Last week, Welsh angler Dr. Martin David Kent (better known as Dai by his friends) was officially named the all-tackle record holder for Mekong giant catfish, the largest freshwater fish species in the world. At the scale, the fish weighed 260 pounds and stretched the tape to 7 feet. Kent landed the monster after a grueling hour-long battle that pushed him and his gear to the limit. Here’s the story of his epic fight.
Kent was fishing a small lake at Gillhams Fishing Resorts in Thailand last November when he hooked the goliath fish. He had waited nine hours without a single fish hitting the boilie (a balled-up boiled paste commonly used by catfishermen and carp fishermen) he had suspend beneath a bobber. But finally, line started zipping off the reel and the rod bent in its holder. Kent struck the fish hard and strained back on the rod, but the big cat barely flinched. “It went up and down the lake like a train,” Kent said.
The monster catfish almost spooled Kent on its first powerful run. Worried that he’d lose the fish before the fight even really got started, Kent jumped into the lake and followed it down the shore.
He was finally able to get some line back, but every time he got the catfish close, it would burst into another drag-burning run. At one point he laid down, stuck the butt of the rod into the ground and leaned back on the fish. Soon, people from the resort heard the commotion and came to watch the fight, including Kent’s wife Isabel. “When my wife joined me, all she could say was ‘Please, please don’t lose it!’ ” Kent said.
Finally, after an hour-long struggle, Kent worked the fish to shore where his guides were able to slip a landing net beneath it. Mekong giant catfish are an endangered species and their numbers have decreased by about 95 percent over the last century, so every measure possible was taken to protect the fish. Kent’s fish was stocked in the 9-acre pond years ago. Since much of the catfish’s natural habitat in the Mekong River has been damaged (river fishing for the species is actually illegal), many have been stocked in ponds. The fish eat algae and prefer turbid water which make a tropical pond like this one perfect habitat.
The catfish’s numbers have dropped so dramatically because damming of the Mekong’s tributaries have cut off its spawning grounds. Without human interference, the fish have been known to migrate hundreds of miles down a river. The largest Mekong on record was caught commercially and weighed an incredible 646 pounds.
Kent’s fish was transferred from the landing net to a holding net, hoisted out of the water only briefly for a few photos and then quickly measured and weighed.
(Kent is pictured on the left).
All of the proper International Game Fish Association rules were followed and the location of the catch was deemed eligible by IGFA officials. The fish was back in the water and swimming free just seconds after it was weighed.
Oddly enough, Kent now holds the record for the largest species of freshwater fish, but he doesn’t consider himself a freshwater angler. He’s a retired captain in the British Royal Navy (by his count he’s sailed about half a million miles around the world) and spends most of his fishing days on the sea.
“It’s pretty bizarre [that I’m the record holder for a freshwater fish], it shows that there’s a lot of luck involved,” he says. But Kent’s salt water fishing experience is one of the main reasons he was able to land such a brute on relatively light tackle.
Kent has fished all over the world and has battled his fair share of monsters, like this big barracuda caught off the coast of West Africa.
But nothing has ever given Kent a run for his money like the Mekong catfish. “If I had to compare it to something … I’d say it fought like a big tuna. A big yellowfin tuna is about the closest,” he says. “Except I didn’t get a fighting chair for this one.” Here’s Kent with a blackfin tuna caught off the coast of Africa.
Kent with a nice Jack Crevalle.
Kent waited until last week to go public with his big catch to make sure it cleared all of the IGFA regulations. Since he made the announcement, his phone has been ringing off the hook with reporters calling him from around the world. But even through the chaos, he’s been able to get out fishing. Here’s Kent in his element: bass fishing off his native Pembrokeshire coast (western U.K.). “I’m used to catching 4 and 5-pound sea bass,” he says.
David Kent is now the all-tackle record holder for the Mekong giant catfish, the largest freshwater fish in the world.