Imagine catching a catfish so big that it takes up most of a tailgate on a pickup truck.
Keith Setty can. He did.
In fact, Setty's big blue catfish, taken recently from the Ohio River in the tailwaters of the Mehldahl Dam, 40 miles above Cincinnati, this week was certified as Ohio's initial record for the species. Blues just became eligible for the state record-fish list this year.
"The fish is definitely a blue catfish," confirmed Doug Maloney, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 5 at Xenia.
Setty, of Lynchburg, Ohio, caught the monster in the early hours of June 29 and had it offically weighed at the local post office the next day. Then he headed for District 5 headquarters for verification - all 45 1/2 inches and 57 pounds, 3.2 ounces of it. It had a 32 1/2-inch girth.
"That's a good-sized fish," said Maloney, acknowledging that it becomes the first entry in the new blue catfish category, which carried a 45-inch minimum length, weight aside, to qualify. Records hereon, however, as with all other species, are determined by weight only.
Joint studies conducted by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources found that blue catfish populations in the lower Ohio River were substantial enough to warrant down-listing the species from "endangered" to species of special concern. Down-listing the blue catfish opened up sport fishing opportunities for anglers on the Ohio River, resulting in the fish being added to the state record fish list.
For years Kentucky-side anglers legally have been catching plenty of blues from the Ohio River. Indeed, the Kentucky record blue is a whopping 104 pounds, taken from the Cannelton Dam tailwaters at Owensboro in 1999.
After his visit with state fish biologists at Xenia, Setty proceeded to fill out a formal record application with the Outdoor Writers of Ohio, the official certifying organization, which works in cooperation with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
He hand-delivered the application to Tom Cross, OWO record-fish chairman, who lives about a half-hour from Setty in Adams County. Cross announced the record certification yesterday.
"It was kind of a once in a lifetime thing," said Setty about the record and the difficulty of finding conditions "just right" on the fickle Ohio River. Rainfall, water released from dams, and more complicate the fishing. "It can be dead to re-hot," said Setty, a 37-year-old angler who started fishing for channel catfish in high school. Catfish remain his favorite quarry.
He and two Lynchburg buddies, Dusty Thompson and Seth Bailey, got on the river about 10 p.m. in Thompson's 17-foot boat. "We kind of found a spot [in the dam's tailwaters] that had some current in it."
Then they anchored and set their lines, using cut shad for bait. They had netted the shad earlier up at Rocky Fork Lake near their home. During the night they caught six other blue cats to 14 pounds, and four channels of four to five pounds. "I caught [the big one] about four in the morning."
The fish took just 10 minutes to land, but Setty said that he had just dropped in his line and he had the fish up short. "If I had hooked that fish July 3 I never would have got it in," the catfish-man said, noting that heavy rains had produced a strong current that would have given the fish an overwhelming advantage.
Setty, who took a 45-pound blue a year ago, uses tackle befitting big cats: a heavy-action eight-foot casting rod, and Ambassador 6500-C3 reel filled with 30-pound-test Trilene Big-Game line, a 7/0 Gamakatsu circle hook, and a four-ounce sinker.
Actually, it was not until he brought the fish to the surface within the range of their boat's lights that he realized he had a potential record." I thought the fish was big but I didn't think it was that big."
If the three generations of the Heid family had had a wish on a recent Lake Erie fishing outing, it might have been for better weather.
After all, Charlie Heid, a certified public accountant in Maumee, had the best of intentions when he won a Lake Erie walleye excursion with fishing guides Dan Tucker and Jerry Meyers Sr. at last winter's Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwestern Ohio fund-raising dinner.
"I had been thinking about taking these guys out with dad and with Make-A-Wish it just worked out perfect," Heid said. "These guys" included his sons, Nathan, 12, and Alex, 9, and his dad, Bob Heid, of Fremont.
The boys have had a fair amount of fishing under their belts at Devils Lake in Michigan, but Lake Erie was to be a new, big game. After a couple of scheduling glitches, the big day finally arrived last week - right along with what became a big wind.
The crew met the skippers and me at Meyers' Watch Witch at Wild Wings Marina near Davis-Besse at dawn, and soon enough were pushing through one to three-footers on a 12-mile run toward the famed "triangle" of water between West Sister Island and the outer reaches of the Toledo Ship Channel.
The wind, rather than slackening, however, slowly grew and the seas built with it, turning the fishing into a cast-and-hang-on morning. Young Alex thought it was too much fun, and proceeded to reel in fish after fish off bottom-bouncers and worm-harnesses. The older anglers were casting mayfly rigs on heavy weights - 3/4 and 1-ounce sinkers - and picking up fish as well.
Sixteen walleyes, a few yellow perch, and some righteous-size sheepshead later, it was decided that maybe shore was the better choice on this bumpy-and-getting-bumpier day. So Meyers pointed the Watch Witch toward port.
But the boys had had their first Lake Erie experience, some fish to fry, and a promise from dad to come back another time to dunk minnows for yellow perch.
The Michigan Division of the $8.8 million Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League is set to visit Sandusky Bay on July 19 for the second of five regular-season events. As many as 200 boaters and 200 co-anglers are expected to compete for as much as $45,000 in cash, including a top award of $6,000.
Anglers may register for the tournament online at FLWOutdoors.com or by calling (270) 252-1000. On-site registration will be held July 18 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Wal-Mart store located at 5500 Milan Road, Suite 200 in Sandusky. Entry fees are $200 for boaters and $100 for co-anglers.
Sandusky Shelby Street Boat Launch will host the takeoff and weigh-in at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively.
Weekend outdoors - Today, steak roast 4 p.m., trapshoot 5 p.m.; Sunday, bowshoot, 3-D targets, 9 a.m., ladies shoot free, trapshoot 10 a.m., chicken dinners at noon; all activities at the club, 3801 West Dunbar Rd., Monroe, Mich.
Tomrrow - Sporting Clays shoot, 8 a.m., United Conservation and Outdoor Association of Hancock County, Township Road 243 north of U.S. 224, east of Findlay; call Don Borkosky, 419-427-4236.
Tomrrow, an open house honoring the 90th birthday of Norma Best, a stalwart of the Wood/Lucas Chapter, Pheasants Forever youth hunt program and much much more - including service with the Red Cross in India and Pakistan in World War II; 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., with lunch, Bowling Green Country Club, 923 Fairview Ave. just south of West Poe Road, Bowling Green.