HARRISBURG, Pa. (June 6) – The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) has certified a new state record Flathead Catfish.
On the morning of Sunday, May 14, 2023, angler Michael Wherley, 46, of Fayetteville, Franklin County was fishing from a 16-foot bass boat on the Susquehanna River section known as Lake Aldred, near Conestoga, Lancaster County. Wherley baited a live Rainbow Trout onto a large circle hook, weighted with a 1.5-ounce sinker, and cast his heavy-duty surf rod lined with 25-pound monofilament fishing line into an approximately 50-foot-deep channel.
At around 10 a.m., Wherley, who was fishing with his friend, Walter "Tommy" Clark, also of Fayetteville, said fishing action began to pick up, and three of the four rods they had in the water hooked fish simultaneously.
"It was a little bit crazy, but we managed to start reeling them in," said Wherley. "There was a 30-pounder, and then Tommy brought in a 45-pounder that ended up breaking the net when we tried lifting it into the boat."
Wherley says as he reeled in the third rod, he knew right away it was a very large fish, and his arms started to cramp as he continued to battle the catfish for the next 30 minutes.
"When it finally came to the surface, all I could think was that it was humungous!" recalled Wherley. "When I got the fish next to the boat, I handed the rod to Tommy, and I stuck both hands in the fish's mouth and pulled as hard as I could to bring it aboard. We knew we had something."
Wherley, who has been fishing for Flathead Catfish on the Susquehanna River for about 15 years, said he was aware of the previous state record, a 56lb., 3oz. fish caught by a Philadelphia angler in the Schuylkill River in May 2020. Confident that his catch had a chance to beat the record, Wherley and Clark kept the fish alive by placing it inside a large plastic tote box filled with water and equipped with an aerator. The anglers then headed to nearby Columbia Bait and Tackle where a certified scale was located.
At approximately 3:50 p.m., in the presence of PFBC Waterways Conservation Officer Jeff Schmidt, who was on duty nearby at the time of the catch, Wherley's Flathead Catfish was recorded as weighing 66 lbs., 6 oz., exceeding the previous state record by more than ten pounds. While the fish measured 50.25 inches long with a girth of 35 inches, Pennsylvania state record fish are judged only by weight, and must exceed the previous record by at least two ounces.
As is required for state record consideration, the weight and species was verified by WCO Schmidt, who was able to conduct an in-person inspection of the fish on site at the tackle shop. Following the inspection, Schmidt accompanied Wherley to the Columbia River Park boat ramp where the live catfish was successfully released back into the river and swam away.
In addition to recording the certified weight and the in-person inspection by WCO Schmidt, Wherley completed a state record fish application which included color photographs and detailed information about the catch, which was reviewed by the PFBC Division of Fisheries Management and confirmed.
"This is just incredible, and I'm really glad we were able to release the fish back into the river," said Wherley. "My previous personal best flathead was 44 pounds last year. I know I've had bigger ones on the line, but they got off before I could get them on the boat. I'll enjoy this record as long as it lasts, but I'm sure it will probably be broken in a year or two, if not sooner. I'm a hundred-percent certain there are even bigger fish out there."
Anglers who are pursuing a state record, or think they have caught a state record fish, should follow these guidelines:
- Obtain a copy of the Pennsylvania State Record Fish Application, which is available online.
- Comply with all rules, including having the fish weighed on a scale that is certified by the state or county. Stores that sell products by weight are required to have a certified scale. Locations such as feed mills or agriculture stores often have scales capable of weighing large fish.
- Fish may only be released after PFBC staff have examined the fish and approved the application.
- The completed form, including color photographs, must be notarized and sent to the PFBC.
- The PFBC will review the application upon receipt.
- The PFBC reserves the right to further investigate the methods used in catching a fish and the accuracy of weight and measurements.
- The PFBC reserves the right to reject any application.
- Anglers catching a new state record fish will receive a certificate from the PFBC and be listed on the PFBC website.
- A list of current Pennsylvania State Record Fish, official rules and application can be found at Fishandboat.com.
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission