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Yellow Perch

The Story Behind the Alabama State Record Yellow Perch

by Paul Stackhouse

When Matt Patterson put his small 14-foot jon-boat into a creek near Wheeler Wildlife Refuge for a day of fishing this week, his hopes for a great catch were not very high. And, as it turned out, he caught only one fish.

What a fish it was.

Patterson, of Decatur, was joined by friends Steve and Stewart Wakefield. The three-some started casting and right away a dink largemouth bass hit Patterson's Sassy Shad spinner. The bass jumped and threw the hook -- much to Patterson's relief.

"It's unlucky to catch a fish on your first cast," Patterson says. "I'm glad he got away."

Patterson didn't feel the same about the next strike he would get. Feeling the bite, he set the hook and immediately could tell it wasn't a trophy-sized fish but it was pulling fairly hard.

Expecting to see another largemouth bass leap from the water, Patterson and friends received somewhat of a surprise. The fish had orange pectoral fins.

"Steve and Stewart had this wierd look on their face while yelling about what I had caught," Patterson said. "At first, Stewart yelled smallmouth. They didn't know what it was but I sure did. I had caught these before while fishing on Lake Erie."

Patterson knew right away that he had landed a yellow perch. He also knew that yellow perch are not known to get very big in the southern states.

Taking the yellow perch home, Patterson put his catch into a bucket of water and went on about his business. Later, it dawned on him to do a little investigating about the catch. He sensed he may have caught a state record.

Patterson transferred the perch to his refrigerator and gave me a call. Knowing I keep up with state, national and internationally records, a slight amount of excitement could be detected in his voice.

"Stack, I think I may have caught a state record yellow perch," Patterson said. "I going to weigh it on some certified scales and wanted to see if you could join me."

I agreed to witness the weigh-in at a local business that had certified meat scales. The meter read 1 pound, 15 ounces. I then announced the current Alabama record, according to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, for yellow perch was 1 pound, 11 ounces caught on Lake Guntersville in 1983 by Jim Earnest.

The excitement grew as Patterson asked me what he needed to do to file for a record. I advised him of a few things he needed to do and gave him a paper to read.

The next day, Patterson took the fish to Harris Station where Alabama fisheries biologist Keith Floyd confirmed the species. It was a yellow perch.

The perch was caught on a Quantum baitcasting reel attached to a All-Star rod. Patterson was using 12-pound test line.

"This is all very exciting for me," Patterson said. "Last year, I went to this same spot and didn't catch much. I almost didn't return to the spot, then said 'what-the-heck' and launched the boat anyway.

"When we arrived at the spot I was somewhat disappointed. I didn't see any surface action and as a matter of fact, didn't see a single minnow swimming around. We started casting anyway and 'wow, look what happened."

Patterson and company were fishing a narrow creek lined with button bushes. He thought quickly about putting the fish on a stringer but was afraid it might get tangled in the button bushes.

The yellow perch was put into a bucket of water and carefully monitored. Patterson had a hunch there was something special about his catch.

"Everything is on hold right now," Patterson said. "Besides a state record, I might even have a 12-pound line class national record. I'm also going to talk to the IFGA about a possible international line class record. It will probably be a couple of weeks before I hear anything. I'll just have to be patient."

The weather conditions were rough the day the fish was caught as winds were blowing over 20 miles per hour.

"The winds were really whipping that day and now my friends are giving me a rough time. They know I'm a little bit nervous about this thing."

"They started yelling -- 'I can see the headlines now. Not even hurricane force winds can keep Matt Patterson from catching a record fish."

Wheeler Lake is home to a former all-tackle world record catch. William P. McKinley caught a 111-pound blue catfish on July 7, 1996 that hit the record books.

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