Epic Fish Fights

Is it a Log or a Catfish?

Is it a Log or a Catfish?

**When Tim Pruitt first hooked this huge blue catfish, he thought it was a log. The 124-pound cat set a new record, beating the old one by 21⁄2 pounds.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Alone with the Tarpon

Alone with the Tarpon

Though not a world record, Billy Pate caught this 173-pound tarpon on a solo fishing trip. Read the entire story below. Flyfishing legend Billy Pate has set several saltwater records, including the previous world-record tarpon of 188 pounds. He was the first flyfisherman to catch a blue marlin, too. But the fish he remembers best, and the one that is still talked about around the docks at Homosassa, Fla., was a tarpon that didn't set any records. Pate, of Islamorada, Fla., encountered the fish that gained him more fame than any other on a spring morning in May 1991. Pate usually fished the flats near the mouth of the Homosassa River on Florida's west coast with a guide or a friend. This day, the guide couldn't go, so Pate fished by himself. After making the short run to the fishing grounds, Pate saw that guides and their clients were fighting tarpon just outside the river's mouth. He gave them a wide berth and came in south of the armada of fishing boats. Killing his engine, Pate watched the action from a distance and noticed that the other boats were getting closer. He could tell by the way the flyfishermen were casting that tarpon were moving toward him. No sooner had he climbed into the forward casting platform of his boat than Pate saw the shadows of a dozen or more tarpon sliding through the shallows within casting distance. "I always like to cast to the biggest tarpon in the bunch, and in this case it was the lead fish," recalls Pate, who dropped a 5-inch tarpon streamer in front of the school. Immediately, the foremost tarpon swirled on the fly and inhaled it. Pate reared back on his heavy rod and the fish went airborne. Though it wasn't long, the tarpon looked bigger around than a beer barrel. As it fell back to the water, Pate began to wonder if he had bitten off more than he could chew. Guides and anglers in the nearby boats quickly saw that Pate was tethered to a tarpon that he couldn't hope to beat by himself. In fact, Pate had no intention of boating the fish until he saw it leap for the first time. "I thought it might be a record. It looked every bit as big as my world record at the time, 188 pounds," recalls Pate. "So I decided, 'What the heck, I'll just see how it goes and if I can get it in the boat somehow, I will.'" Pate, who controls his flats boat with two electric trolling motors mounted on either side, managed to keep up with the tarpon as it towed him to sea. Luckily, the fish turned and headed back toward shore. The other boats gave Pate a wide berth, and the tarpon eventually played itself out with a series of prodigious leaps and runs. Three hours into the fight, Pate had the fish on its side. His rod was bowed like an arch, but the angler managed to hold onto the tarpon while he retrieved a lip gaff from under the front deck. Pate was convinced he had a new world record and that he needed to weigh the tarpon on certified scales. To do that, of course, he had to boat it. "I thought, 'How in the world am I going to get this tarpon in over the side by myself? It would be tough enough with two men,'" says Pate. "I looked over my shoulder and saw that one of the guides was coming toward me as fast as he could go, but he was still a ways off. Without waiting, I put both my hands on the gaff handle, planted my foot against the gunwale and pulled. About the same time, the tarpon got its second wind and rushed forward""right into the boat." Pate figures that he's fought more than 5,000 tarpon during his fishing career. He estimates that "ninety-nine point nine percent of them swam away to fight again." Not this one; he had to dispatch the tarpon with a billy club. By then, the helpful guide had arrived. "We measured the tarpon's girth and it was forty-four inches. My world record was forty-three inches around, so that was good," says Pate. "But it was several inches shorter than my record, and I knew that was going to hurt."Outdoor Life Online Editor
Two Men, Two Muskie

Two Men, Two Muskie

Cal Johnson's record fish (right) brought Louie Spray out of fishing retirement. Spray's record (left) was eventually disqualified by the IGFA. Read the whole story below. Louie Spray was a stubborn man, even by Wisconsin standards, and he might never had had his run-in with "Chin Whiskered Charlie" had it not been for Cal Johnson. Spray was a native son of Hayward, Wis., before it earned the well-deserved designation as the muskie capital of the world. In fact, it was spray who put Hayward on the map. By the mid-'40s, when Johnson moved to northern Wisconsin, Spray was the acknowledged muskie king, having already boated two world-record fish. One of them, 59 pounds 8 ounces, was caught in 1939; the other, 61 pounds 13 ounces, came in 1940. Both fish were taken from the famed Chippewa flowage, formed when the Chippewa River was dammed in 1923. When Johnson came to town, he was one of the most famous and revered outdoor writers in the country. Declining health and his doctor's admonitions had forced him to jettison much of his workload, and he chose Hayward as the place where he would live out the remainder of his life doing what he loved best: fishing. Spray was cut from rougher cloth. A lumberjack in his early years and a bootlegger during prohibition, spray had become a respectable barkeep by the time Johnson arrived on the scene. Spray and Johnson shared a mutual respect for the other's fishing talents. When Johnson moved to Wisconsin, Spray was 49 years old and seldom fished anymore. But then Johnson caught a new world-record muskie of 67 pounds 8 ounces from lac courte oreilles on July 24, 1949, and Spray decided it was time to come out of retirement. He set out to catch a bigger muskie, and on October 20 of that same year, he found what he was looking for. Spray knew about chin whiskered Charlie because he had seen the fish on a number of occasions, cruising the clear waters offshore what is now the Indian trail resort and searching for careless perch or crappies. A muskie that was cunning enough to reach 69 pounds 11 ounces and 2 inches long wouldn't just fall for anything, but spray had developed a deadly system that appealed to bigger muskiest. He slow-trolled a big wooden lure as well as a live sucker that was rigged in what was called a "quick-set rig," bristling with hooks. Occasionally spray would let the sucker free-swim under a float, then relocate to a new spot and troll awhile between stops. Spray started fishing on October 1 and he didn't catch anything. He went back the next day, and the next, and several more, with the same results. He slow-trolled or drifted in straight lines and in big circles; he pulled the baits at varying lengths from the boat and at different speeds; he stopped and fished in one place for a while, then moved to another location. After 19 consecutive days of this routine, spray and the giant muskie finally tangled. On the afternoon of the 20th day, as spray was working the sucker toward him with a side-to-side retrieve, chin whiskered Charlie announced his arrival with an enormous swirl and took the bait. Spray, who had fishing buddies George Quentmeyer and Ted Hagg in the boat with him, fought the muskie for more than 30 minutes before it played out. Then spray did something that would eventually keep his name out of the IGFA records book: he shot chin whiskered Charlie with a .22 caliber handgun. He kept the firearm with him to subdue muskies. It was a common practice in those days. Having reclaimed the muskie king crown, spray enjoyed the title until 1957, when Art Lawton of Albany, N.Y., stunned the fishing world with a 69-pound 15-ounce muskie caught in the St. Lawrence river. Years later, record keepers who examined numerous photos of the fish became convinced that Lawton¿s muskie was too short and lacked the girth to have weighed almost 70 pounds. Spray's fish was reinstated as the record.Outdoor Life Online Editor
5-Species Slam in One Day
Most big-game anglers feel fortunate if they can catch more than two or three species of billfish in their lives, but don't include Hank Manley in their number. In 1997, while fishing off Venezuela aboard his boat, Tribute, Manley brought to gaff a swordfish, spearfish, blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish, all in one 24-hour period.Outdoor Life Online Editor
24-Hour Fish Fight
In 1993, while fishing from their 25-foot boat, My Turn II, off Southern California, Karl Kogler and Steve Crilly had to take turns fighting what must have been the most stubborn swordfish ever hooked. The broadbill took a bait at 2 p.m. and fought for 23 hours 45 minutes before Kogler and Crilly had it whipped. The swordfish, which was hooked on 30-pound-test line, weighed 213 pounds 8 ounces.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Epic Light-Tackle Battle

Epic Light-Tackle Battle

Captain Shawn Foster has probably spent more hours witnessing long fish fights than any other inshore fishing guide. In fact, he encourages them. Foster, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., gained a reputation in the mid-'90s for catering to anglers who aim for saltwater line-class records for redfish, or red drum. During one memorable battle in 1994 on the banana river, light-tackle specialist Raleigh Werking fought a redfish on 4-pound-test line for more than five hours before foster was able to gaff it. "That fish pulled us up and down," recalls Foster. "Towing us around finally wore it down."Outdoor Life Online Editor

Eight reel-screaming, line-smoking battles that took these rod-holders to the very edge.