It was only Dale Blakley’s second-ever ice fishing trip, but the 45-year-old construction worker from Niles, Michigan managed to catch the state’s largest recorded flathead catfish. Blakley drew the behemoth 52-pound flathead from Barron Lake in southwest Michigan on Sunday while fishing with three friends. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) confirmed it as a new state record just a day later.

“Catching this fish was the most exhilarating experience,” Blakley told the DNR. “It was only the second time I’ve ever gone ice fishing and it was the only bite we had on the lake the whole day. This definitely sits at the top of my list!”

Michigan’s flathead catfish record has only been broken twice in the last 71 years. The previous record also belonged to another Niles angler, Rodney Akey, who caught a 49.8-pound flathead from the St. Joseph River in 2012. DNR spokespeople said they are pleased that the record has been broken twice in less than two years, stating that they hope it will entice more anglers to hit the water.

Perhaps no one is more surprised than Blakely, who was originally planning on bringing home some bluegill. The angler told the Detroit Free Press that the ferocious battle lasted for about an hour.

“It was a big fish on a 2-foot fishing pole. It was really mad,” he said.

After hauling the catfish from the ice, Blakely faced a predicament. The local DNR office was closed on Sunday, and Michigan fishing records had to be certified by a DNR biologist. The angler took his prize fish home and put it in the only place big enough to hold it: his bathtub. Fully intending to set the fish free later, Blakley drove to the DNR office in Plainwell, but unfortunately the catfish perished along the way.

“I tried to keep the fish alive, because I was going to set the fish free,” Blakley said. “It broke my heart that the fish had to die for me to break the record.”

That does not mean it will go to waste, however. Blakely intends on having a large fish fry before he gets the record specimen mounted.

Blakley also was able to film his catch on camera. You can watch part of Blakely’s battle with the titanic catfish below:

Experts are unsure how flatheads became stocked in Barrow Lake, where anglers first sighted catfish several years ago. The DNR does not intend to remove them, however the agency reminds anglers that flatheads should not be transferred from one water body to another as they can disrupt other ecosystems through depredation or competition.

Image courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources

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