May 17, 2018
By Lynn Burkhead
Tennessee angler Lionel "Jam" Ferguson set the angling world on fire this week with a black crappie that weighs more than 5 pounds. If DNA testing proves the fish to be a pure black crappie, it could topple existing state and IGFA world record marks.
From the start, it was just a regular fishing trip for Lionel "Jam" Ferguson, the kind the Philadelphia, Tenn. angler routinely takes when he isn't working. But routine or not, the Tuesday, May 15, 2018 trip ended with one of recent memory's most viral catches, the hooking and landing of a huge black crappie from an East Tennessee pond that has been weighed in by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) officials at 5 pounds, 7.86 ounces.
I was off of work," said the 33-year old, who works at the Viskase plant in nearby Loudon, Tenn. "When I'm off, that's what I do, I go fish. It's just that this time, I caught that big old crappie."
It's a stunning fish for sure, one that has the potential to become both a Tennessee state record and an International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record. That much seems certain when one considers the current Tennessee state record for a black crappie is 4 pounds, 4 ounces, a fish caught at Brown's Creek Lake by Clyde Freeman on March 23, 1985.
And for the record - yes, the pun is intended - the current IGFA all-tackle record for a black crappie is 5-0, a fish that was pulled from a private lake in Missouri on April 21, 2006, by John R. Horstman.Should DNA testing by the TWRA prove Ferguson's fish to be a black crappie and not a hybrid, both benchmarks stand to be shattered, pending official certification.
Ferguson's potential record-setting catch came about at a private pond on which he has had permission to fish for a couple of years now. On an evening when he caught several other small non-keepers and one big slab destined for the fish fryer, he was in his normal angling routine using a John Deere green-colored crappie grub tied to the end of 6-pound test line on a Shakespeare Ugly Stik spinning rod-and-reel combo given to him by his father-in-law.
And that's when one of history's biggest crappie decided to come calling.
"Oh, my goodness, I can't describe it in words," said Ferguson of the moment he hooked the big slab. "I hooked into it and said to myself, 'I have something big on!' But I didn't know what it was until it came up and I saw his mouth. That's when my knees buckled and I said, 'Oh my goodness!'"
After having lost a largemouth bass recently when his 10-pound test line broke on an angling trip to the pond, Ferguson knew he had to go easy on the huge slab of a crappie. Immediately, he loosened his drag and prepared to fight the fish gently to the bank."The fight really didn't last as long as you might think," he said. "He pulled to the right, I pulled him back to the left, and then he came straight towards me. I lifted the rod up, kept reeling line, and got him in towards the bank. When he got a couple of feet away, I jumped in the water, scooped him up, and tossed him on the bank."
At that point, Ferguson admits he got excited, so much so that anyone nearby might have thought he was hurt from all the energetic hollering he was doing."Yeah, I was really hollering and just praising the Lord, giving thanks to Him for catching this fish," he said. "I called my wife and told her you aren't going to believe this, but I have just caught a crappie bigger than a really big one I caught last year. I put the fish on a stringer, then back into the water, and then I asked her to call the landowner."When the landowner arrived, Ferguson was all smiles."He got there and I pulled the stringer up and he said, 'My goodness!'" recalled Ferguson. "I said this sucker is a hog for sure, but do you want me to throw it back? He said 'Nope, you caught it. It's yours.'"
That started a few more phone calls, including one eventually to a local TWRA game warden."I met up with him about 10:30 p.m. [on Tuesday night] so that we could weigh it," said Ferguson. "My scale had said 5 pounds, 4 ounces, but the game warden said that we needed to get it weighed on a certified scale."
At a local meat market where such a scale was found, word had spread and a crowd had gathered after a local Tuesday night jackpot-style bass fishing tournament.
"When I pulled that fish out, it was like someone had rolled the red carpet out because there were so many camera phones snapping," laughed Ferguson. "We got it weighed, plenty of people have called since then, the local news has interviewed me, and I guess it's gone viral."
On Wednesday morning, the story really took off as people shared information from Chris Kilby's Volunteer Outdoors Company Facebook page. As other blog reports, news stories, and social media posts spread around the country, officials with TWRA took a certified weight and a DNA sample.
If that DNA sample tests out as a pure black crappie and not a hybrid, there are likely to be even more posts about a crappie catch being heard 'round the world.A dedicated man to his Christian faith and family, Ferguson learned to fish years ago from his uncle Jake and has used the sport as a means of getting away from serious problems that gripped his family as he grew up.
Over the years, as fishing has brought him peace and serenity, Ferguson found great excitement from catching good fish, or from watching his young daughters, Cadence and Kara, do the same.
He admits he is a little surprised by the excitement that the potential world record crappie is causing among others."I didn't really do anything special," said Ferguson. "The Lord is the one that allowed me to catch this fish, He's the one that deserves all of the glory in this."When asked what he would do for an encore to a potential world-record catch, Ferguson said he is already looking forward to the next time he can get out on the water to wet a hook. Because at the end of the day, that's who he is, a man who loves faith, family, and fishing."I'm just a regular old country guy that lives day by day with the Lord," said Ferguson. "Nothing has changed with me since I caught this fish. I'm just really humbled, and still can't believe that I caught this fish. I've been thinking about it all night at work."