Contact(s): Karl Scheidegger, state record fish program coordinator, 608-267-9426, Karl.Scheidegger@wisconsin.gov
MADISON - Damon Chandler's story - and potential state record - slipped away in the final minutes of a saga that stretched over several days last week. After quite a fight, the retired U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman landed what he thought was a monster yellow bullhead while fishing July 14 just above the Dells dam on the Wisconsin River.
"(it was) A whale," Chandler says. "It was huge. Fortunately, I had on 100-pound test line on there and a nonbreakable pole. He bent that bad boy half-way down."
Chandler, who has been fishing for catfish and bullheads since he was five, thought for sure he had a record yellow bullhead. The existing record is a 3-pound, 5-ounce fish caught from Nelson Lake in Sawyer County, and he was sure his haul bested that.
He caught the fish at about 10:30 p.m. and went to look for a certified scale. DNR's traditional hook and line records are by-weight records and require the applicant to have their fish weighed on a certified scale.
Whether due to the lateness of the hour or the unappetizing prospect of having a bullhead on one of their scales, Chandler had no luck finding a store willing to weigh the beast for him.
So he put the fish in a big bowl, sealed it in layers of plastic wrap, and put it in his refrigerator until Monday when he drove it to the DNR Central Office in downtown Madison.
While DNR field offices usually get the majority of record fish to confirm, occasionally a potential record fish is brought to the central office. After some brainstorming on where there might be a certified scale in downtown Madison, fisheries staff located one in the DNR mail room.
Chandler unwrapped the fish, it was placed on the scale and bottomed out at 4.10 pounds - well over the previous record for yellow bullhead. But fisheries staff cautioned Chandler they had to confirm the species identification.
And here was where Chandler's fish record slipped away. What he thought was a yellow bullhead, was actually a young flathead catfish, which look similar to yellow bullheads.
Alex Latzka, a fisheries biologist who had been checking fish ID resources while Chandler's fish was being weighed, peered in the fish's mouth and pronounced it a small flathead catfish, not a yellow bullhead. The hook and line record for the flathead catfish is 74 pounds and 5.1 ounces.
The flathead's lower jaw extends past its upper jaw, giving it a little bit of an underbite, while the bullhead's jaws end at about the same point, Latzka said. "In this case, we looked at the tooth patch on the upper jaw. The bullhead's teeth form a single patch mostly in a straight line across the lip. The flathead's tooth patch has backward extensions, and these extensions were very evident on the specimen in question."
Chandler took the news well.
"It was one heck of a fight and I loved it," he said. "I'm not stopping (trying to get a bullhead record). I will eventually get one. "
Learn more about Wisconsin's state record fish and how to claim one. Go to dnr.wi.gov and search "record fish." For fish identification help, anglers can use the Wisconsin Fish ID tool online, or download the app on Android or Apple devices.