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Montana State Record Channel Catfish

By Andrew McKean

Grandson and his grandfather share new state catfish record: Nelson Reservoir fish weighs nearly 30 pounds Nine-year-old Eli Waters was hoping a big fish might bite his worm as he cast it from the shore of Nelson Reservoir on the last Sunday in May. The Malta youngster and his grandfather, Jim Jones, had already caught a 5-pound channel catfish, an 18-pound carp and some perch, but they were expecting walleye.

The nightcrawler hadn’t been in the water long before Eli’s rod tip started twitching. He set the hook and immediately knew this was no ordinary fish.

“Line started just screaming out of his reel,” recounts Jones. “He just couldn’t turn the fish, and he was afraid that he was going to lose it. So I tightened down the drag and managed to stop the fish, but it stripped the gears on the reel, and it took almost 20 minutes before we got the fish close enough to shore to get a look at it. I figured it was a big carp, but then it rolled and we saw the whiskers and knew it was a big catfish.”

Big, indeed. The catfish was so large and surly that Jones had difficulty landing it in his small net. After wrestling it to shore, the pair of anglers quickly decided to end their fishing and drive to Malta to have the catfish weighed. They called Mark Sullivan, the local Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife biologist, who met them at Bestway Foods. A certified scale pegged the weight at 29.71 pounds, more than 2-1/2 pounds heavier than the existing state record set in 1998 on Castle Rock Lake near Colstrip. The official length of the Malta catfish is 38.75 inches.

Because both anglers had a hand in landing the catfish, Waters and Jones will share the state record, which was officially certified last week. That’s fitting, because the grandfather and his grandson do most everything together.

“We’ve raised Eli since the loss of his father, and he is a pretty good fishing partner,” says Jones. “In fact, he’d rather fish than eat or sleep. He generally gets me going and wants to keep fishing when I’m ready to pack it in.”

But for all the fishing they do, both Waters and Jones were surprised at the presence, not to mention the size, of the Nelson Reservoir catfish.

“We catch walleye and pike and perch out of Nelson,” says Jones. “And there are plenty of carp and buffalo and an occasional crappie, but it’s pretty unusual to catch a catfish there.”

The catch also surprised Bill Wiedenheft, FWP’s regional fisheries manager. Channel catfish haven’t been stocked in Nelson in well over a decade, but he has heard periodic angler reports of catfish success.

“Nelson’s water comes from the Milk River via an aqueduct, so any fish that are in the Milk can show up in Nelson,” says Wiedenheft. “We have a good population of catfish in the Milk, and Nelson Reservoir grows large walleye and pike, so it makes sense it could also grow large catfish.”

For FWP’s Sullivan, who snapped photos of the catfish, having a hand in certifying the record was a thrill.

“I’ve had the privilege to score record-book bighorn sheep, elk, antelope and deer, but a record-book fish is a first for me,” he said.


Related Links & Resources:
Interactive Kentucky Hunting and Fishing Maps
Mississippi State Record Blue Catfish
North Carolina Channel Catfish



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