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08-13-04 Celina teens have quite a fish story

By Shelley Grieshop

  Like cowboys wrestling calves at a rodeo, six Celina teens tackled and retrieved a large catfish Thursday afternoon from Beaver Creek.
The flathead catfish above was wrestled to shore by six Celina teens who later found out it weighed 21.5 pounds and was 39 inches long. As big and ugly as it was, wildlife officials say there are bigger ones in Grand Lake St. Marys, however, no official documents exist. The biggest flathead catfish caught in Ohio weighed 76.5 pounds and was reeled in at Clendening Lake by a New Philadelphia angler in July of 1979.<br>
  "We saw its big back coming through the water," said teenager Todd Hertel, still breathing fast after the exciting event.
  His friend, Michael Sommer, shook his head at the size of the 21.5 pound fish, also known as a mudcat or shovelhead.
  "We dropped everything else and jumped on it," Sommer said, adding he and his friends brought in the prized fish barehanded.
  The children, all 13-year-olds, pulled the slippery fish from the murky water and drug it ashore just south of Celina. They placed it headfirst into a 5-gallon bucket only to discover, to their dismay, it didn't fit -- half the fish was still sticking out.  After taking several pictures, the children took the grotesque specimen to Lakeview Carry-Out for official measuring before releasing it back into the creek. Their catch was longer than the yard stick used to measure it, stretching 39 inches from tail to mouth.
  Flathead catfish are native to Ohio and can get quite large, according to officials from the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Their average weight is between 5 and 15 pounds, however, the state record for the species is 76 pounds, 8 ounces and 55.6 inches long.
  The world record weight for a flathead catfish is 123.9 pounds.
  Flathead catfish are a major predator in Grand Lake and ones weighing more than 50 pounds have been caught locally, said state wildlife official Debbie Wolters of the Piqua office.
  "The flatheads are the biggest fish in the lake," she said.
  Flathead catfish are a scaleless, strong-bodied species with a tail that almost appears square or rounded. The dorsal fin stands high and the upper portion of its skin is usually yellowish brown or even white with black or brown mottling.
  Even with its "wide smile" it's not an attractive fish, especially at that size.
  "But it's cool," said Hertel, as he and his friends gathered to take another picture with the still-breathing fish.
  Also lending a hand with "the big one" was Andrew Menchhofer and his twin brother, Kaleb, Aaron Schmitt, and the only girl in the bunch, Cayla Hellwarth.
  Eight workers from Grand Lake St. Marys State Park and the fish hatchery in St. Marys were rescuing fish with nets from the basin of the spillway at the same time the children caught the fish.
  "Yes, we saw the kids just past the spillway bridge,"State Park Manager Craig Morton said. "They were having a ball."
  The workers periodically remove fish from just under the lip of the spillway when little or no water is present for the fish to continue their swim into Beaver Creek.
  The youngsters, still reeling with emotion, immediately checked out the entranceway wall at the carry-out where pictures of local big catches are displayed. They soon found out "their" monster fish was bigger than any of the ones posted.
  "Yes! We made the wall of fame. We're famous," he said. "I know what I'm going to write about when we get back to school."


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