Is your huge catch a state record or a trophy fish

Is your huge catch a state record or a trophy fish?  

By Lee McCllelan

You bait a rod with a small bluegill and let the offering dangle off the back of the boat as you enjoy a lazy day of drifting on your favorite reservoir, basking in the sun.

You hear the sound of movement coming from the boat and flick your head around to see the rod bent over double, straining to hold the weight. You quickly release the rod from its holder.
The drag chortles as you bend into the fish and can’t move it at all. It continues shaking its head as it powers down into the depths of the lake. A surge of adrenaline hits as you realize it is likely the largest fish you’ve ever hooked.
After several runs, the fish begins to weaken. As it nears the boat, you finally see a mottled brownish wide head valiantly trying to shake the hook loose. Your eyes travel down the length of the fish and it is longer than any you’ve ever seen on your line. It is a huge flathead catfish.

The thought flashes through your mind: “state record.” Could it be? Unless the flathead weighs more than 97 pounds, it isn’t.
State record fish are exceedingly rare, but Kentucky anglers established four state records since last October. Glynn Grogan, of Arlington, caught a 106.9-pound state record blue catfish in October 2018 from the Ohio River below Olmstead Lock and Dam in far west Kentucky. Mark Ward, of Evarts, landed the new 14-pound, 9.5-ounce state record largemouth bass on Good Friday, April 19, 2019, from 6-acre Highsplint Lake in Harlan County. 

Four days later, Joseph Johnson caught a new state record striped shiner from Beargrass Creek in Louisville. Nearly two weeks later, Dennis Rhea, of Louisville, landed the new state record 6-pound, 13-ounce saugeye from Guist Creek Lake on May 3.

If you weigh a huge fish on hand scales and think you might have a state record, check the state record fish list on page 28 and 29 of the current Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide or on the “State Record Fishes and Awards” page on the department’s website at  

First, the fish must be weighed on a scale certified for trade by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture such as a grocery store, a feed store or a place that sells meats by the pound. You must have three witnesses to the weighing of the fish and they must sign the state record application.

“The fish species must be confirmed by a fisheries biologist from our department,” said Ron Brooks, director of Fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Sometimes, we have hybridization issues. Many anglers confuse channel and blue catfish. Some of our state records had to be confirmed by genetic analysis.”

The fish must be caught on pole and line from Kentucky waters. Fish taken on commercial gear, on a trotline or by gigging, snagging or hand grabbing (also called noodling) do not qualify for state record status. Fish altered in any way such as the head removed, gutted or filleted do not qualify for a state record. State record fish cannot be determined by just a photograph of the fish.

You can print a state record fish application from the “State Record Fishes and Awards” page on the department’s website at or get one from your fisheries district biologist. The list of phone numbers for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife district fisheries biologists is on page 28 of the current Fishing and Boating Guide.

If you catch the fish of your lifetime, but it falls short of a new state record, all is not lost.

 “Despite the fact that your trophy fish may not be a state record, you can still receive recognition through the Trophy Fish/Master Angler program,” said Brooks. 

The Trophy Fish/Master Angler program rewards anglers who catch a trophy fish or three trophy fish of different species. The program relies on honesty from the angler, but they must send a photo of the fish that must be submitted within 60 days of the catch. They must also complete the Trophy Fish application online at the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife webpage at

“If they catch a trophy fish, they get a collector’s hat pin that shows their fishing ability,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “This program gives anglers an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess at catching big fish. It gives them something to strive for in their fishing.”

The collector pin features a specific species for each year. The fish must meet a minimum length requirement to qualify for the Trophy Fish program.

“It is good for people to know those minimum lengths ahead of time,” Ross said. “Some anglers filet their catch or let it go without taking a picture and miss out.”

The minimum lengths are listed on page 27 of the current Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide as well as on the Trophy Fish page on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife webpage at

“If you catch three different species that qualify for a Trophy Fish, you can apply for a Master Angler Award and receive a special master angler pin,” Ross said. “Anglers like to have goals. For some of us, it is catching a limit of keepers. For others, it’s catching a fish that qualifies by length for a trophy fish and then getting three of them to become a Master Angler.”

The Master Angler platform on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website is undergoing an upgrade. Anglers qualifying for a Master Angler award will not lose their status. Please check the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at​ for details.

With hope, many of you will earn a Trophy Fish award this coming year, or better yet, set another state record.