Whopping 68-pound catfish caught in Virginia Beach's Lake Smith could be 20 years old

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June 7th, 2018, 12:11 am #1

Whopping 68-pound catfish caught in Virginia Beach's Lake Smith could be 20 years old
by Lee Tolliver at the The Virginia - Pilot | June 5, 2018

An enormous flathead catfish just might be the grandpappy of Lake Smith.

The 68-pounder caught by Jeff Dill last week topped the previous state record of 66 pounds, 4 ounces caught from Occoquan Reservoir in 1994.

State game department fisheries biologist Chad Boyce, who was on hand for the official weigh-in at Oceans East Bait and Tackle, has sent the fish’s otilith – a bony part of the inner ear – to a state biologist for aging. If the fish is about 20 years old, it’s likely one of the first catfish stocked in the reservoir located in the city’s northwest.

“It was 1996 or 1997 when they stocked flathead in Smith,” Boyce said. “They were put in there to manage an overabundance of forage fish. They kind of specialize in eating small fish.”

Boyce said he has seen some big catfish in the lake during shock surveys, but called Dill’s catch unusual for the relatively shallow body of water off Northampton Boulevard. The average depth is about 5 feet.

It’s a huge flathead for Virginia, but pales next to the world record – a 123-pounder caught in Kansas’ Elk City Reservoir in 1998.

Dill, a 35-year-old Virginia Beach landscaper, was fishing from the shoreline facility’s floating dock using a piece of cut shad for bait.

He’s been fishing the lake for catfish for a couple of decades and has always caught large flatheads. Once he caught a large white catfish and only later realized it would have been a state record. It didn’t get weighed, he said, because he releases almost everything he catches.

“We’ve gotten big channel cats and several flatheads that went 40 or 50 pounds,” Dill said. His crew tried to keep the 68-pounder alive so it could be released, but getting the weigh-in witnessed by the game department took a while.

By then, he said, it was too late to put the fish back in the lake.

Dill said he and a friend didn’t want to waste the catfish, so it was filleted and fried for the Memorial Day weekend.

“People have been giving me a hard time, but we really did try to do everything we could,” said Dill, who named the fish Big Earle. “And the fish biologist said they’d be able to get a lot of valuable information from it.”

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