Tim Pruitt enjoys fishing and lifting weights. On May 21, 2005 Pruitt combined both hobbies in what was then record-setting fashion.
Fishing on the Mississippi River near Alton, Pruitt landed a massive 124-pound blue catfish that was the International Game Fish Association’s reigning world record until the summer of 2010. That’s when Greg Bernal of Missouri caught a 130-pounder on the Missouri River.
Pruitt’s fish was still a monster, though. After nearly 40 minutes of battling the 58-inch behemoth—which measured 44 inches around—Pruitt said he grabbed its lower jaw and wrestled the catfish into his boat.
“My adrenaline was really pumping, so it wasn’t that bad,” said Pruitt, who lives in the small southwestern Illinois town of Fosterburg. “Later on, when I was lifting him out of the livewell and into another tank I really felt the weight.”
No doubt. At 124 pounds Pruitt’s fish surpassed the previous 121-pound, 8-ounce world record blue cat caught in 2004 from Lake Texoma on the Texas-Oklahoma border.
“I told my secretary, ‘These guys caught a fish bigger than you,’ ” said biologist Rob Maher, one of several Illinois Department of Natural Resources employees who identified Pruitt’s fish. “It’s an absolutely unbelievable fish. I’ve seen a lot of big catfish before and this made all of them seem small.”
That includes the former Illinois record blue catfish of 85 pounds. Like that big blue—caught by catfishing diehard Lindsay Sample Jr. in 2000 on the Mississippi River—Pruitt’s catch was no accident.
When he caught his record, Pruitt was 33 and said he had targeted blue cats for the past 14 years. At the time he fished one or two evenings each week, using 40-pound test line, heavy-duty Penn reels and stout 8-foot rods. He prefers herring heads for bait.
Painful past experiences have taught him the importance of tiring big catfish before bringing them up to the boat.
“I don’t know how many 80-pound fish I’ve lost right beside the boat,” Pruitt said. “If you don’t quite play them enough or they come in on you too soon, as soon as you put the glove on their lower lip they go crazy. They start doing death rolls and snapping line.”
So May 21 was nothing new for Pruitt, who was accompanied by his wife, Carla, and Tony Phiffer of Godfrey. They anchored near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers because Pruitt often finds blue catfish there.
Many of those fish are big. Two years ago Pruitt caught a 95-pounder that he released without obtaining a certified weight.
“I didn’t keep (the 95-pounder) because I didn’t have a boat equipped to keep it alive,” Pruitt said. “I got rid of that boat and I’ve got one with a big (80-gallon) livewell now. So I was able to hold this fish and to transport it safely.”
Catch-and-release is that important to Pruitt, who seriously considered letting his world record swim free after weighing the fish on a certified scale. Instead, he agreed to let Cabela’s display the fish at a new Kansas City store in a 55,000-gallon tank.
Unfortunately, the fish never made it the Cabela’s tanks. It died in transit.