CONESTOGA, Pa. — A mammoth 66-pound, 6-ounce flathead catfish that was hauled out of the Susquehanna River near Conestoga, Lancaster County last month has been certified as a new state record, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced this week.
The giant fish, which was caught on May 14 by 46-year-old Fayetteville, Franklin County resident Michael Wherley, was verified and inspected by PFBC Waterways Conservation Officer Jeff Schmidt on the day it was caught.
It beat the weight of the previous state record-holder for flathead catfish, a 56-pound, 3-ounce whopper caught in the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia in May 2020, by more than 10 pounds, the PFBC said.
Wherley hooked the monster fish while casting from a 16-foot bass boat on the Susquehanna River section known as Lake Aldred. He baited a live Rainbow Trout onto a large circle hook, weighted with a 1.5-ounce sinker, and cast his heavy-duty surf rod lined with 25-pound monofilament fishing line into an approximately 50-foot-deep channel.
Wherley and his fishing partner that day, Walter "Tommy" Clark, had four lines in the water at the same time when three of the hooked fish simultaneously.
“It was a little bit crazy, but we managed to start reeling them in,” said Wherley. “There was a 30-pounder, and then Tommy brought in a 45-pounder that ended up breaking the net when we tried lifting it into the boat.”
As he reeled in the third line, Wherley said, he knew right away it was a very big fish. He said his arms began cramping as he battled the fish for a half-hour before it surfaced, according to the PFBC.
“When it finally came to the surface, all I could think was that it was humungous!” said Wherley. “When I got the fish next to the boat, I handed the rod to Tommy, and I stuck both hands in the fish’s mouth and pulled as hard as I could to bring it aboard. We knew we had something.”
Wherley, who has been fishing for flathead catfish on the Susquehanna River for about 15 years, said he was aware of the previous state record, and was confident his catch had a chance to beat it.
Wherley and Clark kept the fish alive by placing it inside a large plastic tote box filled with water and equipped with an aerator. The anglers then headed to nearby Columbia Bait and Tackle, where a certified scale was located.
Schmidt, who was on duty nearby at the time of the catch, certified the fish's record-setting weight.
While the fish measured 50.25 inches long with a girth of 35 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, the weight and species were verified by Schmidt, who conducted an in-person inspection of the fish on-site at the tackle shop.
Following the inspection, Schmidt accompanied Wherley to the Columbia River Park boat ramp, where the live catfish was successfully released back into the river and swam away.
In addition to recording the certified weight and the in-person inspection by Schmidt, Wherley completed a state record fish application that included color photographs and detailed information about the catch, which was thoroughly reviewed by the PFBC Division of Fisheries Management and later confirmed.
"This is just incredible, and I’m really glad we were able to release the fish back into the river," said Wherley. "My previous personal best flathead was 44 pounds last year. I know I’ve had bigger ones on the line, but they got off before I could get them on the boat.
"I’ll enjoy this record as long as it lasts, but I’m sure it will probably be broken in a year or two, if not sooner. I’m a hundred percent certain there are even bigger fish out there."
Anglers who are pursuing a state record -- or think they have caught a state record fish -- should adhere to the following guidelines, according to the PFBC:
- 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.
- 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 Fishandboat.com.