‘It put up a heck of a fight’: Woman catches 88-pound catfish
(ABC News) — There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but a plethora of mammoth-sized Blue catfish in the Tennessee River there are not.
A Tennessee fisherwoman with a penchant for reeling in giant catches caught her personal best over the weekend when a Blue catfish weighing at least 88 pounds came to bite.
Paula Cathey Smith of Waverly, about 75 miles west of Nashville, became a sensation among the regional fishing community after she snagged the catfish near her home on Sunday afternoon, she told ABC News.
It may have been a perfect storm of fate that led Smith to break her own record. She happened to be “itching to go fishing,” on Sunday, she said.
Smith and her husband, Ken Smith, set off at Mason’s Boat Dock near their home and decided to try a different bait — gizzard shad — as well as a new fishing rod and reel Smith received for Christmas and set up on the mouth of the Tennessee River, she said. It didn’t take long for her prize to find her.
“We were probably sitting there 30 minutes, and bam! He hit,” she said.
Smith said she knew she “had a good fish” as soon as she saw the bite. She used a 40-pound test line and circle in her quest to reel it in and was “shaking” and “weak,” by the time it was in the boat, she said. What made the catch even more spectacular is that Smith was recovering from the flu and hauled the Blue cat in herself.
“It put up a heck of a fight,” she said. “And when I got it in the boat, it was just the most amazing feeling in the world.”
After Smith won the battle with the gargantuan catfish, she pulled it in the boat, weighed it, snapped a few photos and released it back into the water.
“I’m a firm believer in catch and release,” she said, adding that catfish are “more able to take that stress than other fish.”
While the scale read 88 pounds, Smith believes the catfish weighed closer to 92 pounds, but its tail was hanging off the boat and a portion of his body was resting on her husband’s leg, which may have taken some weight off, she said.
The monstrous fish wasn’t a fluke for Smith. Her previous record was an 82-pound catfish she caught in the spring of 2018 on Duck River, which feeds into the Tennessee River.
While Smith was baffled by the attention she received on social media, she understands that “most people don’t catch fish that big in their lifetime,” she said. But, she described herself as “pretty consistent” with her catches, adding that she typically catches a large catfish every week — on average about 30 pounds.
Smith and her husband, both in their early 50s, often fish together, but Smith is the true angler, she said, adding that her husband, a game warden for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in Humphreys County, doesn’t have as flexible a schedule as she does with her three-day-a-week nursing schedule.
An avid fisherwoman, Smith has participated in a few tournaments, she said. Her best so far was a few weeks ago when she came in third place for a 30 or 40-pound Blue cat. She has another one coming up in Bumpus Mills, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive from her home, on Jan. 12, she said.
What Smith likes most about fishing is the “adrenaline rush,” she said.
“The thrill of seeing your pole go down, and then trying to get it in the boat without breaking or snapping the line — it’s unbelievable,” she said. “It’s the most awesome feeling in the world.”
Smith said she made a goal last year to catch a 100-pound catfish and that “it’s just a matter of time” before she beats the state record, a lofty goal she’s willing to chase.
The largest Blue catfish to ever be caught in the state of Tennessee was a 130-pounder on the Fort Loudoun Reservoir in the eastern part of the state, Lee Wilmomt, wildlife information specialist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, told ABC News.
“I will fish until I do it,” she said.
Ken Smith said in a statement through the TWRA that his wife’s most recent catch was a fitting conclusion to “an outstanding year” of fishing.
Smith said that while her husband is “fixin’ to retire,” she can’t wait to retire herself so she can just “fish, fish, fish.”
“I want to win tournaments,” she said. “I want to win big games. I want to draw attention to this sport. I want to make it big. I’d like to get women involved, and kids.”
And it seems like fishing runs in the family. Smith’s grandsons, Hayden, 7, and Jace, 3, have already picked up the sport. Hayden even won a trophy for catching the most fish at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s annual rodeo two years ago, and Jace has claimed his grandmother’s fishing boat as his own, Smith said.