LANCASTER COUNTY — A 54-year-old Lancaster County man set a new Pennsylvania record by hauling in a gigantic, 50-pound, 7-ounce flathead catfish last month, according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Jeff Bonawitz, of East Lampeter Township, was fishing in the Susquehanna River south of Lower Bear Island in York County on April 6, after launching from the Muddy Creek public access area. He used a live bluegill for bait on his medium-duty, eight-foot spinning rod and reel, which was fitted with 25-pound monofilament line, he told the Fish and Boat Commission.
The record catch occurred around 2:30 p.m., in 22 feet of water.
“We had already caught several 30 pounders to that point, so it had been a good day,” said Bonawitz, who was fishing with his friend, Bryan Bruce, of York. “We were running low on bait, so I decided to use the biggest bluegill we had left. I had a bite and let the fish toy with it for a few minutes. When I finally pulled, it just bent the rod straight down. I could tell it was big.”
Bonawitz fought with the fish for 25 minutes before bringing it onto his boat.
“It kept hanging down deep, and when it finally came up to the top, we thought it might be a mermaid,” joked Bonawitz. “I’ve fished the Susquehanna for years and I’ve never caught anything quite like it.”
After taking some initial measurements, Bonawitz suspected it could be a contender for the state record, which had been previously set in 2006 when a 48-pound, 6-ounce flathead catfish was caught in Blue Marsh Spillway in Berks County.
Unable to immediately locate an operational certified scale on which to weigh the fish, Bonawitz kept the fish alive in an aerated container at his home until the following day.
On April 7, the fish was officially weighed at Columbia Bait and Tackle in Lancaster County, where it tipped the scales at 50 pounds, 7 ounces, unofficially setting a new state record for the species.
As is required for state record consideration, Bonawitz contacted PFBC law enforcement officials and arranged for an in-person identification and examination of the fish.
Waterways Conservation Officer Jeffrey Schmidt conducted the inspection and verified the weight.
A completed state record fish application including color photographs was reviewed by PFBC officials and confirmed. State record fish are judged only by weight, and must exceed the previous state record by at least two ounces, the PFBC said.
After weighing the fish, Bonawitz and his nephew, Dylan, 8, released it alive back to the Susquehanna River beneath the Wrightsville Bridge.
“It was such an amazing fish,” said Bonawitz. “I thought the best thing to do was put it back so that maybe the next guy could catch it. I have a feeling this record may not last very long.”