Monster blue catfish was caught Monday in the Choctawhatchee.

It could be a water heater or a world-record watermelon, but for a Panhandle angler this week, it was a state-record catfish.

James Mitchell was fishing the Choctawhatchee River on Monday when he hung a giant specimen of a blue catfish. The 64-pound, 8-ounce fish was weighed by state biologists who confirmed it as the biggest blue cat ever caught on hook and line in Florida.

Mitchell spoke by phone from his home in Caryville. The town is located about midway between Panama City and Dothan, Ala., and just west of Cypress Slough. The official 2000 census said its populated is 218. A more recent count in 2007 puts it at 232.

So fishing the local river might be a leading recreational outlet in Caryville. At least it is for Mitchell, who fishes it “pretty regular.”

He says that the river is “way down right now” which is both good and bad news. It’s bad because it’s hard to get into the Choctawhatchee or to navigate it without a small boat – which Mitchell has. The upside of the low water is that, with so much of the river nearly dry, the catfish all seek refuge in the holes where he’s finding them “pretty easy.”

A week before the big record fish, he’d caught one over 40. But that was a channel cat. A couple of days after, he brought up another over 40 pounds.

Details on the battle are sketchy. Mitchell told The Times-Union that he fought the fish for nearly 10 minutes. It was caught on a “big old live bream” and 50-pound test line. A subsequent release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the fight was over in a minute. But who’s counting?

Mitchell says he knew it was a big fish right off the bat. The FWC says it took Mitchell, his son and grandson to bring the fish on board.

The blue catfish isn’t an indigenous species to Florida. Their range is the Mississippi River. No one knows how or when they ended up in Florida. The blue cat is often mistaken for a channel cat, but lacks the mottled – or spotted – flanks of the channel cat.

Normally these fishing stories end in a gallon of peanut oil and beside a stack of hush puppies. But for now, Mitchell’s catfish remains on ice in a cooler at his place. He says his brother, Dewey, said it could be worth something.

“I might sell him,” Mitchell said.

From Staff and Wire Reports
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