ST. STEPHEN — Mark Bollenberg doesn't like fishing on the weekends because too many curious fishermen could be keeping an eye on him. And with good reason.
Last week, Bobby Jackson, a friend from church, was worn out after catching a pair of 70-pound Arkansas blue catfish from the Tailrace Canal near Moncks Corner.
So when the rod bowed over with another catfish just about dusk, Jackson declined the offer. Bollenberg picked up the rod, set the hook and began reeling. About 20 minutes later, a monster Arkansas blue surfaced and had the 22-year-old Bollenberg thinking of a possible state or world record.
At 108.9 pounds, the fish didn't quite make the record book, but there's a chance it eventually could reach record size. Bollenberg kept the fish alive and is donating it to Bass Pro Shops, which is expected to transport the fish today to its store in Concord, N.C., where it will join other freshwater species in a 22,000-gallon aquarium.
"Bass Pro Shops lets you donate fish and they will give you a replica of your catch. It's pretty cool what they do. I've caught enough fish to eat, caught enough fish to show off. I'd rather have it go in a tank. It'll be a lot nicer to be able to go see it, have my (9 1/2-month-old) son see it in the future," Bollenberg said.
A few weeks earlier, Bollenberg landed a 95-pound Arkansas blue he tried to keep alive for a donation, but the fish didn't make it after being deposited in an outdoor tank in his hometown of Bonneau Beach.
This time, however, he called a friend, Bryan Grooms, a fisheries technician for the Department of Natural Resources. They had room in an outdoor tank normally used for spawning striped bass, and that's where the big catfish has been living for the last week.
"They have a lot clearer water and cleaner tanks. They've done an awesome job of things that need to be done. DNR has been a big help," said Bollenberg, who kept the fish alive by putting it into a 150-quart cooler filled with water.
Bollenberg said he has not gotten a girth measurement on the big fish, but it measured 59 inches long, one inch more than the 124-pound world record caught in May 2005 on the Mississippi River. South Carolina's state record, a 109-pound, 4-ounce catch made in 1991 by George Lijewski on the Tailrace Canal, measured 55 inches long.
Scott Lamprecht, a DNR fisheries biologist, said a small number of Arkansas blues were stocked in the Santee Cooper lakes in 1964 and 1965. Since then, the fish have flourished in the lakes and surrounding rivers. Lamprecht said he has scientifically aged large catfish and that Bollenberg's catch could be anywhere from 17 to 30 years old.
While Lijewski's catch has stood as the record for almost two decades, Lamprecht said there have been several fish in the 90-pound range and topping 100 pounds that have been caught in recent years, offering hope that another state record is a possibility.
Bollenberg said that when he got the fish to the Jack D. Bayless Fish Hatchery in St. Stephen, they devised a method using a large landing net to weigh it without causing injury.
"The first time it weighed 114 pounds. We weighed it again and it was 110. The third time we got 108.9, then we zeroed out the scale and got 108.9 again. So we left it at that," Bollenberg said. A different set of scales offered a different weight, so Bollenberg said the first set of scales will be certified before an official weight is issued.