Dan Michaelson has a warning for anyone thinking about taking a dip in Kerr Reservoir.

"The swim beaches are no longer safe," Michaelson, the state fisheries biologist who oversees the lake, said by phone Wednesday.

And then he chuckled.

It's a joke that's been going around a lot since a high school football coach from Greenville, N.C., pulled from the lake's warm waters a 143-pound blue catfish.

The fish, bigger than some of the kids Nick Anderson has on his team at Kinston High School, not only shattered the species state record set earlier this spring, it trounced the all-tackle world record by 13 pounds.

"One hundred and nine pounds was no big deal," Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries chief Gary Martel said. "One-hundred and twenty I would have raised my eyebrows.

"But 143?"

The best words Martel could come up with?

"Unfathomable," he uttered. "Indescribable."

The next questions: How did a Virginia freshwater fish get this big? And can it happen again?

A lurking giant

The basic story of Anderson's catch is already well-known.

Fishing with father Rick Anderson and stepbrother Jeramie Mullis, he hooked the fish near the lake's Goat Island section, finally bringing it boatside after a 45-minute struggle.

Anderson said he used an Ugly Stik rod and 30-pound test line.

He hasn't publicly discussed his bait of choice, but he wrote "chicken breast" on his Virginia state record application, which was approved this week.

The monster catfish was 57 inches long, had a girth of 43½ inches and weighed exactly 143 pounds on the certified scales at Mecklenburg Supply, where a steady stream of locals came by for a glimpse at the behemoth.

While this particular story will likely end with the fish being approved as a world record, the beginning of the tale goes back a while, perhaps to as early as 1985.

That was the year that the DGIF stocked blue catfish in some waters that were normally stocked with channel catfish.

Kerr, a 50,000-acre reservoir on the border of Virginia and North Carolina in Central Virginia that is also known as Buggs Island Lake, didn't get any of those fish. But blue cats ended up in the lake eventually.

Michaelson said some blue catfish may have been washed into the lake during flooding.

"The other possibility was it was an angler introduction," said Michaelson, who is based in the DGIF's district office in Farmville. "That's one of the things we really discourage."

But even if the catfish was transported from another blue cat trophy fishery, such as the James River, it still would have had to gain a boatload of weight after the transfer.

However it happened, it happened.

"It wouldn't have been something we would do on purpose," Michaelson said. "But we're trying to make the best of it."

The blue cats are certainly making the best of it.

Kerr holds four key forage-fish species -- gizzard shad, threadfin shad, alewives and blueback herring.

For blue catfish, which will scavenge but also are efficient predators, the shad offer the proverbial bottomless buffet.

As is common when fisheries are becoming established, growth rates appear to be excellent.

The previous state record, a 109-pounder, was boated in March. Anderson's dad had caught and released a 95-pound blue just a few weeks ago.

Anderson was hoping to keep the huge fish alive so it could, like the aforementioned 109-pounder, end up in a tank at a Bass Pro Shops retail store. But despite efforts to keep the fish alive it eventually died.

Michaelson said he hopes to be able to obtain an otolith -- a small bone from inside the fish's skull -- to determine the fish's age.

"Everyone in the country wants to know that fish's age," he said.

He suspects it was in its "late teens or early 20s," which isn't that old.

"The big guys are usually fast growers," he said.

Any biological information that can be learned about the fish will be a key, considering the relative youth of the fishery, about which little firm data exist.

A research team from Virginia Tech recently started a study of the lake's blue cats, tracking information such as fish growth rates and angler behavior.

"In two years, we'll know a lot more," Michaelson said.

Blue catfish blitz

One trend is already becoming clear: Kerr Reservoir's already popular blue cat fishery is almost certain to become even more appealing.

"From an angling standpoint, and from an economic standpoint, a world record fish is tremendous," Martel said.

Dallas Weston, a reporter with the Mecklenburg News-Progress who first broke the story, said he can't recall anything that has generated the buzz that this catfish has.

"I knew the fishing people would be interested in it," said Weston, a 30-year veteran at the paper. "But I had no idea we'd be getting calls from The Washington Post and The Associated Press."

Six months ago, Weston covered the announcement that Microsoft was bringing a $500 million dollar facility to the region. "That didn't get the attention this has," he said.

Michaelson said he expects the lake, which is also known for it's great bass and crappie fishing -- still the lake's two biggest draws -- to become even more attractive to angling tourists.

He said he wouldn't be surprised to see the lake pull in fishermen from as far as the Midwest.

With even more hooks in the water, what are the chances the lake will produce an even bigger blue catfish?

Both Martel and Michaelson say Anderson's fish was so far off the charts that a repeat seems unlikely. But providing possible evidence that an even bigger blue catfish swims in Kerr is Anderson's fish itself.

If it can happen once, why not again?

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