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How Micka Burkhart Broke the State Blue Catfish Record Twice

How Micka Burkhart Broke the State Blue Catfish Record Twice

Posted 2023-08-07  by  Capt. Richard Simms

The angler set a Tennessee state record with a 118.7-pound catfish in 2022, and then broke it again in 2023 with a 122.3-pound cat. Did he catch the same fish twice?

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Micka Burkhart was fishing by himself when he caught his latest state record catfish. He admitted that he was wishing he had help, becoming physically and mentally exhausted before he was finally able to get the beast in the net. Image courtesy of Micka Burkhart

Micka Burkhart set the catfish world abuzz in September of 2022, when he caught a blue catfish big enough to dethrone the Tennessee state record — a record that had stood for nearly 25 years. That fish weighed 118.7 pounds, and definitely created 15 minutes of fame for Burkhart. But that 15 minutes increased logarithmically when Burkhart broke his own state record again just nine months later, on June 28, 2023. That blue cat weighed 122.3 pounds, and the news of it went viral once it hit social media.


There is no way to prove it, but Burkhart said it is certainly possible that his latest record catch was the same he caught in 2022. "It's definitely a possibility it's the same fish,” he said. “Of course, I can't say for sure, but if it is the same fish, it's even more exciting because it proves more than ever that CPR (Catch, Photograph and Release) works."

Burkhart routinely fishes the Cumberland River, not far from his home in Big Rock, Tenn. In 2022 he went to great effort to get his catch weighed on certified scales, but then released the fish back into the Cumberland River.

"I almost didn't get him certified because I didn't want that fish to die," said Burkhart. "I wanted to do everything in our power to release it. The video posted (in September 2022) was only about two minutes long but we actually stayed in the water with that fish for nearly 30 minutes. People actually stopped launching their boats while we stayed with it there on the boat ramp."

Burkhart released the 2022 record about five miles from where he caught it, but he believes it is certainly possible the fish returned to its original haunts. The extra CPR effort may have paid dividends.


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Just as he did with the previous state record blue catfish caught in 2022, Burkhart safely released the latest 122-pound state record cat back into the Cumberland River. He believes there is a possibility this fish is the same fish he caught and released nine months before. Image courtesy of Micka Burkhart


Burkhart said he hooked his latest state record blue cat within 100 yards of where he caught last year's record fish.

Burkhart said he hit the water about 8 that morning and immediately set to work catching his favorite summertime catfish bait – white bass. He said the bite was slow and it took a little while to get fresh bait, but once he did, he headed directly to his favorite area near Cross Creek.

"We're in the post-spawn period and it's time for the big ones to start feeding up," he said.

Indeed, before the new record fish hit around noon, Burkhart said he caught two other trophy blues that weighed 72 and 69 pounds.

Burkhart was dragging cut white bass under planer boards and on long lines. He said when the huge fish hit, the strike was violent.

"It didn't spool me, but it pulled lots of drag," Burkhart said. "Just like last time, I probably fought it for at least 45 or 50 minutes. I got the fish to the boat at least six times and then it would take off for the bottom again."

Burkhart was fishing by himself, and he isn't a big man.

“When I saw the fish the first time, there was no doubt it was as big, or bigger, than the other (record) fish,” he said. “I was shaking, I was nervous — very few people get to ever catch a record fish, much less break a state record twice.”

If he had help, Burkhart could have landed the fish much sooner. But trying to land a 122-pound fish solo requires extreme patience, some finesse, and lots of endurance. Burkhart was huffing and puffing, partly from exertion and partly from excitement.

“I don’t know what to do,” Burkhart said. “I gotta get him because I know this isn’t good for him.”

Burkhart finally threw his rod down and managed to wrestle the beast into the net. With glee, and some surprise, said, “I got him! I got him!”

You can watch Burkhart’s epic battle here.


Burkhart’s boat has a large livewell and though the fish barely fit inside, he was able to keep the pump and fresh water cycling continuously as he went to have the fish weighed. Last September, when Burkhart caught the first catfish, it took him a long time to figure out a place nearby with a certified scale, where he could get his huge catch weighed. This time, however, he knew exactly what to do and was immediately on his cell phone with the folks at Who Dat Processing.

"I had everyone's phone number saved, so yea, this time I knew exactly what to do," he said.

TWRA Biologist Michael Clark was on hand to witness and certify the species. The newest state record blue catfish was 57.5 inches long with a 42.25-inch girth. After certifying the weight, Burkhart immediately headed back to the Cumberland River with friends to once-again safely release the new record. The question now that it has been released, will someone else manage to catch the beast again and potentially break the state record again?

It is likely many trophy catfish are caught multiple times. It is not unusual to catch fish that still have hooks in their mouth broken off from other fishermen. You can see one example of that here.

Burkhart said the most recent huge fish had some similar markings to the one he caught last fall, but there was nothing definitive enough to say for sure it was the same fish. Lots of people know where Burkhart fishes, and the exact area where he caught these huge cats, especially those in the Cumberland River catfishing network. But Burkhart said some people stay out of the area as a courtesy.

"Yea, some people won't fish it out of respect for me," he said. "Sometimes, if they do fish it, they'll ask me first. I tell them, 'Hey, it's a public river. Good luck.’"

He added, however, that he knows some fishermen avoid the area because it has a large number of underwater snags and structure. "You'll lose a lot of tackle fishing there," he said. "That's one reason I make a lot of my own. Even when you lose gear you can’t be scared to fish. You’ve got to fish where the fish are.”

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Micka Burkhart is dwarfed by the new Tennessee State Record Blue Catfish. The huge catfish weighed in at 122.3 pounds on certified scales at Who Dat Processing. Image courtesy of Micka Burkhart


Burkhart fishes with tackle from Mad Katz. Following his previous state record catch the company created a "Micka Burkhart Signature Series" rod in his honor. The company recently sold out of that series. He said they'll be doing it again, this time creating a "2.0" version of his rod.

The record fish didn't hit on one of his signature rod, though. "I had some of my rods out," Burkhart said, "but he hit on a Mad Kat Finz rod.

As for his other gear, Burkhart said he was using a Penn Squall reel loaded with 40-pound-test main line, with a 60-pound test hook leader and a Mad Katz Kat Snatcher hook, all under homemade planer boards.


Burkhart served as a mechanic in the Army and National Guard with deployments in Bosnia, Kuwait, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other hotspots around the globe until he was declared disabled. "Like many, I came home with PTSD and lots of other issues," he said.

Yet he continues working as a civilian military contractor, traveling across the country on jobs. But he says when he is home, "I'm usually on the water at least once a week, and more if I can get the time off work."

Burkhart obviously would not mind executing a "three-peat" – breaking the blue catfish state record a third time. However, his biggest goal now is to catch a new Tennessee state-record flathead catfish. The current record is 85 pounds, 15 ounces. Burkhart’s personal best weighed 76 pounds. "We catch a lot of flatheads on the Cumberland so now I've a new goal," he said with a smile. Whether he is chasing a bigger blue cat or a flathead, rest assured you will continue to see Micka Burkhart on the river chasing the dream.

Capt. Richard Simms is the Editor of CrappieNOW magazine as well as owner of Scenic City Fishing Charters. Formerly he was a game warden for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency before becoming a photographer and PR guy for TWRA. That lead to a 30-year career as a broadcast journalist and freelance outdoor writer. Check out his book, "An Outdoor State of Mind."


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