You bait a rod with a large minnow and let the offering dangle off the back of the boat as you enjoy a day of lazy floating on a canvas raft on your favorite reservoir, basking in the summer sun.
You hear the sound of movement coming from the boat and flick your head around to see the rod bent over double, straining to hold the weight. You quickly board the boat and release the rod from its holder. You apply gentle pressure to embed the circle hook in the fish’s mouth.
The drag chortles as you bend into the fish and you can’t move it at all. It continues shaking its head as it powers down into the depths of the lake. A surge of adrenaline hits as you realize it is likely the largest fish you’ve ever hooked. You double down the pressure on the fish, hoping the line doesn’t snap.
After several runs, the fish begins to weaken. As it nears the boat, you finally see a mottled brownish wide head valiantly trying to shake the hook loose. Your eyes travel down the length of the fish and it is longer than any you’ve seen on your line. It is a huge flathead catfish.
The thought flashes through your mind: “state record.” Could it be?
Unless the flathead weighs more than 97 pounds, it isn’t.
“Despite the fact that it may not be a state record, they can still receive recognition through the Trophy Fish/Master Angler program,” said Ron Brooks, director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
The Trophy Fish/Master Angler program rewards anglers who catch a trophy fish or three trophy fish of different species. The program relies on honesty from the angler, but they must send a photo of the fish and a person must witness the taking of the picture. They must also complete the Trophy Fish application online at the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife webpage at fw.ky.gov. Click on the “Fishing and Boating” tab, then the “Recreational Fishing” tab, followed by the “State Record Fishes and Awards” tab.
“If they catch a trophy fish, they get a collector’s hat pin that shows their fishing ability,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “This program gives anglers an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess at catching big fish. It gives them something to strive for in their fishing.”
The collector pin features a specific species for each year. The fish must meet a minimum length requirement to qualify for the Trophy Fish program.
“It is good for people to know those minimum lengths ahead of time,” Ross said. “Some anglers filet their catch or let it go without taking a picture and miss out.”
The minimum lengths are listed on page 30 of the current Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide as well as on the “State Record Fishes and Awards” page on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife webpage.
“If you catch three different species that qualify for a Trophy Fish, you can apply for a Master Angler Award and receive a special master angler pin,” Ross said. “Anglers like to have goals. For some of us, it is catching a limit of keepers. For others, it’s catching a fish that qualifies by length for a trophy fish and then getting three of them to become a Master Angler.”
If you weigh your fish on hand scales and think you might have a state record, check the state record fish list on page 31 and 32 of the current Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide or on the “State Record Fishes and Awards” page on the department’s website.
“What you do for trophy fish recognition wouldn’t qualify for a state record,” Ross explained. “The criteria for a state record are much more stringent.”
First, the fish must be weighed on a scale certified for trade by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture such as at a grocery store, a feed store or a place that sells meats by the pound.
“The fish species must be confirmed by a fisheries biologist from our department,” Brooks said. “Sometimes, we have hybridization issues. Many anglers confuse channel and blue catfish. Some of our state records had to be confirmed by genetic analysis.”
The fish must be caught on pole and line from Kentucky waters. Fish taken on commercial gear, on a trotline or by gigging, snagging or hand grabbing (also called noodling) do not qualify for state record status. You may request a state record fish application by calling 1-800-858-1549 or get one from your fishery district biologist. You can print one from the “State Record Fishes and Awards” page on the department’s website. The list of phone numbers for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife district fishery biologists is on page 31 of the current Fishing and Boating Guide.
The United Bow Hunters of Kentucky maintains the state record fish list for bowfishing. The current state record bowfishing list is on page 34 of the current Fishing and Boating Guide. Log on to www.kystatebowfishingrecords.com for more details.
If you catch a huge fish this summer, recognize your catch by participating in the Trophy Fish/Master Angler program. If your trophy looks like a state record, follow the correct steps to make sure you get recognition for your catch.
Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.