There’s no doubt that catfishing is on the minds of many Santee Cooper fishermen during the summer. While there’s good fishing for largemouth, bream and crappie, much of the summertime focus is on catfish.
And stories of these huge fish continue to come from our lakes and rivers. One of the most discussed fish caught recently was a huge blue catfish taken on April 9 by 22-year old Mark Bollenburg of Bonneau Beach. But there’s more to this than just the tale of the big one that didn’t get away.
First, let’s review the details. Bollenburg was fishing in the Tailrace Canal below Lake Moultrie, when he caught a 108.6-pound blue catfish. According to Scott Lamprecht, a regional fisheries biologist with the the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, that is the official, certified weight of the catfish. Lamprecht said it is not a state record, but a huge catfish in any regards.
“The scales the fish were weighed on have been certified as being absolutely correct,” Lamprecht said. “These scales actually weigh in tenths-of-a-pound instead of pounds and ounces. The weight would be close to 108 pounds and nine ounces.”
The state record blue catfish weighed 109-4 and was caught by George Lijewski of Summerville in 1991 — also came from the Tailrace Canal
But a real interesting part of this story is Bollenburg’s efforts to keep the fish alive and get it to the Bass Pro Shops Aquarium near Concord, N.C. That part of the story began two weeks earlier when he landed a 95-pound blue catfish from the same area.
“I usually release the big catfish I catch, but I really wanted to keep the 95-pound blue catfish alive and donate it to an aquarium,” Bollenburg said. “However, that fish died during the weighing process. But I learned a lot about the process of keeping one of these big fish alive. When I got this big fish in the boat I had a plan on how to keep it alive. Quick action was the key.”
But like all good plans, Bollenburg had to think on the fly to make this one work. His fishing partner that evening was 14-year-old Bobby Jackson, who landed a 70-pound blue but wasn’t quite finished.
“When we pulled the 108-pound fish into the boat, I measured the fish and knew it was close to record size, and I knew we had to leave immediately,” he said. “This fish was several inches longer than the 95-pounder I had caught, and the girth on this fish was tremendous.”
There are not many times when it would be inconvenient to hook another 70-pound catfish. But this was one of those times.
“As I was getting things in the boat ready to go, one of the other rods went down,” he said. “Bobby had hooked another huge fish. I had him really work this one in faster than we normally would, because I knew time was essential to keep the big fish alive. Somehow, the fish stayed on, and we dragged it into the boat. It weighed 70 pounds, so that was two 70-pounders for the night. After that, I just headed back to the landing as quick as I could. I had called a friend who met us at the landing with a big cooler, full of water, for the big cat. We then went straight to the fish hatchery in St. Stephens where we got the catfish into a big fish tank.
“I’m thrilled that we kept the big fish alive and got it safely to the Bass Pro Shops aquarium in North Carolina,” Bollenburg said. “By the time we transported the fish on April 27, it had begun eating again. I think it’s going to be okay.”
Bollenburg was fishing a couple of miles downstream from the dam in a deep hole. It’s a place where he’s caught a number of big fish over the past three years.
“I usually try to avoid the crowds which normally gang up closer to the dam,” he said. “I get a bit further down river, anchor up and fish an area that’s about 16- to 20-feet deep. I was using 3-inch chunks of herring for bait. My rigging is 30-pound test Bass Pro Shops Offshore Angler line; the reel is an ABU 6500, and I was using the Bass Pro shop Power Plus 7-foot rods. Also, a quality rodholder is essential for this type of fishing, and I use DriftMaster rodholders. When a big blue bites, they hit like a freight train.”
BROKEN LINES AND TANGLED DIPNETS
Catfish are a very important fishery for the lakes and rivers in the Santee Cooper system. Despite his age, Mark Bollenburg seems to have a good mindset about catfish and the respect he gives the fishery. He’s been catching and releasing huge catfish for three years. While young in years, he seems to have the mindset of a veteran angler. Plus, his diligent efforts to keep this big fish alive and get it to the aquarium in good condition were excellent. Several weeks after the fish was delivered to the aquarium, we checked and it was still alive and doing well.