My late start at fishing this April morning had gone much better than I expected.
I had caught and released eight bass all over legal keeping size. The bite had slowed on the soft plastic swimbait shad, so I quit casting and baited a “kid pole” with a red worm under a small bobber. Winter stocking of trout in the local Fins (Fishing in Neighborhoods) lakes prompted me to keep such simple gear handy.
The result was a beautiful bruiser of a bluegill that lay out to the nine-inch mark of the yardstick — probably the largest bluegill I’ve ever caught. It had fought like an Irishman would fight for having been called “Cromwell,” if my old professor of English history at Morehead State was correct about the Irish aversion to the one time Lord Protector, whose armies savaged the rebellious Emerald Isle. But the “Kentucky Boating and Fishing Guide,” a copy of which I had handy, cited 10 inches as the minimum standard for a bluegill to qualify for a Trophy Fish award.
Kentucky recognizes fish of outstanding quality. When an angler catches three different species of Trophy fish, he or she receives recognition as a Master Angler.
I have two Trophy Fish awards, but both are for spotted bass. My fish, caught in 1996, came from the between-the-hollers stretch of my beloved Cabin Creek. The minimum length for spotted bass is 16 inches. Mine were each 18 and way back in the fall of 1965 — when there may not have been such a system in place to recognize trophy fish — I caught a 17-inch spot from the river at the mouth of Cabin. The big bluegill was the fourth fish species on which I have come up short by one inch, the others being sauger, largemouth bass and hybrid striped bass. On hybrids I have been short on four occasions. It takes 23 inches for a hybrid, 18 for a sauger and 23 for a bucketmouth.
Manchester, Ohio resident Bill Bolar, who does most of his fishing in Kentucky and in the river, has experienced no such shortage problems during this month of April. On April 12 both the Maysville City Park Lake at Old Washington and the Old Reservoir in Flemingsburg received their channel catfish stockings. On the 14th Bolar pulled a 34-inch (six inches above the minimum requirement) 13-pound channel from the Washington lake.
But good April fishing fortune had not finished with Bolar. On the 22nd he hauled a 20 inch, 2.5 pound bullhead catfish from a small private Mason County lake. While it takes 28 inches for a channel and 35 inches for blue and flathead catfish respectively to be trophy material, the bullhead, smallest of Kentucky’s cafish species, requires only 14 inches to qualify.
Sometimes called pollywogs, bullheads are often denizens of small farm ponds and are perfect fish for kids to enjoy catching while learning the rudiments of angling. One of our Springdale neighbor Ben Otto’s tiny ponds was full of them.
Some serious big cat anglers like to use small bullheads as bait. Often tiny because of overpopulation, they can attain rod-bending size. Randy Kirk of Mason County, owns Kentucky’s state record bullhead of 5 pounds 8 ounces, caught in 2013, also from a Mason County pond! We can claim that Mason County is the bullhead capital of Kentucky!
Bolar used rabbit meat as bait to catch both of his outstanding catfish. “I use chicken liver some but rabbit meat is tough and stays on the hook better,” he said. “The fish have to take it in order to get any of it. Even trout will bite on it.”
Bolar’s trophy fish may have missed recognition had it not been for Donnie Gallagher, who founded and administers the Facebook page Mason County Outdoors, and who himself is an ardent and accomplished fisherman. Gallagher’s advice and information led Bolar to submit photographs of the fish to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“I didn’t even know there was a Trophy Fish award until Donnie told me about it,” said Bolar.
We appreciate Gallagher’s efforts at providing a social media forum for pictures and news of outdoor events and successes in Mason and surrounding counties, and we are glad that he contributed to the recognition of Bolar’s catches, especially for the attention it has brought to the lake at Washington.
From an angler who has so often been a mere inch short (I suspect there are many of us in the same boat. I hate using clichés but this one is just too fitting for the circumstance), congratulations, Bill Bolar! You’re the man!