EAST FALLS, PA – The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) has certified a new state record flathead catfish. On May 24, 2020, angler Jonathan Pierce, 34, of Philadelphia, was fishing from the bank of the Schuylkill River at East Falls. Pierce baited a brown trout head onto an 8/0 circle hook and cast his heavy duty, 10-foot, 6-inch surf rod lined with 50-pound braided fishing line and 20-foot, 60-pound test monofilament leader into approximately 12 feet of water. The soon-to-be-record catch occurred at approximately 8:30 p.m.
“The best way to describe it is like a torpedo,” said Pierce, who was accompanied by his girlfriend, Angelina Wilson, who witnessed the catch. “In all the years I’ve been fishing for flatheads, the fish did something I had never seen. It surfaced, and then ran away from me into a pile of rocks and just stuck there. It was panic mode.”
After roughly three minutes of being unable to move the fish from the rockpile, Pierce eased tension on his rod and released several feet of slack from his line, hoping the fish would believe it had been freed.
“It worked and the catfish started swimming again,” recalled Pierce.
After a five-minute fight, Pierce landed the catfish with Wilson helping to net the fish and lift it onto the river wall. After some initial measurements, Pierce suspected the catfish could be a contender for the state record, which had been previously set just over one year ago, in April 2019, when an angler caught a 50-pound, 7-ounce flathead catfish in the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County.
“My previous biggest catch was 37 pounds and this one made that one look small,” said Pierce. “It just had so much girth to it. When I tried weighing it on my digital scale, the scale malfunctioned. A friend brought a larger scale that showed the fish weighed around 57 pounds. At that point, a night of fishing turned into a dash to get this thing officially weighed. The whole time, I wanted to keep it alive.”
Unable to immediately locate an operational certified scale, Pierce kept the catfish alive in a 40-gallon aerated container inside his home until the following day. On May 25, Pierce took the fish to Blue Marsh Outdoors in Berks County where it was officially recorded as weighing 56 pounds, 3 ounces. While the fish measured 50 inches long with a girth of 28.875 inches, Pennsylvania state record fish are judged only by weight, and must exceed the previous record by at least two ounces.
As is required for state record consideration, Pierce contacted PFBC law enforcement officials and arranged for an in-person identification and examination of the fish. Waterways Conservation Officer (WCO) Troy Merrell and WCO Cadet Aaron Steager conducted the inspection and verified the weight. A completed state record fish application including color photographs was reviewed by PFBC officials and confirmed.
Upon weighing the fish, Pierce returned the flathead catfish alive to the Schuylkill River.
“I consider it the catch of a lifetime,” said Pierce. “I do think the record will be broken again soon, probably from the Susquehanna River. The one piece of advice I would give to others going after the record is to have a plan once you catch the fish. It takes a lot of work and it’s stressful, but it was worth it.”
Anglers who are pursuing a state record, or think they have caught a state record fish should follow these guidelines:
- Obtain a copy of the Pennsylvania State Record Fish Application, which is available online.
- Comply with all rules, including having the fish weighed on a scale that is certified by the state or county. Stores that sell products by weight are required to have a certified scale. Locations such as feed mills or agriculture stores often have scales capable of weighing large fish.
- Fish may only be released after PFBC staff have examined the fish and approved the application.
- The completed form, including color photographs, must be notarized and sent to the PFBC.
- The PFBC will review the application upon receipt. Anglers can expect to be notified a few days after the agency has reviewed the application.
- The PFBC reserves the right to further investigate the methods used in catching a fish and the accuracy of weight and measurements.
- The PFBC reserves the right to reject any application.
- Anglers catching a new state record fish will receive a certificate from the PFBC and be listed on the PFBC website.
- A list of current Pennsylvania State Record Fish, official rules and application can be found at www.fishandboat.com.