Most big blue catfish in Lake Gaston come out of deep water, but when guide Zakk Royce of Murfreesboro hit Lake Gaston this past Friday, he had a hunch that warmer weather might shuffle shad and big cats to the backs of creeks.
And he was correct. Royce landed his latest trophy, a blue catfish that tipped the scales at an even 100 pounds.
Royce, who runs Blue’s Brothers Guide Service, broke the North Carolina state record for blue catfish twice in 24 hours on Lake Gaston last Dec. 20 and 21 with a 91-pound fish and a 105-pounder. Both came from 50 to 60 feet of water on the lower end of the lake, which straddles the Virginia-North Carolina border.
This time, the big blue came from 5 feet of water in the back of a creek near Eaton’s Ferry Bridge.
Royce (252-398-7192), marked shad in the mouth of the creek and headed back in the creek, finally seeing them flipping at the surface in the back of the creek. He noticed that the water temperature, which had been 43 degrees on the main lake, was 50 degrees in the back of the creek. That’s when he began to slow-troll a spread of cut white perch on Santee rigs at .5 miles per hour.
“I had only been fishing about 10 minutes,” said Royce. “One rod went down, and that fish got off. Then 5 seconds later, the line on the rod next to it just went slack to where it was right under the boat, which I knew wasn’t right because I was trolling. So I started reeling as fast as I could to catch up to the fish. When I did, it started pulling drag.”
While most catfish battles are up-and-down tug of wars, this fish had nowhere to go but out. Royce had to keep the fish out of other lines and away from shoreline cover.
“I had fresh line on the reel, and I’m confident now in what 30-pound line can take,” Royce said. “But I was walking the line on how much I could push the fish.”
After a 20-minute, knockdown, drag-out fight, Royce brought the fish to the side of the boat, when panic struck. Because he’d been on the water for only a few minutes when the big fish hit, he hadn’t put his landing net in a handy location; he had to wrangle it from his T-top and struggle to extend it to its full length.
“I missed the fish the first time he came up,” said Royce, “but, the second time I got lucky. He was swimming alongside the boat when I scooped the net under him, and he swam right in. Then, it was a matter of telling myself I was going to pull the fish over the side, no matter what.”
Once aboard, Royce had another problem. The 54-inch fish, which was 35 inches in girth, was too long for him to accurately weigh by himself. Thinking the fish was close to his existing state record of 105 pounds, he called in reinforcements and sped to the ramp to put the fish in a huge livewell he keeps in his truck.
Once weighed on certified scales, the big blue pegged at exactly 100 pounds. Then, Royce released the fish alive back into the lake.