Justin Coco reeled in a giant blue catfish for the ages early Sunday morning, but the big fish won’t qualify as a new No. 1 for the Louisiana record books because it was snagged — not hooked in the mouth.
“I’ve snagged a bunch of big fish,” said Coco, 25, of Monterey. “It’s actually one of the hardest methods of fishing.”
Snagging typically involves making long casts from the bank across the current — usually with treble hooks and a heavy sinker — and repeatedly jerking the rod with the intent of snagging suspended fish.
Rules from the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association — which maintains both saltwater and freshwater records for the state — are crystal clear on the subject.
“Fish must be caught by a sporting means (hooked by the mouth) on rod, reel and line or some other conventional form of regular fishing tackle,” the rules state. “Fish caught on hand lines, set lines or any form of net, trap or seine are not eligible. Fish mutilated by shooting, foul hooking, snagging or by other fish, such as sharks are not eligible.”
Lawson Boyte caught the current No. 1-ranked fish — a 114-pounder in 2014 — in the Mississippi River in East Carroll Parish.
State record or not, Coco's big blue cat was a monster.
He hooked up with the fish about 3 a.m. in an oxbow off the Red River in Concordia Parish near the Sidney A. Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Station south of Vidalia, and battled it for almost 30 minutes.
“I felt like I was hung,” he said. “He started stripping drag heading straight down the river. I didn’t move on the bank — I stood where I was at and fought him until he wore down. Once he wore down and got through pulling my drag out, I finally got the chance to get him in.”
Coco’s previous best was an 83-pounder he caught last year. He and his buddy, BJ Morace, had started fishing about 7 p.m. Saturday, and Coco said he caught seven or eight fish in the 30-pound range before he hooked the big blue.
“All the big fish I’ve caught down there, I’ve caught at night — the late hours, too,” he said. “They just sit down there, and all they do is eat.”
Coco’s snagging rig is comprised of a 12-foot Ugly Stik rod and on open-faced Penn reel spooled with 100-pound Spiderwire braid. Depending on the current, he’ll tie the braid directly to either one or two 7- or 10-aught treble hooks, followed by a 5-ounce bank sinker.
“With the weight, you can really throw it out there, and you have the ability to yank it when you pull back,” he said. “If you just throw a hook out there with no weight and yank it, it’s just going to come back with a bunch of slack.”
Coco’s big blue cat tipped certified scales at 120 pounds, and measured 5 feet, 3 inches long.
“Its mouth was big enough you could stick a 30-pound catfish in it,” he said.
He cleaned the big fish this week, and despite its size, said he’s going to attempt to eat it.
“You just have to take them and grind them up like you’re going to make gar patties, and eat them like that,” he said.
Coco, who works with Bryan Painting in Vidalia, is confident there are even bigger fish lurking in his honey hole.
“I know there is. I hook stuff down there that all you can do is hold the rod and pray for the best. They break that braid an awful lot — it sounds like a rifle going off,” he said. “There’s some out there way bigger than that.
“People just don’t know how big these things get.”