As the old saying goes, sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time. A West Virginia angler can certainly attest to that after catching a new state record blue catfish.
Austin Hoffman, 22, of Cabell County, was out on the Ohio River testing some new gear when he hooked the record-breaker on April 26. His once-in-a-lifetime monster blue came in measuring 47.75 inches and weighed a whopping 52.95 pounds, both of which considerably smashed the old state record. Mark Foster held the previous record with his 44.5 pound, 43.9 inch blue caught in 2012.
Hoffman, however, had no intention of making the record-setting catch when the day started. He and his girlfriend were heading towards a specific location to test a new drift rod holder setup on the Ohio River, near the Robert C. Byrd Lock and Dam. As the duo drifted downstream, they set lines in both the front and back of the boat for the test.
“About the time I started reeling the ones on the rear up, I saw the front one go down,” Hoffman told the MetroNews. “I fought him for about 15 minutes and when I got him to the surface, there was no doubt in my mind it was a new state record.”
Using a piece of frozen skipjack as his bait, Hoffman, a Marshall University biology major, was able to successfully reel in the monster blue even without a net.
“It was pretty exciting and I knew I was going to have to get this fish in without a net,” said Hoffman. “Blue cats tend to roll and I was afraid he was going to roll up in the line. I’m generally a pretty calm person when it comes to that. I got him in the boat without breaking him off, so that was nice.”
“We suspect records for a new fish like this is going to be broken quite a lot,” said biologist Scott Morrison, who certified the new record. “However, this time it wasn’t broken by just a pound or so, it was broken by a considerable amount.”
Hoffman’s catch by the dam is intriguing for more than just the record, though. Blues had largely been eliminated from the Ohio River in recent decades, in large part due to the construction of locks and dams. His catch indicates that a program of repopulating the rivers with blues initiated by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources five years ago is working remarkably.
Hoffman was able to keep his catch alive for 24 hours, long enough to measure and verify the record, by stuffing it in the live well of his Bass Tracker boat.
“I was going dirt bike riding Sunday evening and I didn’t want to drive all the way back to the Ohio River,” explained Hoffman. “So I released him alive into the Kanawha River at the St. Albans boat ramp.”