A mid-morning fishing trip for Pennsylvania angler Mike Wherley produced a giant flathead catfish last Sunday. Caught from the Susquehanna River, the catfish weighed 66 pounds, 6 ounces. It should be more than heavy enough to replace the standing state-record for the species.
Wherley was fishing one of his favorite spots below Safe Harbor Dam, where he typically goes on a weekly basis. He’d been soaking a foot-long trout in a deep run when the catfish gobbled the bait. After landing the fish from his boat, he knew it was larger than anything he’d caught in the past.
Already thinking about a potential state record, Wherley grabbed an anchor line and ran it through the fish’s gill plate. Slowly, he towed it back to the boat ramp, where he loaded it into a livewell in his truck and drove it to Columbia Bait and Tackle—the closest place with a state-certified scale.
“I knew it was the [new] record as soon as I saw it,” tackle shop owner Matt Musselman told Lancaster Online. “I see these big fish all the time, and this was the biggest.”
Wildlife officer Jeff Schmidt, of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, was at the tackle shop during the weigh-in. He also inspected and measured the big flathead.
After filling out the paperwork, Wherley put the fish back in the livewell. Then he drove it to Columbia River Park to be released back into the Susquehanna.
“The fish got that big by living a long time, so I wanted him to keep on living,” Wherley said.
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Although flathead catfish aren’t native to the Susquehanna River, they’ve established themselves throughout the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed. Anglers have been catching flatheads in the Safe Harbor area for more than 20 years now, and Wherley told reporters that his previous personal best catfish, a 44-pound flathead, came from the same spot.
The current Pennsylvania state-record flathead was caught in 2020 by Jonathan Pierce. He caught the 56-pound 3-ounce fish from the Shuylkill River in East Falls, a neighborhood in Philadelphia.
Although Wherley’s flathead hasn’t been officially accepted as a new state record by the PFBC, the 66-plus-pound fish should easily replace Pierce’s record.
“I’ve told everybody in my family I was going to catch a state record someday, and here I did it,” Wherley said earlier this week. “That’s incredible”
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