POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Justin Conner of Culloden, W.Va. and his fiance Tabitha Linville are no strangers to big catfish. The couple spend a lot of their time chasing the monsters of the deep all across the country.
“We put our heart and soul into catfish. Every chance we get we go out and fish for them. We go to Tennessee, Alabama, we spend all of our vacation time living on the boat,” Conner said.
Therefore on a warm Saturday in January when Conner picked up his line and felt the tug at the other end, it wasn’t unfamiliar. He knew immediately something mighty was on the other end.
“We’ve been close a couple of times. Tabby caught one Christmas Eve that was just short of the state record. She was taking off a couple of smaller fish we had just caught and I managed to sneak in behind her and grab the rod this one hit. I knew immediately we had a special fish,” laughed Conner.
Since Conner and his bride-to-be chase catfish all over the Continental United States they also are well equipped to handle such a fish. The bruising beast tugged on the line for what seemed like hours before finally giving out and showing itself at the surface. It was a massive blue catfish. Since being reintroduced into West Virginia waters several years ago, the blue catfish records have been broken several times in recent years. Once in the boat, Conner knew, this one would be close.
“It was about two tenths of an inch over the state record for length, but we knew we were short of the weight record,” he said.
The two got on the phone and started calling everybody they could think of with any connection to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Eventually they were able to make contact with Ryan Bosserman, a biologist at the nearby Apple Grove Fish Hatchery. They made arrangements to meet up and conduct official measurements at the hatchery. In the meantime, the giant fish soaked and brooded in the live well of Conner’s catfish war wagon.
Conner’s assessment turned out to be correct as the tape measure officially measured the length at 49.84 inches, good enough for a new state record for length. It eclipsed the previous record of 47.75 inches caught in 2014 by Austin Hoffman in the Ohio River. .The fish tipped the official scales at 58.38 pounds. The weight wasn’t enough to overcome the current record of 59.74 pounds also caught in the Ohio River by Mark Blauvelt in 2016..Measurements in hand and the record certified, Conner headed back to the location near the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers where he had caught the fish and turned it loose.
“We most definitely did. We turned him back loose so somebody else will get the opportunity to catch him,” said Conner.
Conner credited conditions and timing for his amazing catch. The fish was lurking in about 30 feet of water in the main channel of the Ohio River, a few hundred yards downstream from the Kanawha River. Conner found him lurking behind an old piece of structure deep in the water hiding from the current. For bait, he was using cut up shad rigged with 50 pound test line.
Weather conditions were also a factor, the temperature was warm, winds were howling, and it was the front end of a major frontal system with the river rising. All conditions Conner said worked in his favor to land the monster catfish.