PennLive Monster Fish ArticleRiver monster is the new largest fish on record in Pennsylvania
Posted May 28, 5:51 PM
Pennsylvania State Record
By Marcus Schneck | email@example.com
A likely new Pennsylvania record for flathead catfish – a monster weighing 56.3 pounds – was pulled from the Schuylkill River in the Philadelphia area on Sunday night.
Jonathan Pierce, a 34-year-old father of four from Roxborough, connected with the fish while casting trout heads as bait. He regularly uses parts of trout he has caught as bait for flatheads.
When certified by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pierce’s flathead will top the existing record by almost 6 pounds. That 50-pound 7-ounce fish was caught in the Susquehanna River, near the Muddy Creek public access in York County, on April 6, 2019, by Jeff Bonawitz, of East Lampeter Township.
Pierce has been pursuing flatheads in the Schuylkill River with a passion for nearly a decade, with several in the 30-pound class and a topper of 37 pounds in September 2016, but he knew immediately on Sunday that he had connected with something much bigger.
Arriving at one of his favorite spots at about 8:30 p.m. – “a very rocky, very snaggy area” – the riverbank fisherman saw the line stripping off his baitcaster reel within seconds of making his first cast out 200 feet or so into the river.
He set the drag on his reel and laid into the monster that had sucked in the trout head he was using for bait.
At that point, the fish did something that he hadn’t seen any of his previous flatheads do. It broke the surface of the water with a violent splash of its tail.
“And then it torpedoed away from me,” he recalled.
Even with the heavy tension of the drag from his reel, the fish continued to strip line off the reel.
“I had my drag tight, and it was still pulling line. I knew it was something massive,” Pierce noted.
“It ran until it ran into a rocky snag. I thought I was going to lose the fish. I couldn’t budge it.”
The flathead held fast at the snag for 2 or 3 minutes, among the longest 2 or 3 minutes of his life. “I knew there was a huge fish that I didn’t want to lose.
“Then I let the drag off, trying to trick the fish” into thinking it had freed itself, and it swam away from the snag.
He reset the drag and began the fight anew.
About 8 minutes later, Pierce’s girlfriend Angelina Wilson, of East Falls, netted the fish.
At that point he knew they had something even larger on their hands. Securing the 50-inch fish with a rope and putting it back in the water to recover, they turned to their phones for information on how to make the catch official.
That search continued the next morning, while the catfish occupied a 45-gallon plastic tote with an aerator in the backyard.
Pierce intended to release the monster back into the river from the moment he set the hook, as he does with all his flatheads, including more than 10 this years, several weighing more than 20 pounds.
“I wanted to release this fish alive in the worst way,” he explained, noting that he and Wilson hauled three 45-gallon totes of water along with the fish as they left the river.
That extra water came in handy as they first transferred the fish from their vehicle to the backyard and then back into the vehicle for transport to Blue Marsh Outdoors in Berks County, where it was officially weighed at 56.3 pounds on Monday afternoon. While making the various tranfers, even a kiddie wading pool was called into service.
After the official weigh-in, Pierce returned the new state record to an undisclosed location in the Schuylkill River.
He said he expects his state record will be broken by a flathead in the Susquehanna River, where he sees a larger base of forage fish able to support more growth in the top-end predators. Even there, he thinks Pennsylvania will probably top out in the low to mid-60-pound range because too much of the year here is just too cold to support much more growth.
He plans to continue his search for monster flathead catfish, for which he admits a certain passion because “no other fish in the Philadelphia area compares to the horsepower they throw at you. It’s the adrenaline rush of fighting a fish that big.”
Pierce’s flathead also tops the largest flathead ever recorded anywhere near Pennsylvania: A fisheries survey crew from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on August 30, 2018, pulled a 56.5-pound, 44-inch flathead catfish from a hoop net in the Susquehanna River less than a mile downriver of the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line.
And, it’s probably the largest fish of any species on record with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission: a muskellunge weighing 54 pounds 3 ounces caught in 1924 in Conneaut Lake in Crawford County by Lewis Walker Jr., of Meadville.