WINFIELD — When Caitlyn Williams hauled back on the fishing rod, she felt a power she’d never felt before.
She’d caught good-sized catfish, plenty of them. But none like this.
“The whole time I fought it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This thing is huge!’ ” said Williams, a 17-year-old senior at Winfield High School. “It was, by far, the biggest catfish I’d ever had on the line.”
Fifteen tense minutes later, her fishing partner slipped a net under the monstrous flathead and, straining every muscle, lifted the writhing fish into the boat.
“And to think, it happened on a day when we weren’t sure we were going to catch anything,” Williams said.
The first Sunday in November dawned cold and clear, with a bluebird sky that offered unlimited visibility and only slightly less pessimism.
“Bluebird days aren’t usually good catfish days,” said Jon Helman, a family friend who introduced Williams to catfish angling a year ago. “We figured we’d have better luck fishing around bridge piers, so we ran from the Raymond City ramp downstream to the Winfield Bridge.”
Good call. Within a few minutes, Williams hooked and landed a 10-pound flathead.
“We usually take turns catching fish,” Helman said. “When the next bite came, I grabbed the rod. I could tell it was a nice fish, so I asked Cait if she wanted the rod. She said she did, so I handed it to her.”
Within seconds, Williams knew she had a monster on the line.
“It was pulling like crazy, stripping line off the reel,” she said. “I’d caught catfish in the 17- to 20-pound class, but they felt nothing like this one.”
Her 7½-foot medium-heavy action baitcasting rod and 80-pound-test braided line were purpose-made to pry big cats off the bottom, but even with those advantages she couldn’t make it happen.
“I just held on and hoped it would wear itself out,” she said. “Jon watched it on the sonar. The fish would come up a couple of feet, then go right back down.”
After 15 minutes of arm-burning, back-straining combat, the monster flathead finally tired. As it came into view, Williams and Helman could tell it was something special.
“We got it in the boat, and we weighed and measured it,” Williams said. “It weighed 53 pounds and measured 47½ inches, by far the biggest one either of us had seen.”
In the manner of many modern teenagers, Williams posted pictures of her catch to social media.
“As soon as the pictures went up, my friends and teachers bombarded me with questions,” she said.
The big flathead turned out to be the largest catfish Williams and Helman caught that day, but it wasn’t the last.
“We caught 10 more after that, and ended up with what we call a ‘trifecta’ — channel cats, flathead cats and blue cats,” Williams said. “All in all, what started out to be an iffy day turned out to be a really good day. It was a great way to end the year.”