Running on fumes after a full night of Mississippi River fishing, a strong tug on his line sent a surge through Donald Goering.
It was about 5 a.m. Friday, and this was the moment the 53-year-old Davenport man was waiting for.
Positioned near Credit Island in Davenport, Goering hooked a hefty flathead catfish with 30-pound test line and live green sunfish as bait. The lifelong river rat and his 16-year-old nephew, Malakia Townsley, spent the next 20 minutes roping the bottom feeder into their anchored 16-foot boat
“It was doing everything it could to shake that hook out of its mouth,” Goering, a union iron worker, said Saturday. “He was giving me hell.”
After reeling it in as close to the boat as possible, the angler tried to bring the catfish aboard with a walleye net, but its wide head would not fit. Goering then handed his pole to Malakia, dropped to his knees and tried to pull the fish up by its gills.
It was ready for more of a fight, though, and Goering, who weighs about 150 pounds, almost fell overboard. “I thought I was going in with him,” he said. “I dropped him three different times.”
Malakia then secured his uncle’s calves and feet, so Goering could lean out over the edge of the boat and bag the catch. It worked.
The longtime fisherman was shaking with excitement by the time he lifted the squirming beast into his boat.
“If it wasn’t for him (Malakia), I wouldn’t have landed that fish,” Goering said. “The big ones always get away, but not this one.”
They eventually released the catfish back into the river, but not until after they recorded its weight and length. The duo arrived at Credit Island Bait Shop about 6:45 a.m. to weigh the fish, according to manager Lisa Benningfield, who lives on site with her family.
“I’d never seen a fish that big until Friday,” she said.
Benningfield snapped photos and shared them on the business’s Facebook page. She wrote the fish maxed out the shop’s 75-pound scale, and as of Saturday evening, the post had been shared 350-plus times. Curious commenters wondered if Goering broke the record for the largest flathead catfish ever registered in Iowa, which was caught in 1958 in Chariton. The fish weighed 81 pounds and measured 52 inches, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
However, when Goering plopped the fish on his scale at home, it weighed 55 pounds. “The bathroom scale don’t lie,” he said. It turns out the instrument at Credit Island Bait Shop needed new batteries.
Benningfield fixed the issue as soon as she heard the news Saturday.
It was an easy decision for Goering to release the catfish he worked so hard to catch.
"It was too magnificent of a creature to kill, giving me a battle like that," he said. "I'm in the 50-pound club now, and that's a big deal to a lot of fishermen."