West Virginia Has a New State Record Blue Catfish

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At the beginning of the year, Premier Angler took a look at some of the state records that were established in 2019.

When the 2020 edition is published, readers will see that two West Virginia state fishing records were broken within the first two weeks of the year.

One of those new records belongs to Zachary Adkins, who caught a 53.1 inch, 59 pound grass carp on Warden Lake.

The other belongs to Justin Conner of Culloden, WV, whose 49.84 inch, 58.38 pound blue catfish was long enough to earn the state’s record for length.

We were fortunate enough to speak with Justin Conner about his record-setting catch. Below is Justin’s story, in his own words.

Talking with Justin Conner, Owner of the New West Virginia State Record Blue Catfish

Premier Angler: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Justin. Before we talk about your record-setting catch, let’s talk about your journey into fishing and, specifically, catfishing. 

You are the co-owner of The Catfishing Duo Guide Service. How did you make the transition from fishing enthusiast to fishing guide?

Conner: I grew up fishing the creeks around my house. My grandpa got me into catching channel catfish when we used to go camping when I was a kid. We never caught nothing very big. Now, I’m the only one in my family that even fishes.

West Virginia State Record Blue Catfish
Justin Conner

When I was in high school, me and a couple friends started going to the river and fishing off the banks and around the dam when we were old enough to drive. Then one day while fishing on the river, I finally caught the big catfish I was after.

The fish was only about a 15 lb flathead, but it was, at the time, the biggest one I’d ever seen and made me keep wanting to go for bigger and sparked the fire in me to go after trophy catfish. 

After that, I studied and asked questions and started watching how to videos on catfishing. From there, I started learning to use fresh and live bait and my fish progressively got bigger. With each fish, the goal become to catch a bigger fish.

Tabitha (Linville, Conner’s finance and co-owner of the Catfishing Duo Guide Service) always wanted to catch a big catfish like mine. So one evening we set off and went on a date to the river bank and she caught her first big catfish, which was 30lbs. Since then, she has wanted to go fishing with me every time I went out.

When I got out of high school and started working, I couldn’t wait to buy a boat. I worked two jobs just to buy the boat of my dreams before I even had a truck big enough to pull a boat.

Since we both had the love of catfishing and enjoyed spending every weekend and evening that we could going out catfishing, we decided to start up The Catfishing Duo Guide Service. We have absolutely loved being able to do something we love and to be able to teach other and share our passion with others. 

Premier Angler: That’s really awesome! Now, let’s talk about the actual state record catch — what were the conditions, where were you fishing, how was the fight.

Conner: I caught the state record blue catfish was January 11th, 2020. We started our day like any other day. We got up at 4 a.m. to be the first ones at the boat ramp. We got us some gizzard shad for bait and headed out to our first spot. We knew there was a massive front coming in. We had advantage of the river rising and being ahead of the massive cold front. 

They was calling for 75 degrees for the high and 20 mph steady winds and gusts up to 40.  But the winds wasn’t suppose to pick up until about 10 or 11 in the morning. So, we had a small window to get out and try to produce a couple nice fish.

After arriving at our first spot, we fished about 45 mins and caught a few fish pretty quick. The wind started to pick up so we had a few other spots we wanted to fish before it got bad, so we picked up anchor to go to another spot that we like to fish. We marked a few fish on sonar with a big one behind it. We believed it was a fairly big catfish, so we quickly set up to target that fish.

We got set up and cast the lines out and started getting bites immediately.

In a matter of minutes, we had three fish in the boat. Tabby was taking the hooks out of the fish and when I looked up, the rod was buried in the rod holder.

I jumped up and hooked the fish and I knew right away we had something special.

The fish was tugging and pulling drag out of my reel. The adrenaline began to run and the ol’ knees started shaking. I looked at Tabby and said, “I believe we got a real  shot at the state record here.”

The fish got closer to the boat and begun to fight harder. Once it surfaced and we saw how big it was, we tried to get him in the net as fast as possible because we knew it could be a potential state record.

After getting it in the boat, we immediately put it in the huge live well of our SeaArk Easy Cat and started to call people to weigh and measure the fish to get a possible certification for it.

We got ahold of Ryan Bosserman, the fish biologist at the Apple Grove fish hatchery. He agreed to meet us at a location at the dam. He took a final measurement and weight of the fish and it was 58.34 pounds and a whopping 49.84 inches, long surpassing the old state record by 2 inches in length and barely missing weight of the current state record fish.

After signing some papers and meeting with another biologist, we took some pictures with the catfish and turned it lose to swim away for someone else to catch one day.

After that, it was roughly 2 p.m. The front had come in and was starting to settle. The wind had picked up and the waves started to get bigger. Me and Tabby looked at each other and said, “the good Lord has blessed us with a wonderful day,” so we called it a day and went to dinner to celebrate. 

Premier Angler: It’s hard to imagine even wanting to try for something else after that. It seems like this was something that had been building for a long time, though.

On the Catfishing Duo Guide Service Facebook page, you posted a line about your catch that really stood out — that it was “a goal we had set for ourselves every time we went out!”

Do you believe that anglers are more successful when they expect to catch big fish?

Conner: We always set a goal and it gives us something to look forward to and to try to achieve. This has been a goal for us for a very long time. We have endured some very harsh conditions in the past trying to achieve this goal.

I believe if anglers set goals and if they work hard to achieve them, it gives them something to shoot for and making them better anglers in the end. 

Premier Angler: Excellent. Congratulations again on your record-breaking catch. Anything else you’d like to share? Any shout-outs?

Conner: We fish very hard and are very blessed to have some great companies aboard to help us with our goals and dreams.

SeaArk boats provide us with an awesome Easy Cat to fish out of.

Special thanks to Catch the Fever — they provide us with Big Cat Fever Rods, apparel and Slimeline.

Also, Monster Rod Holders for the dependable rod holders and dip net to land trophy catfish. 

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