‘An awesome fish’

  • WAYNE KRUSE / Outdoor writer
  • Saturday, October 21, 2000 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

By WAYNE KRUSE

Outdoor writer

In sportfishing as in military strategy, if the small stuff isn’t working, you bring up the big stuff.

Seems Justin Andrews was a little under-gunned this summer, fishing a Monroe-area pond with ultra-light tackle for trout. The avid outdoorsman was on a laid-back outing, soaking Power Bait and relaxing, but something a little bigger than planted rainbow wouldn’t leave him be.

“I hooked this thing twice, and broke him off both times on the light gear,” Andrews says of his July 2 adventure with the creature from the black lagoon. “The second time, though, he swirled and I got a quick look. I know fish pretty well, and I took it for a channel catfish.”

It was time for the artillery, Andrews decided, so he drove home and got nightcrawlers, chicken livers, and his steelhead gear.

The result was a mind-blower – a brown bullhead of 11 pounds, 10 ounces.

“This was just an awesome fish,” says state Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Curt Kraemer, who has spent his life around things icthyological. Kraemer weighed and positively identified the jumbo bullhead at Andrews’ instigation, since the then-Monroe and now-Lake Forest Park resident was aware he might have something special.

Don’t think so? Then maybe a little historical perspective is in order.

Brown bullheads are those small catfish most of us who spend any time at all with a fishing rod in hand have caught, off and on over the years – usually while targeting something else in lakes and ponds. Brown bullheads are usually called “catfish” by most Washington recreational fishermen, at least in part to separate them from what are commonly called “bullheads.”

The latter – “bullheads” – are actually freshwater sculpins, 2 to 4 or 5 inches in length, native to the state. The “catfish” – brown bullheads – are exotics, Kraemer says, introduced here in the late 1800s during the period when immigrating easterners were dumping all sorts of strange things into the waters of their new home.

I don’t know about you, but the largest brown bullhead I ever landed was maybe 14 or 15 inches and a little over a pound in weight.

“That would be a pretty good sized one,” Kraemer says. “Most will go 8 to 12 inches, and a 14- or 16-incher would be a big fish in most waters around here. Our largest brown bullheads tend to come from Lake Stevens, Lake Cassidy, Lake Washington, and a few others.”

A lot of other lakes carry the species, including Big, Ketchum, Sunday, Roesiger, and more.

But Andrews’ fish is in a class by itself.

“The largest one I had ever seen, prior to that, was about 41/4 pounds, from Lake Stevens,” Kraemer says. “After we weighed this one, I did a little research and I feel it’s quite possible, if Andrews wants to pursue the paper work, that it’s a new all-tackle world record.”

That means Andrews’ little backyard bottom feeder might end up in the exalted company of 100-plus pound chinook salmon, 20-plus pound largemouth bass, and 40-plus pound steelhead.

“Our state record is already his,” Kraemer says. “Before that, it was 31/2 pounds. The current International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record is 6 pounds, 1 ounce, caught in New York state in 1998. The Fishing Hall of Fame all-tackle world record is 7 pounds, 1 ounce, from Minnesota.”

The discrepancies in all those weights is probably because many anglers who catch outstanding fish don’t bother to pursue the paper work necessary to establish listed records, in either all-tackle or line-class categories.

Andrews, though, says he intends to push for the world record. Since he has professional verification and doesn’t need to go through the line pound-test verification procedure for an all-tackle record, his chances would seem very good. That’s of some importance to a person with Andrews’ degree of outdoor dedication.

“I fish probably 300 days a year, working for All Seasons Charters out of Edmonds,” he says. “Then I bowhunt a lot, and usually do some pack horse guiding in Montana in the fall. Add a lot of recreational steelhead and salmon fishing, and you have pretty much a total outdoor lifestyle.”

Kraemer says brown bullheads are excellent table fish, when taken from cooler water. Nightcrawlers are good bait and easy to get, fished on bottom on a number 4 or 2 hook. Kids seem to enjoy it more, he says, if you hang the bait and a weight under a bobber, with enough leader to put it about where you think bottom will be. Evenings are best, and May and June are the top months, when the fish come into the shallows to spawn. Fall is also a good time.

Washington has several other – much larger – catfish species.

“Channel cats are our most common,” Kraemer says. “We plant them in several spots, including Fazon Lake, east of Bellingham, Gissberg Ponds north of Marysville, and Green Lake in Seattle. The state record came out of one of those Interstate 90 borrow ponds near Yakima last year, at 36.2 pounds, and we have a self-sustaining population in the Columbia and Snake rivers.”

Kraemer says we have a few yellows and blacks and, in the Snake, the occasional flathead cat. Flatheads are among the big guys, reaching weights of 80 to 100 pounds or more in the Colorado and other southern and southwestern waters.

Now THAT would require some real firepower.

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