Bailey Williams, 23, of Watertown, caught a 35-pound, 12-ounce channel catfish on May 8, setting a new state record. The colossal cat was 9 ounces heavier than the previous state record, which was also caught by a Watertown resident in 2017.
Williams’s phone has been blowing up ever since.
“I haven’t had this many text messages and stuff all at once telling me it’s awesome,” he said. “It feels great.”
Williams and his brother had set out that day to target catfish in their favorite spot, the Black River Marsh in Dexter. They’d had great luck there in the past during the pre-spawn, when catfish are bigger and hungrier than they are all year. The men routinely catch up to a dozen 20-ponders there on a given night.
“We’ve lived around Dexter our whole life,” Williams said. “We never really heard of people catfishing, so we knew that the catfish probably weren’t very pressured. Some of the first nights were so good we just had to keep on doing it.”
“It’s definitely a good spot,” Williams added. “We knew we were going to get into some big catfish that day.”
Williams launched his kayak from the public boat launch in Dexter around 6 pm, then spent about half an hour catching white perch to cut up for bait. He uses a heavy duty rod with a bait casting reel, rigged with a one to three-ounce sinker, sinker bumper, followed by a barrel swivel and an 18-inch leader of 50-pound monofilament tipped with a 5/0 circle hook.
A stiff 15 mph wind was blowing that evening, making things “rougher than we thought,” Williams said. The two men tossed out their anchors and waited for the bite. By 8:30 pm, they’d each caught around five catfish over 20 pounds, including two 28-ponders, a personal best for both men.
A messy situation
Just as they were getting ready to pack it in after what was already a couple hours of fishing, fantastic Williams got a bite on one of the two lines he had in the water. As he reeled it up, he got a bite on the other line.
“I kind of held one rod between my knees, and the other one in my hands, and reeled both of them in,” Williams said. “It was kind of a messy situation.”
Williams estimated the first fish to be around 20-23 pounds. No big deal for him, so he unhooked it and let it go at the side of his kayak. The second fish was another story. When he netted it, his kayak rolled over. The side handle nearly touched the water. Williams figured the fish had to be at least 30 pounds.
He put the monster catfish in a weigh bag and hooked the bag to his hand-held scale. With the wind rocking the kayak, “the scale was jumping around like 34, 35, 36 pounds,” Williams said. He knew the state record by heart: 35 pounds, 3-ounces.
“I started yelling that I might have the state record fish,” Williams said.
Improved fish tank
Onshore, the fish registered 35 pounds, 9 ounces on Williams’s hand scale—likely a new state record. He called the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) immediately. But it was Sunday night.
“Couldn’t have been a worse time,” Williams said. Every call went to voicemail. With no way to officially confirm the catfish’s weight until at least the next day, Williams improvised.
“We filled one of the kayaks a third of the way up with water and put it in the back of the van, and put the catfish in it to keep it alive,” Williams said. They drove the sloshing van/kayak/catfish rig to a friend’s cottage about 15 minutes away, put the fish on a stringer in the water attached to the kayak, and went to sleep.
DEC answered the phone the next morning and instructed Williams to take his fish to the nearest certified scale. He reassembled the van/kayak/catfish mobile fish tank and drove it to Chaumont Hardware store.
“The certified scale said 35 pounds, 12 ounces,” Williams said, “so it was actually bigger. That was pretty cool.”
A DEC biologist met Williams at the boat launch in Dexter to verify the channel cat was, in fact, a channel cat. Then Williams released it. Maybe he’ll run into it again next spring.
“We definitely think there’s bigger catfish in there, for sure,” he said. “We’re definitely going to try.”
Send us your fish pics!
We’d like to see your catch: the big, the small, and the unexpected. So send us your pics. Don’t forget to provide the name of anyone shown in the photo, their hometown, along with kind of fish, where they caught it, its size and weight (if possible), and the type of bait they used. Throw in some colorful details too!
Steve Featherstone covers the outdoors for The Post-Standard, syracuse.com and NYUP.com. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @featheroutdoors. You can also follow along with all of our outdoors content at newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/ or follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/upstatenyoutdoors.