There’s a good chance the catfish reeled in by Jeffrey Dill at Lake Smith over the weekend could set a new state record for the biggest flathead catfish.
Dill says he was fishing with a buddy at Lake Smith around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday when he felt something tugging on the end of his $20 rod from Walmart.
After wrestling with the fish for about 15 minutes, Dill says he was able to pull it out of the water.
“I put him on the dock, held him down for a minute. He was so big,” said Dill, who affectionately named the catch “Big Earle.”
Dill immediately took the catfish to Oceans East Bait & Tackle on Northampton Boulevard, where a biologist from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries inspected the catfish and watched the fish get weighed.
“Big Earle” weighed in at a whopping 68 pounds. 68.12 pounds to be exact.
“It was a monster. It was a true river monster,” said Chad Boyce, a fisheries biologist. “It was a big fish that you don’t expect to see in this part of the state, especially in Lake Smith. That’s definitely a trophy.”
The current record is listed as a 66.4 pound flathead catfish that was caught on May 6, 1994, by a fisherman at the Occoquan Reservoir in northern Virginia.
“I talked with some of my older buddies and they said some people fish their whole lives and never get close to a state record,” said Dill. “It’s a big deal. I’m very proud.”
Boyce calls the flathead catfish “an ambush predator” and adds that the state stocked Lake Smith in the late 1990s to help control the population of smaller fish, like sunfish and perch.
By examining a piece of the fish’s ear bone under a microscope, Boyce says he’ll be able to determine its age.
“It’s like rings on a tree,” he said. “I would almost bet that fish was one of the original fish that was stocked.”
Boyce says the State Record Fish Committee will review Dill’s application and senior leadership will decide whether or not “Big Earle” is the big winner.
Boyce, who is a member of the committee, says he doesn’t anticipate any issues.
“I’m waiting on that confirmation, when they send me the plaque,” said Dill. “I got it.”