PHOENIX -- Eddie “Flathead Ed” Wilcoxson was fast asleep in the yellow cliffs area of Bartlett Lake when a nearly 77-pound flathead catfish began taking drag. Nearly 35 minutes later Wilcoxson would beat the heaviest recorded fish of any species in state history.
The 56-year-old Surprise resident boated the catfish at 2:37 a.m. Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) officials verified the flathead catfish at 76.52 pounds, measuring 53.5 inches in total length with a girth of 34.75 inches.
“When it came close to the boat I saw there was only one treble hook in the corner of his mouth,” Wilcoxson said, “so I backed off on the drag. If not, it would have ripped right out of his mouth.”
Bill Stewart, also of Surprise, was on the boat with Wilcoxson and together they brought the fish in the boat with the help of a heavy-duty lip grabber. According to AZGFD, the men were in 35-38 feet of water over a rock pile.
His catch tops the 74-pound flathead catfish caught in 1998 out of the Colorado River by Walter Wilson of Bard, Calif. It also beats the previous inland waters state record set by Adrian Manzanedo of Florence. Manzanedo caught a 71-pound, 10.24-ounce flathead catfish in 2003 at San Carlos Lake.
“Everybody’s got the same chance I do,” Wilcoxson said. “You just have to get out and do it.”
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Wilcoxson used an Ugly Stik fishing rod, Okuma 45D reel, 60-pound braided line, an 18-inch steel leader with a SPRO Power Swivel and a live 2-pound carp as bait.
“I sleep out on the water three to four days sometimes,” Wilcoxson said. “Sometimes during Thanksgiving I’ll spend three weeks straight out there. Also, I fished 39 weekends last year.”
According to AZGFD, Wilcoxson owns the “AZ Fishing 4 Flathead Cat” fishing guide service and he said he received his new guide license April 1.
“But I’ve been fishing Arizona my whole life,” Wilcoxson said.
“He said he’d never caught one this big, although he did land one that weighed about 65 pounds,” AZGFD said in a news release.
According to AZGFD, the 2,815-acre Bartlett Lake in Tonto National Forest holds flathead catfish, largemouth bass, sunfish, crappie, channel catfish, carp, and crayfish.
Bartlett Lake also produced the state record carp caught in 1987 by Jonathan Gardner of Phoenix, AZGFD said.
A USFS Tonto Pass is required to access Bartlett Lake.