Behemoth 63-pound blue catfish banked at Irvine Lake

Biggest catch since mid-summer reopening

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Whiskerfish bite ‘on fire’ Saturday; lake officials expecting to plant trout this season but no announcement just yet

SILVERADO — Many folks have been angling for it and many more have been waiting for that first truly monstrous whiskerfish to make its first appearance out of Irvine Lake ever since the watershed finally reopened to fishing on Aug. 17 for the first time in over three and a half years. But early this past Saturday morning, the inevi­table inevitably happened when Fullerton’s Phil Hildebrandt’s bonito head offering enticed the largest fish the Irvine Lake public has seen in over four years — a 63-plus-pound blue catfish going 46 inches long and 37 inches in girth, according to Daniela Gavaldon, tackle shop manager at the lake.

IRVINE BEHEMOTH — Fullerton’s Phil Hildebrandt, right, with a 63-plus-pound blue catfish landed Saturday morning on a bonito head at Santiago Flats, the biggest fish caught at the lake since it reopened to fishing after over 3½ years on Aug. 17.

There have been a number of big cats ranging from 12 to 20 pounds caught in the two-plus months since opening day at Irvine, but Hildebrandt’s monster 63 pounder nabbed from the corner of Santiago Flats Saturday morning is clearly the standout fish of the lake’s 2019 season to this point by a long shot. It definitely appears the week-long Santa Ana conditions played right into the hands of this weekend’s Irvine catfish anglers, and certainly so for Hildebrandt, with a very good showing of double-digit cats being tamed along with plenty of 2 to 8 pounders to go around.

“The catfish bite was on fire today,” said Irvine regular Rich Richardson of Saturday’s fishing. “Besides Phil’s 63-pound blue, we got 10 [catfish] in the double digits on mackerel on the west shore and other groups around us were getting ’em good too.”

ANOTHER LOOK AT Phil Hildebrandt’s 63-pound, 7-ounce blue cat, the biggest catch at Irvine Lake since it reopened to the public in mid-August.

While Hildebrandt’s monster inhaled bonito, it’s primarily been mackerel doing the majority of whiskerfish damage at Irvine, though offering up the bonito may just be a way to entice a big cat. Adding garlic scent to chunk baits has been an effective way to creel more cats as well, and the anglers going with shrimp are also finding their fair share of success. The west shore and Santiago Flats are producing best at the moment, but catches are being made all around the lake the last couple weekends, though Sunday’s bite was slower than the day prior.

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The last couple weekends have been providing a good bit of variety to Irvine anglers, Gavaldon said, with late mornings and afternoons kicking out a fair share of panfish on mealworms and medium-sized night­crawlers, while corn and dough baits are fooling some decent-sized carp for the few going a different route. Bass have been relatively quiet lately, however, with just a handful of clone-size fish being hooked on plastics.

Among the biggest and most frequently asked questions since Irvine’s reopening — likely the most prevalent this time of year as we roll into November — is that of trout stocking at the lake. Lake officials told WON over the weekend it does indeed appear that there will be deliveries of rainbows to Irvine in the foreseeable future this season and there have been plenty of discussions about the subject, but as of press time, there haven’t been any firm dates pinned down just yet. An announcement of future trout plants at Irvine is likely to come down the pike here in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner, so stay tuned…

CATS ON PARADE — Rich Richardson of Long Beach with one of many quality catfish caught by him and his buddies this past Saturday on mackerel soaked along the west shoreline of Irvine Lake.
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