Who goes elk hunting, tromps through a quarter-mile or more of muddy riverbank and then reels in the fish of a lifetime? That is what happened to a Glendive, Mont., man who swapped antlers for whiskers and is darn glad he did.
Bruce Storlie has been hunting elk on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge near Fort Peck for 27 seasons. He also enjoys fishing for channel catfish on the Missouri River in the same area.
"We hunt elk in the morning and fish catfish all afternoon," explained Storlie. "We've got some good ones out of there."
Some good ones, yes, but his best prior to Sept. 26 was 18 pounds. That's a great catfish, but nothing like the one Storlie would catch while killing time during an elk hunt.
"I always knew they were in there," said Storlie. "We went to my favorite catfishing hole, about 21 feet. I threw my line out and wham, had that fish on. It took off and I told my brother it was the biggest fish I've ever had on in my life."
Battling a big cat in turbid river water can be pretty testy business. In Storlie's case it was compounded by the fact he was using only 10-pound monofilament fishing line. That meant the slightest tangle might snap his connection to a monster of a fish.
"We couldn't keep up with it. I had to get out of the boat and fought it on the riverbank for a quarter-mile. My reel was almost out of line. I didn't want to horse him. I played him out over the course of a half-hour," said Storlie. "When that fish came up I said, "Oh my God, a state record.'"
The story gets even more interesting. Is Storlie's monster catfish the new Montana state record? The answer is yes, but no. Here's why.
"We weighed that fish on a De-Liar and it showed 32 pounds. I thought the state record was 32 or better. Now we know it was 30.1," said Storlie.
Storlie released the huge cat back into the Missouri, but not before taking complete measurements so that a replica could be made. The length and girth exceeds the current Montana state record. However, because the fish was released, it was never "officially" certified and therefore does not qualify for state record status.
"I wanted this fish to last forever. It is a once-in-a-lifetime deal. I let it go. I don't care about the record but my worst nightmare now is if somebody else catches that fish," laughed Storlie. "I can say that he is actually bigger than the state record."
The huge catfish was caught on a cut-up goldeye. It hit 32 pounds on the De-Liar scale, measured 40 inches in length with a 25-inch girth. The existing Montana state record catfish is 30.12 pounds and 37.6 inches long.
As for the elk hunt, Storlie's freezer remains empty.
"I didn't get my elk. It just didn't happen this year, but that fish made up for it," said Storlie. "That's a good one, ain't it?"
Indeed it is, and Storlie will soon have a wall hanger to go along with his big fish story. A Tennessee taxidermist who specializes in catfish is in the process of constructing a replica of Storlie's incredible catch.