This story appeared in the Tabor-Loris Tribune and the Wilmington Star News.

It received the Third Place Award in the Best Weekly Newspaper Story category of the Excellence in Craft Competition at the 2009 annual conference of SEOPA (Southeastern Outdoor Press Association) for appearing in the Tribune.

I really did not want to write the story because it had received so much attention in other print media and eventually made it all the way to national television network news. But my Wilmington Star News editor insisted. In retrospect, he was right because it was such a fun story with lots of human interest and therefore deserved the attention provided by our local coverage. Apparently, the EIC judges thought I did a good job with the story.

Mike Marsh
Tabor-Loris Tribune
August 27, 2008.

Grandpa Lands Record Catfish with Granddaughter’s Barbie Rod

David Hayes of Elkin, N.C. is a lucky man. He has his own private pond located within 20 feet of his back door that he stocked ten years ago with channel catfish, hybrid bluegills and largemouth bass. He also has a 4-year-old granddaughter named Alyssa who loves to fish.

“Anytime I’m outside doing something, she’s with me,” the 66-year-old Hayes said. “She’s a tomboy and loves to fish.”

But on August 5, 2008 it was Hayes holding Alyssa’s Barbie Doll fishing rod to reel in the state record channel catfish. The catfish weighed 21 pounds, 1 ounce and struck a live cricket.

“We were working in the garden and she asked to go fishing,” Hayes said. “We gathered some black yard crickets and put them in her little cricket basket. The pond has a 24-foot dock and we started fishing from it. She reeled in a few bluegills, but then she had to go to the bathroom. My wife, Alice, met her on the porch and they stayed inside for a long time.”

While Hayes was minding her pink fishing rod, a 2 ½-foot long fiberglass and plastic spincast rig with a rod made by Shakespeare that is offered for sale by Mattel, a big catfish struck the cricket.

“The catfish took the cricket and he boiled up beside the dock,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t hold that fish on 6-pound test and that little bitty rod.”

But the fish turned back after the first run and came near the pier. The fish ran again and Hayes worked it back to the dock, just as Alyssa came running out of the house shouting, “Pawpaw, you’re going to break my fishing rod!”

“I got it close to the dock because I wanted her to see it,” Hayes said. “It made a third run, stopped, and came back toward the dock. When it came up where she could see it, she started squealing and jumping and it got scared and ran again, going about 25 yards. I reeled it back up after those four runs and walked down the pier to the bank. The bad drought had the water level down about 14 inches so I couldn’t reach the fish from the pier because my landing net handle wasn’t long enough.”

Hayes fought the fish to the shallows and netted the fish. The hook fell out of the fish’s mouth.

“It was just a little bream hook,” he said. “She was scared of the net full of fish and started screaming and ran. My wife went on the Commission’s website to check the state record and it was 18½ pounds. I called my neighbor, Don Hayes, who is a Commission biologist and he advised me to have it weighed on certified scales.”

After weighing the fish, Hayes put the fish on ice until Commission biologist Kin Hodges could arrive the next day to examine the fish. Hodges counted the number of anal fin rays to identify the fish as a channel catfish and not a blue catfish, which grow much larger. The fish was 2 inches longer than the fishing rod and was 25½ inches in girth. The previous state record channel catfish was caught by Wesley Trucks of New Bern in August 2007 and weighed 18 pounds, 5-ounces.

“A taxidermist friend of mine, Jeff Snow, will mount it,” Hayes said. “I am going to retire the fishing rod and display it with the fish.”

Hayes was going to buy Alyssa another Barbie fishing outfit, but the folks at Mattel found out about the catch and are sending her a new Barbie rod, along with lots of other Barbie toys and goodies.

“I would have had to replace the line anyway,” Hayes said. “The line would probably cost more than the entire rod and reel. You can buy one for less than $12.”