In an attempt to locate cooler, more oxygenated water, Zakk Royce of Murfreesboro headed up lake from his hot spots on the lower end of Lake Gaston to the upper, riverine stretches. There, he found temperatures 5 degrees cooler in the old river channel and a solid bite that led to a 90-pound blue catfish on Aug. 10.

With a cooler full of white perch for bait, Royce, who runs Blue’s Brothers Catfish Guide Service, set to work slow-trolling his normal spread of suspended and bottom hugging Santee rigs.  While some are pulled straight behind the boat and others are pulled to the side by planer boards, each feature 1½ to 2½ ounces of weight, a 9/0 circle hook, and a 60-pound monofilament leader tied to the 30-pound monofilament mainline. 

“At first, I was catching some smaller, decent size fish in the 10 to 15-pound range,” said Royce (252-398-7192). “Then, the bite started to pick up as I noticed the current picking up, where Kerr and Gaston dams were both running. They had a ton of water moving.”

Just then, one of Royce’s port side planer rods doubled over as it released line at an alarming rate. As he grabbed the rod from its holder, he felt the enormous weight, which turned to frustration as the fish did an about-face towards the boat, releasing the line’s tension, and throwing the hook. He quickly re-baited and received another bite, albeit from a much smaller fish.

“I was actually fighting that fish when I heard drag just ripping off a rod on the other side of the boat,” said Royce. “I looked over and saw one of my planer boards shoot under the water and pull across, where the fish was pulling a lot of line out. I put the rod with the smaller fish in the holder and ran to grab it.”

Recollecting a feeling reminiscent of the 91-pound blue cat that he caught back in December that first broke the standing state record, Royce wrestled with the dead weight of an immovable fish before it played the same trick as the day’s earlier escapee, running toward the boat. But, Royce countered, regained the line, and came tight with fish, dead off the starboard side. 

“Then, it was just tremendous weight digging down towards the bottom and nothing I did seemed to bring the fish towards the surface. I had probably fought the fish for 10 minutes when it finally did a big roll on top and started to come in. I got a nervous feeling because I was by myself and there was a lot of current, which is something I don’t normally deal with on Gaston.

“I believe it was 3 attempts before I actually got the fish in the net,” said Royce. “I would go to scoop and it would roll back down. When it was finally in the net, I took a couple of deep breaths and got it over the side of the boat.”

After a quick picture and weighing, the fish was released.

“I was fishing in 45 to 50 feet of water,” said Royce, “and all the fish I caught that day were on the bottom instead of suspended, which is not typical for this time of year. But, there’s so much current coming down where I was that it eliminates a lot of the thermocline. The water coming from Kerr is a lot cooler too.”