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June 07, 2023

66-pound catfish caught in Lancaster County breaks Philly fisherman's state record

A Fayetteville man reeled in the gigantic fish last month on the Susquehanna River

Recreation Fishing
Pennsylvania Flathead Catfish Record Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission/Facebook

A flathead catfish weighing 66 pounds, 6 ounces set a state record in Pennsylvania after it was caught by Fayetteville man Michael Wherley on the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County on May 14. The previous record was a 56-pound, 3-ounce flathead catfish caught in the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia in May 2020.

A flathead catfish weighing 66 pounds has set a new Pennsylvania record after it was caught last month on the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, according to the state's Fish and Boat Commission. The catch, made by a fisherman from Franklin County, beat the previous record held by a Philadelphia man who caught a 56-pound flathead catfish in the Schuylkill River in 2020.

The catch was made on May 14 by Michael Wherley, 46, of Fayetteville, in the area of Conestoga, officials said.

Wherley was fishing with a friend around 10 a.m. in an approximately 50-foot-deep channel of the river known as Lake Aldred. He had baited a live rainbow trout onto a large circle hook with a 1.5-ounce sinker and cast a line from his heavy-duty surf rod into the water. Wherley and his friend, Walter "Tommy" Clark, had four lines in the water at once.

Three of the four rods hooked fish simultaneously, Wherley told the Fish & Boat Commission.

"It was a little bit crazy, but we managed to start reeling them in," Wherley said. "There was a 30-pounder, and then Tommy brought in a 45-pounder that ended up breaking the net when we tried lifting it into the boat."

But when Wherley tried to reel in the third rod, he immediately knew he was dealing with a monster. He battled the record-setting catfish for about 30 minutes.

"When it finally came to the surface, all I could think was that it was humungous!" Wherley said. "When I got the fish next to the boat, I handed the rod to Tommy, and I stuck both hands in the fish's mouth and pulled as hard as I could to bring it aboard. We knew we had something."

Wherley and Clark kept the fish alive by placing it in a plastic tote box filled with water and equipped with an aerator. They took the fish to Columbia Bait and Tackle to be weighed on a certified scale.

The catfish officially weighed 66 pounds and 6 ounces, exceeding the previous state record by more than 10 pounds. It measured 50.25 inches long with a girth of 35 inches. State records in Pennsylvania are judged only by weight. New record holders must exceed the previous record weight by at least two ounces.

In May 2020, Philadelphia angler Jonathan Pierce caught a 56-pound, 3-ounce flathead catfish on the Schuylkill River in East Falls. He described that fish as a "torpedo" when he was finally able to reel it in and see it come out of the water.

In December 2020, a Maryland angler caught a 57-pound flathead catfish on the Susquehanna River about 10 miles south of the Pennsylvania border. That mark set a record, at the time, for the largest flathead catfish caught on the Susquehanna River.

Wherley, who has been fishing on the Susquehanna River for 15 years, said the record-setting catfish was kept alive through the judging process.

"This is just incredible, and I'm really glad we were able to release the fish back into the river," said Wherley. "My previous personal best flathead was 44 pounds last year. I know I've had bigger ones on the line, but they got off before I could get them on the boat. I'll enjoy this record as long as it lasts, but I'm sure it will probably be broken in a year or two, if not sooner. I'm 100% certain there are even bigger fish out there."