John Self caught a Blue Catfish while fishing with his daughter, Charlotte, in the river trails along Mud Creek. Sunday March 5th was a windy day with a high temperature of 73 and sunny skies. This perfect day made me hopeful that I could catch some early spring fish. I decided to try Lake Henry, located just inside Clinton State Park, west of Lawrence. When I pulled in I called my wife, Margot, and told her if I didn’t have any luck in an hour that I would come home and take our daughter, Charlotte, on a walk near our house on the river trails. Well, luck struck on my 5th cast and I landed a small 12 inch spotted bass on a white ⅛oz roadrunner. The rest of the hour was spent casting and retrieving with no more strikes. I packed up my gear and started to head home. On my way home I stopped at the local Walmart and bought frozen shrimp as catfish or gar bait and lunch for Charlotte and I. I ran into Great Blue Heron to pick up some circle hooks and swivels, and headed home to pick up Charlotte for our little adventure. When I got home she was all ready to go with the walking stick that my father had carved from osage orange cinched tight to her shoulders. We loaded up and hit the old dirt roads east of North Lawrence, making our way to the backside of the river trails along Mud Creek. With as much patience as any 6 year old could ever muster, Charlotte and I slung our packs onto our backs, and started walking towards our trailhead. As we got to the trail and settled into our hike we chatted about the birds we saw and the tracks left in the fresh spring mud from rain the previous day. Eventually we had gone as far as the trails would take to fish the river. Our destination was a sandbar that shows itself in the spring before the rains come that was to the east. I found a suitable game trail headed in that general direction, and off we went. It was an easy and enjoyable hike along the game trails to the sandbar. As soon as we got there Charlotte started setting up our picnic while I got the fishing pole rigged and ready. Within 10 minutes we were sitting on a blanket stretched out on the silt, eating our lunches quietly in peace. We spent the time eating and watching the buzzards rise and fall in circles above us or seeing a gar slash through a school of baitfish. After we ate, I baited my hook with a frozen shrimp and cast out into the current seam about 40 feet off the bank. While waiting for a bite we skipped rocks and played in the mud, both of us taking turns looking at the rod tip waiting for a strike. It wasn’t long before we were both thirsty and got our water bottles from our packs, maybe 30 minutes at most. Then right as I took a drink from my water bottle there was a twitch in my rod tip during a break in the wind. My gaze lingered and SLAM! My rod was bent over and drag was peeling from the reel. Charlotte and I raced to the rod. I tightened the drag, lifted the rod and reeled down to find that I had hooked into a fish bigger than anything I’ve ever landed. With the rod doubled over and drag still peeling I had to manage my drag and tire out whatever was on the other end of my line before I could start hauling on the line and reeling it in. The fight probably didn’t last more than 5 minutes, however in the moment it felt like 20 or even 30. It got close to the bank and it surfaced, and that’s when I saw it. A Blue Catfish. Bigger than any fish I had ever caught or held myself. Charlotte and I begin shouting in excitement. I hadn’t brought a landing net so I walked to a suitable area where I could use my hands and land him without a net. I took my time and picked the pale blue fish up by the mouth and belly so that Charlotte could take a picture and so I wouldn’t get stuck by its spines. Then I gently held the fish in the water and allowed it to recuperate before giving one last splash of its tail and disappearing into the murky flowing water in front of us. I didn’t have a scale or measuring tape with me so we don’t know the exact size. Afterwards we just stared at each other almost in disbelief of the fish we had just caught and released together. By this time the sun had started to touch the tree line. Neither of us was ready to be done fishing but the sun would have its way, it would set and we would pack up our gear and head back to the trail. The hike out was uneventful compared to the fishing. Charlotte practiced her orienteering skills by leading us back to the trailhead and our car with little to no help. We loaded the car in silence and hopped in. That’s when Charlotte looked at me in the rear view mirror and said “Dad.. was that fish huge! I can’t believe we caught that!”. I don’t have the words to describe how bonding and special this day will always be to me. It wasn’t just the fish, the whole day was my personal best so far.
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