Undeterred by a broken trolling motor, Jason Bowen of Durham had to make all his drifts for blue catfish with the wind on Kerr Lake last Saturday. After changing spots once, he hooked up to the biggest fish of his life, a 101-pounder that required reinforcements to land.

Bowen makes no bones about it; he fishes Kerr, aka Buggs Island, a lot in search of monster catfish. After landing several respectable 10- to 15-pounders on Oct. 15, he had a hunch that the main-river channel was the place to be, and he began a drift near Clarksville, Va., between the US 15 and US 58 bridges.

“I was marking fish at 30 feet and then started seeing them further down than that, in 45 feet of water on the bottom,” Bowen said. “Most of the time, I don’t fish all the baits on the bottom, but, there were four or five other boats out there, and one of them called me and said he was catching all his on the bottom. That made me put my baits deeper.”

Bowen had one rod directly behind the boat that was close enough for the bait to be picked up by his sonar as it slid across the bottom on its 4-ounce weight. He also noticed a huge return that appeared to be rising from the bottom, toward the chunk of cut bait that clung to a 9/0 circle hook.  

“I looked over at that pole, thinking, ‘Okay, something’s going to hit that,’” he said. “Just then that pole bent all the way over, under the boat. I’ve never seen one bend over that far. I got down and tried to pick up the pole, but I couldn’t pick up the pole from the rod holder.

“Then, the fish went to the left a little bit. It turned the rod, and that allowed me to get the pole out. After about five minutes of fighting the fish, I knew I had something bigger than I’ve ever caught before. So I called up my buddy Charles Dearr, who was out there fishing on another boat, to come over and give me some help.”

In a matter of minutes, Dearr boarded Bowen’s vessel and made sure the landing net was close at hand, but the big fish was not in the same hurry.

“It was over an hour before we saw the fish, before he came up to the surface,” Bowen said. “We could see him on the side-imaging on the depth finder. We’d get him up to about 15 feet and he would go right back down. There was nothing we could do about it.”

After seeing the fish for the first time, Bowen struggled with it for another 10 minutes, pushing his 30-pound line and 50-pound leader — both monofilament — to  the max.

“We finally got him to the boat,” Bowen said. “Luckily, the net was just barely big enough. We got him in the boat fairly easy considering the size of the fish, and (we) took it to Bobcats to have it weighed. 

“I had a livewell that we built, thought it would fit a 50 or 60 pounder; turns out it will fit a 100 pounder in there.”

After weighing the fish at Bobcat’s Bait and Tackle in Clarksville, Bowen took the fish back to the lake and released it alive.