Michael Pearce

Two-year-old hooks giant catfish, but it took three generations to get it in

For more than 25 years Wayne Simien Jr., and his dad, Wayne Sr., have battled for bragging rights for the title of best fisherman in the family. But Saturday evening Emmaus Simien snatched the crown from both when he hooked a giant catfish of about 50 pounds.

Emmaus, by the way, is two years old. That’s old enough to be an avid angler in his family.

Wayne Jr., former University of Kansas basketball All-American, competed in fishing tournaments before his first basketball game. Even through dozens of athletic accolades he always said his best days were fishing with his dad.

The fishing tradition is being passed down to Wayne Jr.’s five children, ages 8 to 2. He and his father have loaded them all up to setlines for catfish at Clinton Reservoir, not far from where Wayne Jr., and his wife, Katie, live in Lawrence. Saturday evening the family,met up at a large private pond near Oskaloosa, about 20 miles north of Lawrence.

“We like to go up there because we’ve always had some pretty fast action, fishing for bluegill and small bass,” said Wayne Jr. “The kids almost always have a great. This time we got an extra-special treat.”

The kids were fast into some pretty good action and Wayne Jr. was supervising young Emmaus. No, he was not using some tiny Snoopy rod and reel.

“Oh heck no, we’re way past that (cartoon character) rod stage. He was using a six-foot spinning rod,” Wayne Jr. said, jokingly. “I mean, he is two now.”

Though the tike can cast Wayne Jr. cast his line Saturday to avoid tangling with his siblings. The boy’s bobber went underwater in less than a minute. Emmaus set the hook fine, Wayne Jr. said, but struggled battling the fish so the rod was handed to his brother, Simon. When the six-year-old, already a veteran of hundreds of fish, struggled to hold the rod, Wayne Jr. got involved.

But make no mistake, “...the fish hit Emmaus’ line, and he set the hook on it with his fishing pole,” said Wayne Jr., “that means it’s his fish.”

Knowing the reel was spooled with just six-pound-test line and a tiny hook, Wayne Jr. took his time battling the fish. At first he thought it might be a channel cat of 12 to 15 pounds. When he saw a tail, “the size of boat oar” come out of the water he knew the fish was larger and a flathead, the largest species of fish in Kansas.

The first time the fish rolled on the surface, and all five kids got a look at it, all were focused on what they dubbed, “a sea creature.”

The fight had gone on for an estimated 40 minutes when Wayne Sr. decided to wade out into about two feet of water. With no net, he had to grab the big fish with his bare hands.

“It took us four tries to get it in close enough, on that fourth try he was able to get a hold of the fish’s bottom jaw,” said Wayne Jr. “That was just before the line broke.” Between the pond’s mucky bottom and the size of the fish, Wayne Jr. had to go down the bank and help his father get the fish ashore. One set of scales later weighed it at 46 pounds and another at 53. They’re calling the fish 50 pounds, even.

“When we pulled it up on shore, and the kids saw it, you probably could have heard their screams and cheers all the way back to Lawrence,” Wayne Jr. said, adding they kept the fish. “The landowner didn’t want it in there (eating bass and crappie) and there was no way the kids were going to let us release that fish.”

Back at home most of the kids scattered as Wayne Jr. and his father started the work of turning the fish into bags of tasty fillets But little Emmaus, who weighs less than half of that catfish, wasn’t done with what he called, “his monster fish.”

“He went in and got a little butter knife and started helping,” said Wayne Jr. “Every time we’re cleaning fish he’s out there helping through the entire thing.”