Richard Hagen couldn’t find Brutus a home, so he drove back to the Missouri River with the 89-pound flathead catfish swimming in an old deep freezer in the back of his pickup.
He returned it to the water two days after fighting nearly 45 minutes to land what will be a state record fish.
“He got me wet when he took off,’’ Hagen said. “I said goodbye and lead a happy life.’’
It was the best ending anyone could have hoped for, says Daryl Bauer, the fisheries outreach program manager for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
He’s still waiting to receive the paperwork, so he can certify it as the official record. It tops an 80-pounder taken out of the Loup Power Canal by Willam Swanson on June 14, 1988.
“That fuels everyone’s imagination,’’ Bauer said of the fish’s release. “There’s a state record flathead catfish swimming around in there.’’
Game and Parks officials think it will be a long time before the record is broken again.
Hagen caught the monster he named Brutus along the river near Brownville. He was fishing overnight Saturday with his brother, Darin.
His first fish was an 11-pound channel catfish; then he hooked Brutus using a bluegill for bait with a Meathunter rod and a Penn Fierce 3 bait-running spinning reel. He had Whisker Seeker 50-pound monofilament line.
They didn’t weigh it until they were done fishing the next morning — 88 pounds on the family’s farm scale. That’s when he realized it could be the state record, something he never thought possible although he’s been fishing for catfish along the river most of his life.
He was able to find a certified scale that was big enough for an official weigh-in at the Highway 50 Smokehouse in Tecumseh. Brutus was 53.5 inches long with a girth of 37.5 inches.
“That’s the biggest freshwater fish I’ve ever seen up close,’’ conservation officer Matt Seitz said. “It was an amazing fish.’’
Hagen made some calls after it was weighed, hoping to find it a home. But the tanks at Schramm Education Center can’t accommodate a fish that size, and he couldn’t get any of the big sporting goods stores to bite.
“I wanted to find a place to put him in an aquarium where people could enjoy seeing him, or I was going to turn him loose back where he came from,’’ Hagen said.
The 61-year-old’s phone has been blowing up since news of the state record has spread. Some callers didn’t believe the fish was still alive when Hagen returned it to the water.
Aerators added to the freezer of water did the trick. Even after an exhausting weekend, Hagen checked on Brutus throughout the night Sunday at his home in Swanton to make sure he’d make it.
“I did my best to try to find a home for him,’’ Hagen said. “I think he’s in a better place.’’
Bauer said there’s some big cats in the river, and he’s been expecting a blue catfish over 100 pounds for a while. Then his phone started ringing about the flathead.
“That record could go higher, but it’s going to take a really really exceptional fish to beat that,’’ he said.
Seitz agreed. Hagen didn’t just beat the state record, he crushed it, and like Bauer he said he expects it to be a long time before the record is broken again.
Then he changed his mind.
“But you never know, it could happen tomorrow,’’ Seitz said. “That’s why people fish. You never know what you are going to catch.’’