In this photo dated Sept. 1, 1970, E.J.
Bowden and his son Louis, then 5, hold up his record-breaking
channel catfish, which weighed 23 pounds, 4 ounces.
March 12, 2009
RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a chunk of shrimp that landed Rocky
Mount angler E.J. Bowden his state record channel catfish back in
1970 and it was a stack of papers that gave him back the state
record title nearly 39 years later.
On Sept. 1, 1970, Bowden caught the state record catfish, which
weighed 23 pounds, 4 ounces from City Lake in Rocky Mount, only to
see it broken less than a year later by a catfish that weighed
nearly 18 pounds more.
Turns out, the fish that broke Bowden’s state record from 1970
wasn’t a channel catfish but a flathead catfish — a discovery made
34 years later after an article in the May 2005 issue of Wildlife in
North Carolina printed an old photograph of Pete Paine holding up
his record-breaking “channel cat” that was actually a flathead.
With no channel catfish state records preceding Paine’s, the N.C.
Wildlife Resources Commission vacated the channel catfish state
record in 2005. In the four years since, the record has been
“broken” three times, most recently by
“Barbie Doll” angler David
Hayes, who famously caught a 21-pound channel catfish using his
granddaughter’s Barbie Doll fishing pole in August 2008.
After seeing the media coverage about the various channel catfish
state records being broken, Bowden contacted the Division of Inland
Fisheries, which oversees the State Record Fish Program, and advised
staff that the fish he caught way back in 1970 outweighed Hayes’
record breaker by more than 2 pounds. He even had a write-up
accompanied by a picture from the Sept. 6, 1970 issue of the Rocky
Mount Telegram to prove it.
He sent in the paperwork that he had kept all these years, which,
along with the Rocky Mount Telegram article, included a Xeroxed copy
of the original photograph, a state record certificate, and an
excerpt from a 1971 Freshwater Fishing and Hunting in North Carolina
atlas, listing all of the freshwater fish state record holders of
the day, including Bowden.
After carefully reviewing the stack of documents and the photograph
of the fish, Kent Nelson, fisheries program manager with the
Commission, agreed with Bowden. He was still the official holder of
the channel catfish state record in North Carolina.
Nelson said the Wildlife Commission had no state record channel
catfish paperwork prior to Paine’s 1971 record, which is why the
agency vacated the record in May 2005.
Without Bowden’s picture and accompanying paperwork, there would
have been no way anyone would have known he was still the record
holder. The fish itself was long gone, although Bowden said he kept
it on ice for about 10 years, hoping to have it mounted one day.
That day never came, so he left it in the woods for animals to
“Mr. Bowden’s state record, as well as Mr. Paine’s record that
turned out to be a flathead, were both established prior to the
Wildlife Commission administering the State Record Fish Program,”
Nelson said. “The N.C. Division of Travel and Tourism administered
the program until the mid-1980s, at which point the Division of
Inland Fisheries took over.”
The Wildlife Commission now requires anglers seeking state-record
certification for freshwater fish to submit with their applications
a full, side-view photo of the fish. Additionally, anglers must
catch their fish on hook-and-line only; weigh the fish on certified
scales and have the fish examined by a qualified expert from the
Although he is now 70 and admits his memory isn’t as a good as it
used to be, Bowden says he remembers the day he reeled in the
record-breaking catfish quite well. He was fishing with his son
Louis, who was 5 years old at the time, at the 10-acre City Lake,
which is located off Sunset Avenue at the Tar River. The fish hit
the shrimp chunk and the line started whizzing. He called Louis over
to hold the rod, but soon realized that his son was no match for the
fish and that this was no ordinary-sized fish.
“When Louis got hold of the pole, I found out in a hurry that he
couldn’t handle it, the daggone fish was pulling him in,” Bowden
recalled. “The fish was about as long as he was tall, so I just took
it back and reeled the fish in.”
A lifelong fisherman, Bowden is pretty excited about the
re-instatement of his old record. “This has just made my day, I’m
telling you,” Bowden said. “It wasn’t a life or death situation but
it did mean a lot to me.”
“I’m sure someone’s going to break this record but at least it’s
entered now and it’s official so if someone breaks it tomorrow, I’ll
say more power to ‘em.”