Nine rules to follow when battling a big, trophy blue catfish

Author Terry Madewell of Ridgeway landed this 62-pound Lake Wateree blue catfish despite making at least nine basic mistakes, which he outlines in this story.

Even a Keystone Cops approach might work out, but don’t count on it

It was another rainy, winter day on Lake Wateree, and I was catfishing alone. At dawn I was anchored, fishing rising water from 4 to 20 feet deep, rigs loaded with big bream and perch heads. Almost immediately I landed a “teener” that was hooked deeply. The catfish wallowed slime all over the pontoon deck before I could remove the hook and release the fish.

Then, a trophy catfish version of Moby Dick loaded on another rig. Hooking a big blue is akin to hooking the south end of a north-bound freight train. I pried the rod from the holder and the epic battle began with drag screaming from the reel. A panic alarm blasted my brain and I realized two things: I was into a monster fish, and my net was 10 feet away. I planned to ease back to it while keeping the big fish on the line.

Rule No. 1: Always reposition the net where you can reach it in case Moby Dick bites. Or have a harpoon handy.

Rain and catfish slime create an interesting mixture on linoleum, and two steps into the plan, I went airborne and bottomed out, literally. The only thing visible, had anyone been watching, was a deeply arched rod protruding from the boat as I lay prone, face up. I was glad no video was rolling.

Rule No. 2: It’s critical fighting a big fish to remain upright.

Ego and pride busted more than anything, I clawed and crawled through the slime until I grabbed the net. At that moment Moby surged, and I actually accelerated in speed as my catfish-slimed, Gore-Tex raingear pants slid across the floor. I held the rod high in one hand; net in the other as I banged into pontoon sideboard with a “thud.” I didn’t have to expend much effort getting to my feet, Moby’s power assisted me. If I hadn’t been able to get my knees braced under the pontoon rails, this story may never have been told.

Now upright I said “I got you now.”

Rule No. 3: Stay calm and focused. Talking aloud to no one is a sure sign of stress, resulting in poor choices.

Faster than I could move the other rigs out of the way, Moby cut a swath through them. I chunked and tossed rigs aside, unwittingly creating the perfect scenario for a huge catfish to tangle in multiple lines simultaneously.

Rule No. 4: Don’t let chaos rule when handling a big fish.

Moby swiftly swam straight toward the boat, other lines in tow. I reeled madly, and just as the line tightened, the fish passed the boat and screamed drag in the other direction. With little line out, I decided to free-spool and use my thumb to let off line for close-quarters control.

Rule No. 4.1: Ignore the well-known Nike slogan; just don’t do it. I’ll wear a thumb blister for a couple of weeks.

Moby turned again and was going away from the boat, but I felt less power. Maybe, I thought, all the other lines, with their weights and baits were slowing him down.

Rule No. 5: Over-confidence coupled with incompetence creates bad big-fish juju.

Moby stripped line, turned on a dime and handed me change. I turned to compensate, slipped again and executed a perfect Chevy Chase pratfall, landing on the slick cushion atop the livewell and slid back onto the floor.

Rule No.6: See Rule No. 2.

Moby finally swirled and surfaced, looking like a great white shark, and I reacted accordingly in absolute terror.

Rule No. 7: Stay calm – right.

Now it became a battle to guide the huge fish into the net. I was alone, exhausted, rod in one hand, huge net in the other, so think Three Stooges at their best. Finally, the fish was netted, with the hook tangled in the net and multiple other lines wrapped around him, but in that tangled mess of hooks, lines, slime and net, I had Moby.

Bracing my knees against the side of the boat, I pulled the net up, but about a foot out of the water, the fish changed its mind about being boated and made a dive for its natural environment. I nearly went overboard as the net slipped from my slimy, cold hands. I tightened my grip, fell to my knees and wondered if they‘d find my body.

Rule No. 8: Use brains not brawn.

I maneuvered to the pontoon door, reducing the height of the lift exponentially, and Moby obliged by coming aboard. I raced home and took photos, then released Moby out the same door he boarded. With a couple swishes of the massive tail, the fish bid me a wet farewell.

It was a fitting end to the story, when Moby splashed an already wet, fish-slimed, exhausted but thrilled angler, because I had pictures of the 62-pound blue. Despite mayhem and miscalculations, this proves you can lose all the battles and win the war.

Rule No. 9: This is how not to do it.

Editor’s note: Author Terry Madewell referred to himself in his original by-line on this story as: “The last of the Keystone Cops.” In truth, the Ridgeway resident is one of the best outdoorsmen the editor has ever had the honor of sharing a boat with. Not everyone can make all these mistakes and still boat a Goliath of a catfish.

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Terry Madewell
About Terry Madewell 719 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.