Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Angler Snags State Award for Landing Hefty Catfish

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Angler Snags State Award for Landing Hefty Catfish

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski, Times-Union staff writer

BRUNSWICK -- Esther Cooper had a thermos of fresh coffee within easy reach, a bait bucket full of live goldfish at her feet and had just settled in for a quiet night of fishing on the Altamaha River.

A little after midnight May 16, the fishing rod almost jerked out of Cooper's hands as the 12-pound test line snapped taught when her quarry took off like a torpedo through the murky river water.

"It felt like I had Moby Dick on the hook. He was so strong and put up a heck of a fight," Cooper recalled yesterday.

It took 22 minutes before Cooper could reel in her catch close enough to wrestle it into her boat.

"I stuck one hand under the gills and wrapped my other arm around it and just pulled up for all I was worth. It came up out of the water and we both fell down into the boat. This was the biggest fish that I've ever caught in my life," Cooper said.

Cooper, 51, of Brunswick, had landed a flathead catfish that state fisheries biologists determined weighed 32 pounds, 12 ounces and measured 39 inches from tail fin to nose.

Although below the state record, the catfish has earned Cooper a place in the annals of Georgia fishing lore.

She was among 23 Georgia residents recently honored for their trophy catch with a 2001 Angler Award from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The winners were announced Jan. 18. The only other Southeast Georgia angler to receive one of the awards was Phillip David Gregory, 20, of Fort Stewart. Gregory caught a 29-inch long largemouth bass weighing 16 pounds, 1 ounce. Gregory used spinner bait to catch the behemoth on May 26 at Pond 26 on the Fort Stewart Military Reservation, said Beth Brown, a spokeswoman for DNR's wildlife resources division, which sponsors the award.

Brown said the annual program recognizes people who catch trophy fish in state waters. It also helps promote Georgia as "a great state for fishing," she said.

The fish doesn't have to set a state record to qualify for the award. But it does have to meet or exceed the minimum weight requirements set by state authorities for that particular species. …

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