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In the social media age, stories can spread like wildfire. That phenomenon just happens to become a lot cooler when its a good fishing story that takes off!
And speaking of good fishing stories…
A Big Blue Cat, Gone Viral
Around 2:00 P.M. on Saturday, March 28, Mike Mitchell of Russellville, Alabama, posted a few photos of a massive blue catfish to his Facebook page.
Within five hours of posting, the photos had over 750 likes, 950 shares, and 150 comments.
Within 24 hours, the photos had shared 2,100 times. By the second day, the number swelled to an incredible 2,600 shares.
For that small pocket of time, it’s safe to say that Mike Mitchell’s catfish may have been the hottest story in the fishing world.
Take just one look at the absolute mammoth fish he hauled in, however, and it’s no wonder why!
Almost a New Alabama State Record Blue Catfish
About two hours prior to showing the world his catch, Mitchell had posted — also to Facebook — saying he had a large fish (“over 100, possible 140’ish”) and needed a live well and assistance in weighing the titan.
He had been fishing on Wilson Lake in northern Alabama as part of a virtual tournament promoted by The CatMasters. The winner of this open-water event (appropriately named The Corona Cat Challenge) would earn an automatic entry into the upcoming Catmasters Classic — a three-day tournament that will be held on Wheeler Lake, Lake Guntersville, and Lake Wilson.
Prior to this catch, Mitchell — who has owned and operated SouthernCats Guide Service for roughly ten years — says his personal best blue catfish was 87 pounds. He has had a client hook into a 102 pounder, but until March 28th, the elusive “Century Mark” had evaded Mitchell.
For perspective, consider that the current Alabama state record for blue catfish is held by John Paul Nichols of Northport. Nichols caught a massive 120 pound, 4 ounce blue cat on Holt Reservoir on March 9, 2012. The world record blue catfish was caught on Buggs Island Lake in Virginia and weighed 143 pounds.
Anyone who can eyeball a catfish’s weight with decent accuracy, however, could tell that Mitchell’s catch had to be close to — if not heavier than — Nichols’ record.
A Belly Full of Fish and a Tough Decision
Given issues stemming from COVID-19 concerns, Mitchell’s attempts at getting an official from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on site were unsuccessful.
According to Mitchell, he was instructed to get a weight on an official scale, have as many witnesses as possible and, if the fish weighed more than 120 pounds, 4 ounces, he would need to put it on ice and transport the fish to Montgomery — a two-hour drive — on Monday.
Insisting on releasing the fish back into the water, Mitchell needed to secure an accurate weight through alternate means. He relied on a friend who had an IGFA-certified scale to get an official weight.
A Mere Three Pounds (and $15,000) Shy of the Alabama Record
“On the first weigh-in,” said Mitchell, “we got a weight of 119 pounds.” The blue cat then threw up three small fish, leaving the official recorded weight at an impressive 117.2 — a mere three pounds shy of the Alabama state record.
While catching the record would have been an amazing achievement in itself, the near-miss cost Mitchell a potential fifteen thousand dollars.
One of Mitchell’s sponsors, Big Cat Fever Rods, awards any angler who catches a state record on one of their rods a healthy $10,000. If you do so while wearing one of their hats, they tack on an additional $5,000.
Releasing the Fish of a Lifetime
Mitchell, who has been fishing for cats since 2002, regularly travels to tournaments outside of his native Alabama, competing in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia.
Understanding that this may have been his “once in a lifetime” catch, it was important for Mitchell that the fish made it back into the water alive and healthy.
“They aren’t really made to be out of the water,” he said, stating that he kept the fish out for less than a minute at a time between weigh-ins and photos.
While preparing to release the fish, Mitchell and another angler held on to the mammoth blue cat, making sure to provide additional support on the fish’s stomach to prevent internal bleeding.
A Surprisingly Short Fight
While one would assume a catfish weighing nearly 120 pounds would put up the fight of the century, Mitchell says it only took about three minutes to haul the big cat in.
“Sometimes you’ll get a 50, 60, 70-pounder that will fight a lot harder than that,” he said.
In the video below, a 72-pound catfish battles Mitchell for over seven minutes before finally being netted.
What the Future Holds: Tournament-Bound and Charter Fishing
Despite nearly twenty years of catfishing, Mitchell has conceded that this will likely be the biggest catch of his career.
“I’ll probably never see a fish bigger than that,” he said, “but I hope I do. If I do catch a bigger fish, it will be the state record.”
While Mitchell may not be landing a larger catfish for quite some time, he will be staying busy for the foreseeable future.
His giant blue cat — combined with a 33 pound flathead and a 1 pound channel cat — earned him the “Trifecta” victory in The CatMasters Corona Cat Challenge. The victory grants him free entry into the CatMasters Classic — a spot that would typically carry a $600 fee.
SouthernCats Guide Service will also continue taking clients out. According to Mitchell, he and his partner charter between 10-12 trips per month with the majority of their big fish coming between January and March.
For those interested in linking up with Mike Mitchell for a catfishing trip, you can visit the official SouthernCats Guide Service Facebook page or call him at (256) 673-2250.