It’s been a big year for catfish records!
In fairness, you could probably say the same thing about each of the past several years. It seems that big cat records have been playing “hot potato” across several eastern-US states recently.
On Saturday, September 24, Tennessee’s blue catfish state record joined that mix.
“Dang, I Must be Doing Something Right!”
Every now and then, an angler will catch a state record seemingly out of the blue. In the realm of blue catfish, however, this is rarely the case.
When Steven Price landed the West Virginia state record blue cat in May 2022, the catch was the culmination of countless hours on the water.
For Micka Burkhart, hauling in Tennessee’s pending state record blue is a similar story that punctuates over three decades of time spent on the water. If Burkhart has his way, there will also be a sequel.
So, how does it feel to catch a massive state record after all those years?
“It’s an overwhelming feeling,” said Burkhart. “Lots of anglers, fishermen, whatever you want to call them, they’re out there every day and (catching a record fish is) what they strive to do.”
Burkhart continued, “I’ve been catching bigger and bigger fish over the years and learned a lot over the past thirty years on how to find them and how to catch them. To have all of that come together at once, well, ‘dang, I must be doing something right.’”
“Didn’t Realize He Was a 100+ Until I Slid Him in the Net”
Burtkhart has had some big catfish on the other end of his line. In addition to numerous blues over the years, Burkhart also has a 76-pound flathead to his credit. The latter is fewer than ten pounds shy of the current Tennessee record.
With time and experience, you can often get a feel for the size of the fish you’re fighting on any given day. While fishing on the Cumberland River with his wife, however, Burkhart’s initial impressions were far below reality.
For much of the fight, Burkhart noted that he anticipated a large-but-considerably-lighter fish approaching his boat.
“I was still judging the fish high-60s, low-70s,” Burkhart said. “I knew he was a larger fish but didn’t realize he was a 100+ until I slid him in the net.”
Burkhart recalled that he actually expected his outing to be more of a “day off” with his wife than one geared toward serious fishing.
Once his blue cat hit the net, however, things quickly changed.
“What Do We Do? What Did We Just Do?”
Once the blue cat was netted, Burkhart and his wife realized that the fish was much bigger than anticipated. So big, in fact, that they may have been on the cusp of something special.
They also began to consider the implications of the moment they were experiencing.
“My wife and I sat there for ten minutes with the fish in the net thinking, ‘what do we do? What did we just do?’” Burkhart recalled. “I’m not a master angler by any means, but I’m somebody who has put some time in.”
Burkhart told NewsChannel9 in Tennessee that there were concerns about keeping the fish alive and healthy long enough to obtain a certified weight.
Much like the West Virginia state record muskie caught earlier this year, finding access to a state wildlife officer and a certified scale on a weekend can be challenging, especially when you are dealing with a larger fish that doesn’t transport easily.
Fortunately, Burkhart was able to link up with Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) Officer Dalton Gooch and safely obtain a certified weight on the scales at Who Dat Processing in Tennessee Ridge. After certification, Burkhart was also able to release the live fish back into the water.
By A Comfortable Margin
Prior to Burkhart’s catch, Tennessee’s state record blue catfish was a 1998 whopper caught by Robert Lewis. That fish was also caught on the Cumberland River. Lewis’ near quarter-century record blue topped in at 112 pounds.
As Burkhart awaits official certification, his catch of 118 pounds, 7 ounces (with a length of 54 inches and a 41-inch girth) is set to claim the mantle.
Burkhart noted that he has recently shared photos with a fish biologist from the TWRA as a “final step” to achieve certification as the largest recorded in Tennessee.
For comparison, the largest blue catfish on record comes from Buggs Island in Virginia. Nick Anderson pulled in an incredible 143 pounder back in 2011!
The Future Looks Bright
Even 48 hours after landing what seems like the catch-of-a-lifetime, Burkhart has high hopes for what the future holds.
“Like I’ve said, it’s a goal to try and go for the record flathead now. I’ll have a lot of fun with it,” he noted.
“Where do you go from here? There’s not really a good answer. Can you better yourself? I’m my own worst competition when it comes to that. I know I can do it, though.”
Whether Burkhart will claim a second state record remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, his recent success is leading to some exciting traction.
Burkhart shared that he has been in discussion with Mad Katz owner Matt Knight to work on developing a signature catfish rod. Once the “whirlwind dies does a bit,” he looks forward to the design process.