Etowah River Produces 38-Pound Record Flathead Catfish

GON Staff | May 21, 2022

An angler’s first fishing trip on the Etowah River produced a river record—a 38-lb., 0.8-oz. flathead catfish. 

“I guess you could call it beginner’s luck for me,” said John Morgado, of Canton, “but my friend Hugh Stephens fishes the river a lot, and he said he likes taking friends out. I usually go fly fishing in the mountains. This was my first trip on the Etowah, and we were fishing for bass and stripers.

Hugh Stephens (left) and John Morgado with John’s new Etowah River record flathead catfish that weighed 38-lbs., 0.8-ozs. The fish hit a live gizzard shad on May 17, 2022.

John and Hugh were on the Etowah near Rome on May 17. Using live gizzard shad caught in a cast net, the striped bass—which Hugh had caught several of the day before—weren’t cooperating, although they caught several spotted bass. Hugh also caught a 23-lb. catfish that he released.

The action heated up around noon when a fish took one of the gizzards.

“The thing hit and pulled… and it pulled,” John said. “We ended up fighting it for 20 minutes. It seemed like we wore him out, but every time my partner stuck the net in water, he didn’t like that, and he’d take off again. Thought we had him, no we didn’t. Thought we had him, no we didn’t. Finally got him tired and next to boat, and Hugh scooped it from behind with the net, but it was too heavy to get it lifted into the boat. I had to put my rod down, and we both grabbed the sides of net and lifted it in.

“Like I said, Hugh fishes the river a lot. He was very aware of the river record on the Etowah because he threw back a river record in 2018. Tuns out history would itself… but first, the story of this fish. We got the bait out of the second livewell and put the fish in it. He barely fit. Then I start calling the Fish & Game people about where we could take it to get it weighed. Meantime, Hugh is reeling in spotted bass after spotted bass. He caught four while I was on the phone.”

John and Hugh trailered the boat and headed to the WRD Fisheries office in Calhoun. Biologist Jim Hakala verified the species as a flathead and got a certified-scale weight of 38.05 pounds, which converts to 38-lbs., 0.8-ozs. The pair then went to a boat ramp and released the catfish.

“I thought I was going to have to resuscitate it, but when we put it in the water, that thing looked at me and it was gone in the river,” John said.

The Etowah River record flathead is still swimming—it was released alive after being certified.

About that earlier 23-lb. catfish Hugh caught, and about history repeating itself…

Later going through pictures, we realized his was a blue cat — it would have set a river record. We wouldn’t have had room for both fish in livewell, so I don’t know what we would have done,” John said.

The current Etowah River record for blue catfish is 20-lbs., 2-ozs. caught by Darren Sexton in 2016.

Hugh Stephens with the blue catfish caught and released during the May 17 trip. The fish weighed 23 pounds on digital scales—the river record is 20 pounds.

John’s 38-lb., 0.8-oz. flathead catfish tops the previous Etowah River record that was set in 2018 when Brittany Raper caught a 29 1/2-lb. flathead.


Etowah River Record Fish

Largemouth Bass7-lbs., 7.68-ozs.Eric Black01/27/2016
Flathead Catfish38-lbs., 0.8-ozs.John Morgado05/17/2022
Blue Catfish50-lbs.Seth Shoults04/21/23
Striped Bass38-lbs.Keith Cole05/1994
Yellow Perch1-lb., 10.2-ozs.Eric Black01/14/2015
Longnose Gar19-lbs., 4.64-ozs.Kyle Williams08/08/2018
Spotted Bass4-lbs., 0.5-ozs.Jackson Sibley03/21/2022
Rainbow Trout2-lbs.Todd West10/01/2020
Channel Catfish7-lbs.Seth Shoults04/21/23

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