Jessica Walton had landed only two fish in her life before reeling in the largest channel catfish ever to have been pulled from a Colorado waterway, so it was understandable that the sight of the 43-pound 6-ounce behemoth rising from the depths left her full of nervous excitement.
"When I first picked up the rod and started reeling I thought I was snagged on a rock," said Walton, 20, who lives in Aurora and was fishing in the town's increasingly famous namesake reservoir. "I pulled again and that's when the fish just took off. I reeled some more and the fish came toward the surface -- that's when I saw how big it was and I just started shaking."
It's the third state-record channel catfish to have been pulled from Aurora Reservoir in 15 months, but it was more than seven pounds heavier than the previous record. The monster cat was 40 4/8 inches long and had nearly a 29-inch girth.
It's being regarded as a world-class catch because its weight is near the upper-end average for the species, but nobody has been able to match the International Game Fish Assn.'s all-tackle world record that has stood for more than 45 years: a 58-pounder landed in 1964 at Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina.
However, with conditions in Aurora Reservoir being so fertile, it might be only a matter of time before it produces fish in the same weight range.
"Aurora Reservoir has ideal forage conditions to produce very large fish," said Paul Winkle, a biologist for the Colorado Department of Wildlife. "There's an outstanding population of crayfish and yellow perch, which provides an excellent food source for fish to grow to enormous sizes."
When catfish reach a certain size, Winkle explained, they're no longer bottom-feeders but active predators. "This means they will go after fish, crayfish and other aquatic organisms. This predator behavior and voracious appetite allows large cats to grow even bigger."
To be sure, Walton had reason to be "shocked" at first sight of her catch. It was big, fat, ugly, and it wore long whiskers as it rose reluctantly as she reeled in the waning dusk light.
Her boyfriend, a passionate fisherman who had recently introduced her to fishing, was not by her side so she didn't quite know how to act, or how he would react after learning she had just broken a significant angling record.
"I have to admit, Chris was pretty upset at first when he heard that I was the one who caught the state record because he puts so much time into fishing and it's his favorite thing to do," Walton said. "But he's also happy for me because he's the one who taught me how to fish. Before I met him, I was the typical 'girly-girl' who was afraid to put the worm on my hook."
Walton, who caught the catfish on a nightcrawler, said she's considering having the catfish mounted as a trophy, to preserve the memory for her and -- as important -- for her jealous boyfriend.
-- Pete Thomas
Photo of Jessica Walton and her monster catfish courtesy of the Colorado Department of Wildlife
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-- Editor's note: This post also appears on the GrindTv.com outdoors blog