Cats the Size of Calves

You're looking at one of the largest freshwater fish ever caught on rod and reel in North America, a 121-1/2-pound blue catfish named Splash. This former world record, landed in Texas in 2004, exemplifies the skyrocketing popularity of these whiskered warriors. Century-mark blues, once as rare as 20-pound largemouths, have turned up with increasing frequency in recent decades, sparking an unprecedented interest in fishing for trophy specimens like Splash.TPWD / Larry D. Hodge
This 102-pound Mississippi River blue cat was caught in the early 1900s. Published accounts provide evidence it was common to catch blues weighing 125 to 250 pounds from big Midwestern rivers during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The biggest reported was a 315-pounder caught in the Missouri River near Portland, Missouri, in 1866.Keith Sutton personal collection
Overharvest of mature blue cats for fish markets was one factor that led to the decline of heavyweight blues by the early twentieth century.Keith Sutton personal collection
By the 1950s, the Missouri River and its tributaries were among the few places where giant blues were still being caught on a regular basis. S.D. angler Roy Groves landed this 94-1/2-pound world record on the James River near Yankton in the late 1950s. The fish was mounted and featured on this postcard.Keith Sutton personal collection
On September 16, 1959, South Dakota produced another world-record blue, a 97-pound Missouri River fish caught by Edward Elliott. This rare photo of Elliott with his record catch has been ravaged by age but is presented here because of its significance. More than three decades would pass before an angler caught a bigger blue catfish on rod and reel.Keith Sutton personal collection
When he left home on March 14, 1991, S.C. angler George Lijewski didn't know he was about to turn the catfishing world upside-down. While fishing the Tail Race Canal below S.C.'s Lake Moultrie, he landed this 109-pound, 4-ounce blue, a new world record. This was the first 100-pound-plus blue cat recognized as a record by the International Game Fish Association and the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.IGFA photo
Lijewski's record could have fallen in December 1994 when Mo. cat man Virgil Agee (right in photo) landed a certified 121-pound Osage River blue. Agee, however, was a new breed of catfish angler, one determined to release big cats unharmed and unconcerned with record-book fame. Agee already had released a 101-pounder when he returned the 121-pound fish to the Osage. He later caught two more exceeding 100 pounds, making him the only angler ever to catch more than one century-mark blue. Agee signed this photo of a 100-pound, 8-ounce catch for a friend, including his three rules for success: "Believe in God, Believe in Yourself, Fairplay."Courtesy of Virgil Agee
On July 5, 1996, William McKinley broke Lijewski's record with a 111-pound blue from Alabama's Wheeler Reservoir. On June 7, 1998, a 112-pounder from Tennessee's Cumberland River established yet another world-record benchmark. It was the fish pictured here, however, a 116-3/4-pound all-tackle world record taken from the Mississippi River in Arkansas, that garnered the most attention. Charles Ashley Jr. (pictured) caught it August 3, 2001, using an unusual bait: a chunk of Hormel Spam.AGFC photo
Ashley's record stood just more than two years until Cody Mullennix of Howe, Tex. (left in photo) caught a 5-foot-long, 121.5-pound blue while bankfishing on Lake Texoma. News of the fish, which Mullennix named Splash, flashed around the world via the Internet within hours of his catch, and the story was featured by newspapers, TV stations and radio stations nationwide. It's likely no record catch was ever so highly publicized.Courtesy of Cody Mullennix
It didn't hurt that Mullennix's big-fish story had a happy ending for the fisherman and the fish. Mullennix kept Splash alive and donated her to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. The 26,000-gallon aquarium there provided the perfect venue for Splash shows during the year she was exhibited there. The fish attracted big crowds. Attendance was up by thousands after Splash's debut, a fact exemplifying the public's newfound interest in catfishTPWD / Larry D. Hodge
With so many record catches in so few years, it was inevitable anglers should start wondering if another record-breaker might surface. On May 21, 2005, one did, a 124-pound Mississippi River fish caught near Alton, Ill. Tim Pruitt, the Alton angler who caught it, found himself an overnight celebrity. Reporters as far away as the Netherlands called for interviews, and June 1, 2005, was declared Tim Pruitt Day in Illinois.IGFA photo
So far, Pruitt's record has remained unchallenged. But 100-pound-plus blue cats continue surfacing with astounding regularity. For example, on Day 1 of Bass Pro Shops' Big Cat Quest National Championship in Memphis, Tenn. last November, while fishing with partners Tim Haynie and Leland Harris, veteran catfish guide/tournament pro Phil King of Corinth, Miss. (2nd from left in photo) hooked and landed a 103-pound blue catfish that established a record for the largest catfish ever caught in a U.S. tournament.kenfreemanoutdoorpromotions.com
It took all three anglers to carry the fish to the stage for weigh-in. "We've just seen history being made," said tournament founder Ken Freeman. "Never before has a century-mark catfish been weighed in a catfishing tournament. I always hoped I would see it, but I never thought I actually would."kenfreemanoutdoorpromotions.com
One might imagine King had cinched the big-fish prize for the tourney, but incredibly, that was not to be. The next day, a rumor circulated that another team in line for the weigh-in had a fish over 100 pounds. Gasps went up from the crowd when the two anglers, Cary Winchester (left) and Harold Dodd of Cape Girardeau, Mo. lifted the behemoth from their livewell.kenfreemanoutdoorpromotions.com
This monster, caught by Winchester (right) after a 45-minute battle, weighed 108 pounds, another new tournament record. As one veteran cat man put it, "Even on the Mississippi, the best trophy catfish river in the nation, the odds of that happening are a million to one."kenfreemanoutdoorpromotions.com
Anglers predict Pruitt's record will soon fall. As catfish anglers become increasingly conservation-minded, however, many huge cats are released as soon as they are caught without being officially weighed. It's possible a new record already has surfaced. Certainly, monster blues released by anglers could quickly grow to record proportions, including this 56-inch Mississippi River blue caught and released by Memphis angler Matt Bingham (pictured) on April 18, 2004. This cat undoubtedly exceeded 100 pounds and may still be swimming the river and growing larger each day.Courtesy of Matt Bingham
Another huge catfish photographed before its release was this Magnolia State giant caught in the Mississippi River on Dec. 1, 2007 by Miss. cat man John Summers. Summer's 100-pound hand-held scales bottomed out when he tried to weigh it, and he didn't want to risk the fish's survival by taking it 12 miles to the nearest ramp. "It was a thrill watching the fish swim off," Summers said.Outdoor Life Online Editor
The latest big catch came in the Mississippi River, Ark. on Aug. 23, 2008, when Batesville, Ark. videographer Brad Stout landed this 57-1/2-inch blue. With the help of friends who were fishing with him, Stout weighed the fish on an uncertified hand-held scale that indicated an approximate weight of 116 pounds. Ironically, Stout, who is producing his own "Catfishing Dream Team" DVD featuring some of the top catfish anglers in the country, did not have his video camera with him on the day he caught this incredible fish.Outdoor Life Online Editor

Want to catch a 100-pound fish in freshwater? Go for blue cats. Angling for these widespread monster gamefish has never been better.