Outdoors / Sports

Michigan man nets 52-pound catfish, a new state record

Dale Blakley's second ice-fishing trip was one for the record books.

Last week, the Niles man caught a 52-pound flathead catfish on Barron Lake in Cass County, Mich. It beat the previous state record for the largest fish of that species by more than 2 pounds and gave Blakley a lifetime of bragging rights.

"It's incredible. I'm overwhelmed right now," the 45-year-old construction worker said on Friday. "It was a great experience."

Blakley and three friends were searching for bluegill and crappie when he dropped a glow-in-the-dark crappie jig hook with a wax worm through a hole in the ice.

"It wasn't down there 45 seconds after I had done that when the fish hit," he said.

Blakley said it took about an hour to get the fish out of the water.

"It was a big fish on a 2-foot fishing pole. It was really mad," he said.

Blakley enjoys fishing and said he always throws his catches back. But to have this fish verified as a record, he needed to take it to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources office in Plainwell.

Because the office was closed, he kept the fish overnight in his bathtub, which he equipped with an aquarium pump. By the time he drove it to the DNR the next day, it was barely alive.

"I tried to keep the fish alive, because I was going to set the fish free,"Blakley said. "It broke my heart that the fish had to die for me to break the record."

The DNR said in a news release that flathead catfish typically live in large river systems, like the nearby St. Joseph River.

"Based on the size of this fish, it mysteriously found its way to Barron Lake several years ago, perhaps through illegal stocking as there are no direct connections to a large river system," the release said.

"Anglers are reminded that transferring fish from one water body to another is prohibited because such transfers can disrupt the fish community in the receiving water through predation, competition with native species, or introduction of new disease-causing organisms."

Blakley's fish measured 46.02 inches. His fishing buddies were stunned.

"I couldn't even believe to see that come out of the lake," said 22-year-old Justin Wagner of Niles, who shot video and photos.

The previous state record was set by Rodney Akey of Niles, according to the DNR. On May 22, 2012, he caught a flathead catfish on the St. Joseph River in Berrien County that weighed 49.8 pounds and was 45.7 inches long. Records are determined by weight.

Before 2012, the record hadn't been broken since 1943.

After Blakley gets the fish back from the DNR, he hopes to have a replica made so he can mount it on his living room wall.

He's also planning a feast.

"We're going to have a big 52-pound fish fry," he said.

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