cancelled out at the last minute, but his decision to head to Tuckertown Lake to target flathead catfish action worked out.

Correll and buddy Joe Montelongo of Morganton didn’t get on the water at the 2,600-acre reservoir on the Yadkin River until after noon, but by the time they ran out of bait at 10 p.m., they had landed 55 catfish: an 8-pound channel, a 12-pound blue and 53 flatheads. Their biggest flathead was a 60-pounder that Montelongo wrestled over the railing of Correll’s pontoon boat. The long-time guide said he and Montelongo caught two fish between 40 and 50 pounds, three more between 30 and 40, and a total of 28 fish that weighed at least 20 pounds.

“It was the best day I’ve ever had, anywhere,” said Correll (828-640-7203). “I’ve had some good days on Santee Cooper where we had 20 or 25 big fish, but those were blues. This was the most flatheads I’ve ever caught.”

Correll, who caught a 58-pound flathead this past July that is the unofficial lake record on Lake Hickory, said he and Montelongo had two fishermen back out on the trip that morning, and he admitted they talked about postponing the trip until all four anglers could get together. But they wound up heading to the relatively shallow, stained reservoir that’s upstream from Badin Lake and downstream from High Rock on the Yadkin River chain.

“We waited on them for a couple of hours, and when we found out they weren’t going to show, my buddy looked at me and asked, ‘You still want to go?’” Correll said. “We talked about it and decided to go on down. We got on the water at 12:19, and we went and got bait, and we probably caught three in the first 15 minutes.”

Correll admitted that he and Montelongo didn’t really get serious until later in the afternoon. Montelongo spent some time learning to throw a cast net, and the pair also did some scouting for deer-hunting spots in the Uwharrie National Forest that lines the lake’s banks.Correll had anchors out of the stern and bow of his pontoon, the stern anchor just on the west side of the river channel and the bow anchor well out in deep water, where he could slide his boat back and forth by letting out or pulling in line.

“We were fishing a place where a ditch runs across the bottom, a place I call ‘big fish alley,’” Correll said. “The bottom was 28 to 30 feet deep, but there were some deep holes, 24 or 35 feet deep. We anchored up and just pulled the boat back and forth along the anchor line. We must have moved five or six times.”

Correll and Montelongo had caught and released six fish at 6 p.m., when things went wild. In the next 90 minutes, the pair boated 24 fish, rarely going a minute without having a hook-up and often having too many bites at the same time to tend to.

“We had a shot at catching 70 fish, but there were times we had three or four rods go down at the same time, and some fish got off,” Correll said. “We probably had 20 doubleheaders. You know, if you get one flathead on and you’ve got other baits out, you have a shot at getting another bite.

“All of these fish had mud on their bellies, so they were just lying on the bottom, not moving unless something got their attention,” he said. “We had a 5-, a 10- and a 15-pounder bite right before the big one did. Everything was just stirred up in there.”

 Correll said the biggest catfish hit  5-inch gizzard shad, one of the smaller baits in his livewell. He said he had two or three crappie and two or three bream they caught on rod-and-reel, but that 95 percent of the catfish hit gizzard shad.

“In the past, I’ve never caught many flatheads under 30 pounds,” he said. “Now, we’re not getting as many of those big fish, but all the smaller fish we caught shows me the fishery is in good shape and growing.

“The thing is, this bite could last on until Thanksgiving.”

Correll said he kept the channel cat and the blue cat and released all 53 flatheads.

“I don’t keep any of them,” he explained. “They’re my fun fish.”