Eddie “Flathead Ed” Wilcoxson was asleep on the fold-out cot of his 24-foot pontoon boat on Friday, April 12, when what would become a state record flathead catfish began taking drag at Bartlett Lake.
About 35 minutes later, at 2:37 a.m., Wilcoxson, 56, boated what Arizona Game and Fish Department officials verified is a 76.52-pound flathead catfish. It measured 53.5 inches in total length with a 34.75-inch girth.
It also became the heaviest recorded fish of any species in state history, topping the 74-pound flathead catfish caught in 1988 out of the Colorado River by Walter Wilson of Bard, Calif.
In addition, Wilcoxson’s flathead beat the previous inland waters state record held by Adrian Manzanedo of Florence, who in 2003 caught a 71-pound, 10.24-ounce flathead at San Carlos Lake.
“Everybody’s got the same chance I do,” Wilcoxson said. “You just have to get out and do it.”
Wilcoxson, of Surprise, was in the yellow cliffs area of Bartlett fishing in 35-38 feet of water over a rock pile. He caught the flathead using an Ugly Stik fishing rod, Okuma 45D reel, 60-pound braided line, an 18-inch steel leader with a SPRO Power Swivel and, as bait, a live 2-pound carp.
“I sleep out on the water 3-4 days sometimes,” Wilcoxson said. “Sometimes during Thanksgiving I’ll spend three weeks straight out there. Also, I fished 39 weekends last year.”
Bill Stewart, also of Surprise, was on the boat as well.
Wilcoxson owns the “AZ Fishing 4 Flathead Cat” fishing guide service. He said he received his new guide license April 1. “But I’ve been fishing Arizona my whole life,” he said.
He said he’d never caught one this big, although he did land one that weighed about 65 pounds.
“When it came close to the boat, I saw there was only one treble hook in the corner of his mouth,” Wilcoxson said, “so I backed off on the drag. If not, it would have ripped right out of his mouth.”
Wilcoxson said he and Stewart brought the behemoth in the boat with the help of a heavy-duty lip grabber.
In addition to flathead catfish, the 2,015-acre Bartlett Lake, located in the Tonto National Forest northwest of Phoenix, holds largemouth bass, sunfish, crappie, channel catfish, carp and crayfish.
Bartlett Lake also produced the state record carp that weighed 37 pounds, measured 40 inches, and was caught in 1987 by Jonathan Gardner of Phoenix.
A USFS Tonto Pass is required to access Bartlett Lake.