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Indiana’s Lloyd Tanner has spent a long time on the water. An active participant in the Michigan Catfish Anglers Trails (MCATS), Tanner has fished for cats at some of the nation’s top fisheries. It is St. Joe River, a 206-mile long tributary of Lake Michigan, however, where he spends the majority of his time. Living roughly twenty minutes from both the Michigan and Illinois borders, Tanner is able to take in both tournament and recreational fishing on a regular basis.
On Sunday, May 29, Tanner took to the water with his nephew, his daughter’s boyfriend, and his canine companion Oscar – a German Shepherd who regularly joins him on the water – for perhaps the most significant catch of his thirty-year angling journey.
A Slow Day Turns Around Nicely
It almost seems to be an unspoken rule that when a state fishing record is broken, it immediately follows one of two things:
- The angler lands a significant fish shortly before bringing in the record (see Steven Price’s recent blue catfish record on the Ohio River)
- The bite has been slow and the record fish hits seemingly out of nowhere
In Tanner’s case, his record fish came after a relatively slow outing on the water. His crew had pulled in a pair of channel catfish and a small flathead. The bite was so mild that evening that Tanner actually considered heading back home.
At the urging of his companions, however, Tanner opted to stay on the water and fish one more spot.
The decision proved to be fortuitous.
“We Knew We Had It”
After thirty years fishing almost exclusively for catfish, Tanner says he has pretty good judgment when it comes to eyeballing the weight of a fish.
After a fight that saw the fish get caught in a log jam for about a minute, Tanner benefited from favorable backcurrent which brought the fish right to the boat. Upon seeing the flathead up close, it was clear that this one was special.
“We were saying ‘it’s over 50, it’s over 50,'” Tanner recalls. “I’ve spent a lot of time fishing for catfish and get to see a lot of big fish every week.”
The group weighed the fish on Tanner’s tournament scale and registered an unofficial weight of 52.7 pounds.
“We knew we had it,” Tanner notes. “That’s when the phone calls started.”
It Pays to Have Good Friends
Tanner made a few calls to friends and, eventually, to Jay Wesley, the Basin Coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resource.
As Wesley is the representative who has certified the weights of the previous two Michigan state record flatheads, Tanner recalls that Wesley initially was a bit skeptical about making the drive down to St. Joe’s on Memorial Day weekend (on his day off) as there are numerous anglers who call in inaccurate claims of potential state records as they simply underestimate how big the record actually is (or overestimate the size of their own catch).
It was Tanner’s friend Captain Todd Brill of Gold Coast Fishing Company, however, who was able to put the certification process in motion. Brill is also friends with Wesley and endorsed Tanner as a serous and dedicated catfish angler. This acknowledgement was enough for expedite the process. Wesley made the roughly 90 minute drive down to see the potential record fish and, surely enough, it comfortably secured its place in the record books.
Tanner’s flathead officially weighed in at 53.35 pounds with a length of 48 inches. The fish was in great condition after being held in a 120 trough, and Tanner made sure to change the water regularly throughout the holding period.
After the official weight was recorded, Tanner safely released the fish back into St. Joe.
Not the Biggest, but the Best
Throughout his decades as a dedicated catfish angler, Tanner has fished all over the country. On a few occasions, he has actually landed flatheads that were heavier than the previous Michigan state record – Dale Blakely 52-pounder caught in 2014.
Even Tanner’s own record falls just below the top spot on his “PB” list with an Alabama flathead narrowly taking the top spot. His largest catfish overall was a 72-pound blue that was also caught in Alabama.
While there may be likely be larger flatheads in Tanner’s future, he is currently focused on this weekend’s Battle of Grand catfish tournament.