By Blake Warren
CHULA VISTA — Just on the precipice of the annual bass spawn, it was a massive blue catfish making headlines early last week as a hulking 105.9-pound whiskerfish was tamed by Dr. Ryan Hulbert of La Mesa, who tied into the triple-digit cat while soaking an undisclosed Asian market-bought bait in open water at Otay Reservoir. After getting the weight on the lake’s official scale, Hulbert etched his name in Otay’s record books with the new high-water mark for blue cats at the lake.
“I knew it was big but it wasn’t fighting too hard at first,” Hulbert told WON. “But as soon as I got it to the boat, it went on a 60- or 70-yard run. Then back again to the boat and he went on another good run. It was the longest 5 to 7 minutes of my life.” Hulbert was fishing 60-pound braid to a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader, his usual go-to set-up for targeting trophy whiskerfish. The monster fish was safely released after being weighed.
Hulbert has been in the trophy cat hunting game for 10 to 12 years now after a solid run of primarily throwing big swimbaits for largemouth with a pair of 13s and a 14.95-pound personal best bass to his credit. He became intrigued with trying to figure out the habits and behaviors of SoCal’s biggest freshwater predators, then applying that knowledge and translating it to big time catches.
“They’re super predators,” Hulbert said. “Trophy catfish are kind of lost on a lot of people these days. I like to say it’s ‘problem solving.’ What I’m really looking for is your bigger schools of bait fish and temp breaks. A lot of times those big ones will be right below the bait.” He said his prime season for targeting these behemoths is generally October through April. “The crappier weather the better.”
The previous blue cat record at Otay was caught in late October, 2016 by bass angler Noy Vilaysane while fishing a team tournament with a 4-inch swimbait on 8-pound test, which registered at 102.9 pounds on the lake’s official scale. Though the two huge fish looked awfully similar in comparison at first glance, Hulbert was convinced the new record cat was a different one.
“It looked like a younger fish,” he said. “This one had different markings, two large dimples. You can almost always identify these huge ones by some kind of markings.”
The California state blue catfish record currently stands at 113.4 pounds, a fish that was nabbed at nearby San Vicente Reservoir in 2008. “Just 8 pounds shy,” Hulbert said of just missing the state record, though not by much. “A year too early for that fish, I guess. In talking with fisheries biologists, these huge ones generally put on around 5 to 10 pounds a year depending on the health of the lake.”
The current world record blue cat sits at a lofty 143 pounds, a 2011 catch at Buggs Island Lake in Virginia.