An angler from Apache, Oklahoma, made the catch of his life when a humungous paddlefish unexpectedly ended up on the end of his fishing line.
“To say today has been one of the best days in my life is an understatement,” James Lukehart posted on Facebook after his Keystone Lake trip on June 28. “A spur of the moment fishing trip turned into a world record-breaking day.”
James’s monster catch weighed an impressive 146.7 pounds (66.5 kg) and measured 70.5 inches in length with a 45-inch girth.
The Oklahoma fisherman and his wife, Caitlin, released the fish after taking photos to allow others the chance to relive the extraordinary moment. However, James had a bright idea for immortalizing the hefty catch. “I’m ready to find a taxidermist to help me recreate a mount for the fish we have now named ‘Girth Brooks,’” he joked.
The Lukeharts were on a guided fishing tour with Reel Time Guide Service owner Jeremiah Mefford, the previous American paddlefish record holder.
“We got out there in the morning and kind of joked around about catching a state record,” James told The Oklahoman. “I had no idea that there was even a world record fish out there […]Until I caught it, I had no idea.”
After reeling in the 146-pound beast, the group motored to a cove and kept the fish contained to shallow water until state wildlife officials arrived 45 minutes later. After weighing and measuring the fish, officials released it back into the lake.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) later celebrated James’s catch on their own social media and confirmed the record-breaking status of his catch.
“Weighing 146 pounds 11 ounces, the paddlefish caught by James Lukehart of Edmond beats the world record by more than 2 pounds,” they posted, “and the Oklahoma state record by 3 pounds, 11 ounces.”
The huge fish was certified as Oklahoma’s newest rod-and-reel state-record paddlefish by Paddlefish Research Center and Northeast Region Fisheries staff. In compliance with ODWC guidance, the fish was monitored after being released by James and Caitlin.
Hundreds of netizens responded to the ODWC, marveling at the catch and commending everybody involved for their respectful handling of the unique big fish.
“I am glad he released this wonderful animal,” wrote a fishing enthusiast. “I’m a fisherman and enjoy eating fish but a magnificent one like this should carry on its genes to make more superfish for people to see and enjoy (and catch!),” he said, adding, “Nicely done!”
The biggest fish James had snagged on a rod-and-reel before the American paddlefish were farm-pond bass, crappie, and catfish, although he told Tulsa World that he handled some 40- and 50-pound (approx. 18- and 23-kilogram) catfish while noodling as a child with his uncle.
As for handling the huge paddlefish for a brief photo-taking session, James explained, “She floats pretty well in the water, then you get your hands right and you just have to bend your knees and lift properly. I was definitely ready to put her back down though.”
Reflecting on the fishing trip, James concluded that his presiding victory was lucky enough as he has a wife who loves the great outdoors as much as he does.
“It’s known that she is the best fisher in the house,” James posted on Facebook, “but she let me catch one bigger than hers today so she could stop hearing me complain about her always catching the biggest fish!”
The American paddlefish, Polyodon spathul, have inhabited North America since the Cretaceous era, 65 million years ago. Paddlefish are filter feeders, according to the U.S Fish & Wildlife Services, catching plankton and small fish by swimming through open water with their mouths open.
The fish can live up to 55 years of age, and paddlefish caviar is considered a delicacy.
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