Oconee River Blue Cat Record Broken By 7 Pounds

From the worst day to the very best, Eli Carey earned this new river record.

Mike Bolton | June 9, 2024

Eli Carey with the new Oconee River record blue catfish.

It would probably go down as one of the worst days of Eli Carey’s life if not for one thing. That one thing made it all worthwhile.

“I had a rough day,” the Lyons resident said. “I had the day off and decided to go fishing on Oconee River, which is about an hour and 15 minutes from my house. I grew up fishing there.

“As I was backing my boat into the water, the wheel fell off on my trailer. I’m talking about the tire, the wheel, and the spindle—everything.

“The boat was in the water, so I just drug the trailer out and off to the side.”

Eli called a buddy and told him of the predicament. The buddy said he’d make the long trip to see what he could do to help.

“I decided I might as well go out fishing for catfish until my buddy go there,” the semi driver said. “I caught about six or seven decent fish from about 8 to 15 pounds. When my buddy got there, I came back in to see if we could figure out what my options were.”

A closer look at the boat trailer axle revealed that it was beyond repair. The pair tracked down one that might work at a Tractor Supply store, but it was more than an hour away. They took off, purchased a new axle, and made the one-hour return trip to the boat ramp.

“When we got back to the ramp, we spent the next four hours taking the old axle off and putting the new one on,” Eli said.

“My buddy had a date that night, so he left. I decided to go back out and catch two or three more. I wanted to catch a total of 10 fish, and I already had the six or seven.

“I had been anchored down in this one spot for about 45 minutes when my mother called on the cell phone. She wanted to know if I was still on the water. We were talking and all-of-a-sudden, my rod bent, and a fish started taking out drag. I threw my cell phone down on the bottom of the boat with my mom still on the speaker phone. I tried to slow the fish down, and I couldn’t. It kept tearing out drag. I knew it was a big fish.

“I’m afraid my mother overheard me say some things a mother shouldn’t hear a son say.”

It was a battle like Eli had never fought before. The Oconee River record had stood at 42-plus pounds, and Eli’s longtime goal had been to break that record. This may be it, he thought to himself. The fish fought him a full 15 minutes. When Eli finally got the big blue cat in the net, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“I was worn out after fighting him,” he said. “That fish put a whooping on me. I was so tired I couldn’t lift him into the boat at first. I finally got him over the side and got my electronic scales out. I knew it was my biggest fish ever. I suspended him on the scale, and he was bouncing around, so it showed he was between 47 and 61 pounds. Then the low battery indicator light came on the scale, and it went dead.”

Eli had a new predicament. He knew that for the fish to be a record, it had to be weighed on certified scales. He had no livewell in his boat to keep it alive and it was getting into Saturday night.

“I was pretty positive it was going to be the Oconee River record, but I wanted to release the fish alive,” he said. “I think trophy fish need to be released alive so it can provide fish for kids to catch in the future.

“I had a 700-gallon bait tank, but it was back home. I called my wife, Denise, and asked if she could bring the bait tank to Milledgeville where I was. She said she would. I cut a hole in the fish’s lower lip and ran a rope through it. I put him back into the water and sat there and watched him for an hour-and-a-half until my wife got there. I was so afraid an alligator might get him.”

After getting the fish back home, Eli could see the big blue was doing well, but he had a new problem. The next day was Sunday, and he had to work on Monday. He had to find some certified scales on a Sunday.

“I called some friends, and they suggested some places like meat markets, but their scales only went up to 20 or 30 pounds,” he said. “One friend said he was kin to a DNR officer. I called the officer, and he said I could weigh the fish on certified scales at the Fishery Hatchery Office, but they wouldn’t be open until Monday.

“I told him it was a trophy fish and about my situation. He said, okay, but I would have to come to the hatchery in Waycross right then, and he’d meet me there. Waycross is two hours away from where I live. My wife and I took off there.”

On certified scales, Eli’s big blue weighed 50-lbs., 6.4-ozs., shattering the previous Oconee River record by more than 7 pounds.

“The DNR man’s name is Don Harrison, and he was the nicest man in the world,” Eli said. “I told him I planned to break the record again one day. He gave me his cell number and said for me to call him when I do.

“My wife and I headed back to the Oconee River and released the fish at the Mountain Vernon Bridge where I grew up fishing. I released the fish 18 hours after I caught it. There were a lot of miles driven by people to make it happen. The whole deal was pretty special.”

GON’s Official Oconee River Record Fish

Largemouth Bass10-lbs., 3.2-ozs.Tracey Jackson03/26/17
Channel Catfish32-lbs., 6-ozs.Rick Leitheiser04/07/96
Flathead Catfish62-lbs.Brian Estes06/13/99
Striped Bass63-lbs.*Kelly Ward05/30/67
Black Crappie1-lb., 9-ozs.Duke Campbell Jr.04/01/06
Bluegill1-lb., 8-ozs.Duke Campbell Jr.03/31/15
Shellcracker1-lb., 13-ozs.Ben Bell05/29/22
Blue Catfish50-lbs., 6.4-ozs.Eli Carey04/06/24
Bowfin7-lbs., 6.016-ozs.Benjamin Hammock07/24/23

Catch A Lake or River Record? Requirements For Record Fish

• Fish must be caught legally by rod and reel in a manner consistent with WRD fish regulations.

• Catch must be weighed on accurate Georgia DOA certified scales with at least two witnesses present.

• Witnesses to the weighing must be at least 18 years old, and they must not be members of the angler’s immediate family nor have a close personal relationship with the angler.

• Catch must be positively identified by qualified DNR personnel. GON can correspond with DNR when high-quality, multiple photos are taken of the fish and emailed to GON. All record submissions and photos must be sent to [email protected].

GON’s records are compiled and maintained by GON, to be awarded at GON’s discretion. Additional steps may be required for record consideration.

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