MILTON, W.Va. — An excursion to check out new gear turned into the fishing trip of a lifetime for Cabell County angler Austin Hoffman, who hooked a state-record blue catfish.
The fish weighed 52.95 pounds and measured 47.75 inches, both state records.
The 22-year-old from Milton was waffling about whether to take his boat to the Ohio River on April 26.
“I was actually going out to test out a new drift rod holder set up I put in my boat,” said Hoffman. “I took my girlfriend with me and didn’t have any intention of catching anything. I didn’t even bring a net.”
Hoffman and his companion put out their lines in the tailwaters of the Robert C. Byrd Lock and Dam and started drifting downstream. He told his girlfriend he planned to get to a certain spot, reel in the lines, and head back upstream to try again.
“About the time I started reeling the ones on the rear up, I saw the front one go down,” he said. “I fought him for about 15 minutes and when I got him to the surface, there was no doubt in my mind it was a new state record.”
Hoffman had hooked into the record-breaking blue catfish. Although a native fish to West Virginia’s big rivers the blue cats were largely eliminated by the construction of the locks and dams on the rivers decades ago. Five years ago, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources engaged in a program to restore them with great results.
“We suspect records for a new fish like this is going to be broken quite a lot,” said Biologist Scott Morrison who certified the new record. “However, this time it wasn’t broken by just a pound or so, it was broken by a considerable amount.”
Hoffman’s catfish bested the previous record, also caught from the Ohio River in 2012 by Mark Foster. Foster’s fish was 44.5 pounds and 43.9 inches.
Hoffman is a biology major at Marshall University and is an avid catfish angler, but he didn’t expect to catch a monster cat of that size. He was using a piece of frozen, cut skipjack for bait. Hoffman had collected the skipjack as a sample in the work he’s doing at Marshall in studying a particular parasite. He’d already cleaned out the entrails and had frozen the fish he had grabbed for bait on this day.
“It was pretty exciting and I knew I was going to have to get this fish in without a net,” said Hoffman. “Blue cats tend to roll, and I was afraid he was going to roll up in the line. I’m generally a pretty calm person when it comes to that. I got him in the boat without breaking him off, so that was nice.”
Hoffman’s next problem was stuffing the big fish into the livewell of his Bass Tracker boat which wasn’t nearly large enough, but he made it work and headed home. Through some fishing friends he was able to get in contact with Morrison to verified the record. Through it all, Hoffman was able to keep the massive fish alive.
“I was going dirt bike riding Sunday evening and I didn’t want to drive all the way back to the Ohio River,” Hoffman said. “So I released him alive into the Kanawha River at the St. Albans boat ramp.”