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May 24, 2004
This Big Fish Story Is For Real
ATHENS, Texas — Call something a "big fish story" and everyone knows immediately it’s a tall tale.
Not in this case.
"Splash," the new world-record blue catfish (who weighed in at 121.5 pounds upon being caught) now resides at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.
On Jan. 16, 2004, dedicated big blue catfish angler Cody Mullennix of Howe was fishing alone from the bank of the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Texoma. Mullennix loves and respects big fish, and when he caught a 56-pounder, he released it and continued fishing.
That’s when the big fish now known as Splash took the bait, a three-inch shad. After a half-hour battle using a 14-foot surf rod spooled with 20-pound line, Mullennix wrestled the big fish onto a shallow ledge. He knew immediately the fish was not only his biggest catch ever but something special as well.
"There was something about it that grabbed hold of me," Mullennix said. "I gave it everything I could to get it over the ledge. I kept it out there in 10-12 inches of water and kept pouring water over it. I was too scared to put it on a stringer, or back out in deeper water."
Mullennix called a friend on his cell phone and asked him to bring a 100-pound-capacity scale. The fish bottomed it out, and Mullennix realized he probably had a new state record, so they loaded the fish into a pickup truck and took it to a bait shop that had a certified scale. The big blue weighed in at 121.5 pounds, not just a new state record but a new world record as well. (After reviewing x-rays of the fish to be sure it held no foreign objects, the International Game Fish Association certified Splash in May as the new world record blue catfish).
Word had spread quickly as the fish was being held in a minnow tank at the store, and a local game warden came by and suggested that Mullennix donate the fish to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. One phone call later, Lisa Griggs from TFFC was headed north with a fish-hauling truck, and a few hours later, the fish that was soon to be known as Splash had a new home.
After being held in an isolation tank for a few weeks, Splash was put on public display during a press conference attended by Mullennix, his family and friends, members of the press and many of her new fans. The 26,000-gallon aquarium where she now lives holds a number of fish of various species, but there’s no doubt that Splash is the "Big Fish" in this tank.
That fact is never more obvious than during the daily dive show, when a diver goes into the tank and hand-feeds the fish. Splash eats when she wants to, delicately taking a frozen smelt from the diver’s hand. When Splash approaches the diver, other fish make themselves scarce.
In the three months Splash has been in the tank, she has progressed from being a recluse hiding out in the back of the tank to a "curious cat" that likes to cruise close to the glass and check out visitors who’ve come to see her. She will actually swim up to the glass and look you in the eye. When a Fort Worth newspaper reporter visited recently, Splash appeared to belly up to the glass for an interview.
The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center is an innovative aquatic nature center and hatchery complex operated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and is located 75 miles SE of Dallas on FM 2495 four miles east of Athens. Attractions include 300,000 gallons of aquariums, daily dive show and on-site fishing. Hours are Tues.-Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m.. Rates are: adults, $5.50, seniors $4.50, and children 4-12 are admitted for $3.50. For more information go on-line (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/) and click on fishing or call the Center at (903) 676-2277.
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