130-Pound Missouri River Blue Cat Should Break All-Time Record by Six Pounds
A 130-pound blue catfish hauled from the Missouri River in the teeth of a dead-of-night thunderstorm is the new pending IGFA all-tackle world record. Here's the dramatic story of Greg Bernal's epic catch.
Bernal, of Florissant, Mo., and Janet Momphard, of St. Charles, Mo., launched their boat on the Missouri just before dark on Monday, July 19. They motored upstream to collect bait–Asian carp–and then settled in to fish behind a dike near the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, which lies north of St. Louis near the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi.
“We sat three hours and didn’t get a single bite,” Bernal says. “A storm was rolling in, predicted to hit St. Louis at 2:00, and we decided to pull up anchor at 12:15 and get back to the ramp. We were ready to throw in the towel.”
That plan would soon change. As they headed downriver, Bernal saw several big fish pop up on his sonar screen. “I told Janet, ‘Man, we’ve got to try this for a half hour. Who knows what could happen?'”
“About 30 minutes later that rod just took off,” he says. “I set the hook and the fight was on.”
Bernal caught a 79-pound blue cat in 1995, and he knew he had a good one this time. “I thought maybe, possibly a state record,” he says.
After 15 minutes he’d worked the fish to the surface, and got his first look at the monster. “When he broke the top of the water, the first thing I told Janet was, ‘Man, this could be a state record.'” Missouri’s top pole-and-line blue was taken in 1991 on the Missouri and weighed 103 pounds. The heaviest on a trotline, a 117-pounder, came from the Osage River in 1964.
By now it was 1 a.m. and the fight was just beginning. The fish shredded the first net Bernal put on him. A backup net was locked away in a cabinet in the front of the boat.
As the storm piled down on top of them, Momphard scrambled to the bow to find the second net hopelessly tangled around a trolling motor. As she worked frantically for 10 minutes to free it, all Bernal could do was maintain tension on the leader and hope the fish didn’t bust loose. “His whole head was already out of the net, and if he’d made it through he would’ve broken the line easy,” Bernal says. “It was a tense situation.”
With the second net finally freed, they tried to wrangle the massive cat into the boat. By now the storm had hit full force, thrashing trees and hurling lightning bolts at the far shoreline. Perhaps adrenaline gave Bernal and Momphard the extra strength they needed (after four unsuccessful heaves) to finally boat their trophy 30 minutes after it surfaced. “At that point,” Bernal says, “it was all we could do–we just gave it everything we had and hoisted the fish into the boat.”
Bernal was well aware of the world record blue, caught by Tim Pruitt in 2005 on the Mississippi River near Alton, Ill. But he never dreamed of besting that mark. “After lifting him, I had no idea how much he was going to weigh. I would have been overjoyed with the state record. I had no idea that I had just broke the world record.”
The next morning, Bernal contacted the Missouri Department of Conservation. Fisheries Management Biologist Sarah Peper confirmed it was a blue cat, and her measurements showed the fish to be 57 inches long and 45 inches in girth–one inch shorter but one inch fatter than Pruitt’s blue. “That’s when they started talking world record,” Bernal says. “Everybody was saying it’s really gonna be close.”
But it wasn’t, really: When they hauled the big blue onto a certified scale at Straatman Feed Store in New Melle, it topped out at 130–a full six pounds heavier than the reigning world champ. “The guy turns to me and says, ‘That’s the new world record.’ Everybody was kind of freaking out, including me.” Courtesy of I.G.F.A.
“I guess that was the best part of the whole deal, right there. When it hit 130 I was standing right there.”
“The whole time we were thinking maybe state record, maybe state,” Bernal says. “All of a sudden they’re talking world record. I was thinking, ‘There’s no way. This is not even real.'”
The marvel caused a “small-town traffic jam,” Straatman manager Jim Blair told St. Louis Today. “It was total chaos. Everybody was jumping for joy. People were getting out of their cars and taking pictures.” This curious kitten stopped by to compare whiskers with the big cat.
Bernal used a Penn Special Boat Rod, a 6-ft. medium-heavy saltwater rig. Courtesy of I.G.F.A.
His Penn 320 GTS baitcaster reel was spooled with 40-lb. test Berkley Big Game mono line and a leader of 72-lb. test braided monofilament. He used a 7/0 Kale hook with a five oz. slip sinker to rig the carp Carolina style. Courtesy of I.G.F.A.
“I’ve been rigging up the same way for years, but this was only the second time I used carp for bait,” Bernal says. “I think the Asian grass carp helped me out; it seems to attract the bigger fish. Hard to say, but that’s what it looks like.”
The storm helped, too, he says. “If you know where they are and can be on the river when a storm is approaching, I’ve had pretty good luck and my friends have too. If you can catch it when that front is coming in it just does something to them. They feed like crazy.”