When Chris David set out for a fishing trip on the morning of June 5, he didn’t expect to reel in one of the biggest catfish ever caught in Tennessee, but he was prepared just in case.

Knowing that David and his fishing buddies had lost a few big ones over the years, his uncle, retired game warden John David, had given him an extra-large, custom-made net that would haul in just about any size fish.

He had the net in the boat June 5 and it came in handy.


David pulled in an 80-pound flathead catfish, thanks in no small part to that net. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the largest flathead ever caught in Tennessee weighed 85 pounds and came out of the Hiwassee River in 1993.

How quickly did he know he might have a record-size fish?

“Right off the bat,” said David, a 2001 Covington High graduate. “We’ve caught some big ones. I’ve been running trot lines with my dad, my uncle and buddies all my life. I was honestly surprised we were even able to get it in the boat. Usually you catch a big one like that and you’re not prepared. We had a big one get away a couple of years ago because the net wasn’t big enough … It all worked out.”

David and his nephew, Brennan Forbess, secured the netted-fish in the water, retrieved a scale, came back, weighed it and learned it was five pounds away from the state record.

“It was so big it almost pulled the hook out of its mouth,” David said. “It was hanging in by a little piece of skin. It was a battle.”

David then had a decision to make. Keep it and maybe display it on a wall for all is friends to see, or release it.

If you know David you would not be surprised he decided to release it back into the Hatchie. Pictures were taken of the fish, of course, but he didn’t want to put it on social media, though some people around him did.

“I’m not a spotlight kind of guy,” said David. “I wanted to just put up a picture of Brennan with it.”

He believes it was a pregnant female, which also compelled him to let the fish go.

Brennan Forbess, left, and Chris David pose for a photo with an 80-pound catfish David pulled out of the Hatchie River earlier this month. Courtesy photo

“She probably had thousands of eggs in her,” David said. “Right now is when they spawn. That’s probably why she weighed on the heavy side.”

It took some encouraging from Tucker Ashford, his step dad, to even talk to The Leader about it, but he eventually relented.

And don’t bother asking David where his fishing spot is.

“Ehh, that’s something fishermen don’t like to talk about,” David said with a laugh when asked exactly where he caught the fish.

Nobody is certain if 80 pounds is a Tipton County record, and David isn’t saying if he was even fishing on the Tipton County portion of the Hatchie.

Nevertheless, David’s fish will go down as one of the biggest flat head catfish ever caught in this area and the biggest one he’s ever caught … so far.

“I put a tag on its dorsal fin,” David said. “If I catch it again in two or three years it might be a state record.”