On Saturday, June 22, John Cates of Mansfield, Ohio, caught what would have been the state record for all-tackle freshwater drum. The only reason he doesn’t hold the record is because he threw the sheepshead back after taking the measurements, but not before having the fish examined by an Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist. Whoops.
Ohio’s current sheepshead record holder is James S. Williams from Fremont, who landed and registered a 23.5-pound, 37.125-inch fish in 2001. Cates’ catch of 30 pounds, 38 inches would have shattered the 13-year-old record.
Despite the faux pas, Cates was in good spirits.
“I had no clue it would have even been close to the record. But when I got home, I had two of my buddies call me and say, ‘John, I think you screwed up big time. You threw the state record back, man.’”
His friends were right, but critics would be fools to fault him for letting his passion for the sport trump some chance at fame.
“I’m both a bowhunter and a fisherman, and I respect what I catch and what I keep. As soon as I caught it, the state record never entered my mind. Just getting it back in the water was what I was concerned about. I figured it was 20 to 25 years old and it deserved to be let go.”
Wait for it…
“But now I kind of regret letting that fish go.”
Along the banks of Ashland County’s Charles Mill Damn, Cates hooked the fish in the early morning hours on 10-pound test with a double rig; 1/16-ounce jig and a 2-inch tail on top, 1/4-ounce jig and a 3-inch tail on bottom. He was bouncing it along the shallow riverbed when the line suddenly ripped taught.
“I thought I was snagged, so I snapped my line three times and on the third time the fish just took off. It reeled over 100 yards of my line out,” Cates said. “After about 30 minutes, it kept going up stream, so I literally waded across the 3-foot deep current to the other side. We just stood there for about 10 minutes in a standoff. I didn’t want to reel and he didn’t want to fight. Eventually I got him in by just pulling.”
For those who don’t want to share Cates’ plight, you won’t be docked for pulling out your cell phone to call your state wildlife office (the number is usually listed on the front of your license). As for Cates, who threw back the would-be state record drum, it’s a lesson he won’t forget anytime soon.