June 30, 2023
New York Yankees great Yogi Berra once quipped, "It's like déjà vu all over again." But for a Tennessee catfish angler it was more like "déjà blue" all over again.
For the second time in less than a year Micka Burkhart is credited for catching a record-sized blue catfish, the latest coming just this week only around 100 yards from the spot where he broke the state record in September. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency announced the big catch on Facebook:
"Now this is a big blue!," said the social media post and accompanying photos. "Micka Burkhart caught a monster Blue Cat today (Wednesday, June 28) at 12 p.m. on the Cumberland River in Stewart County on a white bass head and 40-pound test line! The 122.3-pound Blue Cat will be a new Tennessee record pending verification and certification."
If certified, the huge catfish will eclipse the current record of 118.7 pounds caught by Burkhart Sept. 24, 2022, on the same river in the same county. That catch broke a record that had stood for nearly 25 years.
Burkhart released that fish, as he did with the pending record caught this week. After the fish swam away, the reality began to set in that it's entirely possible that he not only broke his own state record this week, but that he may have possibly done it with the same fish.
That idea has been raised by various news sites, including Chattanooga television station and ABC affiliate News Channel 9 by reporter Richard Simms: "They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place but you might have a hard time convincing Micka Burkhart of that."
Indeed, and Burkhart is on board with the same-fish idea, noting to the news station that he caught the huge blue catfish within 100 yards of the previous catch. With some similar markings, he told the TV station that he thinks there's a chance lightning struck his Cumberland River fishing hole twice.
"Absolutely," said Burkhart, who received 6,000 texts and messages of congratulation the day he caught the fish. "It's definitely a possibility it's the same fish. Of course, I can't say for sure, but if it is the same fish, it's even more exciting because it proves more than ever that CPR (catch, photograph, release) works."
Also for the second time in a year, Burkhart battled a record-sized blue catfish under a high sun. He was fishing alone during the noon hour on Wednesday, pulling a bait under a planer board during the post-spawn. He caught the current record around 12:30 p.m. last September.
Burkhart told the TV station that the pending record violently struck his bait. "It didn't spool me, but it pulled lots of drag," he said. "Just like last time, I probably fought it for at least 45 or 50 minutes. I got the fish to the boat at least six times and then it would take off for the bottom again.
"When I saw the fish the first time there was no doubt he was as big, or bigger, than the other (record) fish. I was shaking, I was nervous. Very few people get to ever catch a record fish, much less break a state record twice."
After getting the fish into a special-sized livewell—it barely fit, it had a length of 57.5 inches and a girth of 42.25—he called the Who Dat Processing plant, which had certified scales. With TWRA biologist Michael Clark looking on to witness the weight and certify the catch, the weight rang up on the scale at 122.3 pounds. Following the weighing process, Burkhart took the fish back to the Cumberland River, revived it while handling it with gloves, and let it swim away perhaps to be caught again.
In a video of the release Burkhart posted to Facebook, a small crowd looked on and filmed and took still shots with their phones as Burkhart completed the state-record release process for the second time in less than a year.
If catching two state records is not enough, there could be more recognition and even financial rewards for Burkhart. Simms reported that after the first state record, Mad Katz created a "Micka Burkhart Signature Series" in his honor, and it sold out. Plans reportedly are for a 2.0 version of the rod.
For the record, Burkhart told the TV reporter that he caught the big whiskerfish on a Mad Kat Finz rod—he had several of his own branded rods out too—along with the cut-bait, a Mad Katz Kat Snatcher hook, a Penn Squall Lever Drag reel, 40-pound test main line, and 60-pound hook leader, all under his homemade planer boards.
The world-record blue catfish recognized by the International Game Fish Association is 143 pounds, caught June 18, 2011 at Kerr Lake, Va., by Richard Anderson.