Bob Maindelle Guide Lines Sept. 27

Local multispecies angler Corey Welch landed this monstrous flathead catfish from Stillhouse Hollow Lake recently. The 41-inch long fish nearly doubled the weight of the existing record. Welch released the fish in excellent condition.

Just after nightfall on the evening of Sept. 17, I received a call from Corey Welch, a professional diesel mechanic employed by Lossen Brothers Company, Inc., and an avid recreational fisherman.

Welch had landed a large fish from out of Stillhouse Hollow Lake and had contacted me in my role as a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department weigh station to weigh his fish as a potential lake record using my certified scales.

Welch began fishing around age 7, aided by his paternal grandfather and great grandfather. He recounts running trotlines with the two men for catfish and employing yo-yo rigs for crappie.

Welch is a self-described multispecies angler. “I love to catfish via trot line, reel and rod, or jug lines. Also enjoy the occasional white bass, but I have new-found passion for crappie using LiveScope.”

LiveScope refers to the state-of-the-art Garmin LiveScope technology which gives anglers a real-time view of the water below and around the boat thanks to proprietary technology which allows every pixel on the sonar unit’s screen to refresh many times per second.

Welch shared what led him to the area where he landed his most recent trophy.

“I chose to fish where I did because I have had luck there before, but I originally used Navionics Chart View to find the deeper hole. I scouted it with the LiveScope and discovered it also had a lot of structure which looked to be a tree top; and through trial and error discovered catfish frequent it, especially with fresh water entering the lake.”

Suspecting big fish may be using this hole he had discovered, Welch rigged up with stout tackle. Using a Catfish Commando rod by Abu Garcia, coupled with an Abu Garcia reel loaded with 20-pound test Trilene Big Game Line, Welch presented a large, live gizzard shad he had previously caught in his castnet.

The shad was impaled on a 5/0 Eagle Claw circle hook anchored with a half-ounce egg sinker assembled into a Carolina rig.

Around 7:15 pm, Welch positioned his boat near the submerged tree using his Minn Kota trolling motor’s Spot-Lock technology which causes the boat to hover in one position without the need for anchoring.

Welch describes the action when a fish from the hole took interest in his bait.

“I watched the rod bend slightly and line started to move from straight down position to more towards the front of the boat very quickly. I then ran to the rod, got it out of the rod holder, reeled down to feel the fish and gave it a good tug to set the hook. I then noticed this wasn’t the usual 2- to 10-pound fish I was accustomed to catching on reel and rod. I realized I was in for a fight after letting the fish basically do whatever it wanted to tire itself out as I set my drag rather light,” said Welch.

“As I felt the fish weaken slightly then I started to try to gain some ground inch-by-inch, foot-by-foot. I finally saw what I was dealing with. I reached for the net, put it as deep in the water as I could, and slowly drug the fish into the net. Once fish was in the net, I took a big breath and thought, ‘Man, I’m surprised that rod didn’t break.’ Then, I put the fish immediately in the live well, recirculating water nonstop until it could be weighed to ensure the health of the fish.”

When I asked why releasing the fish was important to him, Welch replied, “Catch and release of big fish is important to me because I hope that someone else has the opportunity to catch the fish later. I also hope it will breed and make more big fish with big fish genetics.”

When I arrived at lakeside to meet Welch and assist in weighing and measuring his catch, he had his boat pulled up on the shoreline waiting for me with friends and family already gathering around.

Because the fish was just shy of the 45-inch minimum necessary to be entered as a catch-and-release category fish, we decided to enter the fish by weight. The existing record for yellow catfish (also known as flathead catfish) was a 34-inch fish weighing 17.72 pounds landed back in 2017.

Welch’s fish measured 41 inches and maxed out the 30-pound Boga-Grip certified scale we used to weigh it on.

Several weeks ago in this column I noted that Belton Lake had produced two record-class catfish in 2020, a blue cat and a channel cat. With Caleb Fowler of Belton catching his 17.5-pound blue cat in the Junior Angler category back in March, Welch’s fish makes the second record-class fish which Stillhouse has now produced in 2020.

A note to prospective record-setters. As soon as we submitted Welch’s record application to TPWD, an auto-reply was sent back by email which read, in part, “Angler Recognition Award applications are being processed, currently the average time to process an application is over four weeks. An email notification will be sent to you at the time your application begins the verification process.”

This delay is a result of the impact of COVID-19 on TPWD’s administrative efforts.

Since I knew Welch was excited about introducing his daughter to fishing, I asked how his recent catch had been received by her. Welch said, “Since I caught that fish, my daughter is excited to catch a big fish and would like to set a record and has me on the water catching bait and baiting her hook trying for her own record-setting fish.”

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