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Florissant man catches record-setting catfish in Missouri River

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ST. CHARLES COUNTY • It was a dead night on the Missouri River. Hardly a nibble on the line for hours. So as storm clouds rolled in about 12:45 a.m. Tuesday, Greg Bernal and his girlfriend decided they'd head for shore after 15 more minutes.

Then, suddenly, came a pull on the line stronger than Bernal had ever felt.

"That rod just started screaming," said Bernal, 47, of Florissant. "I knew he was big. It raced out, I set the hook and there was no movement at all. I just kept the pressure on him and finally I could feel him thumping."

Bernal landed the 130-pound blue catfish that officials say is big enough for a world record held since May 2005 by Tim Pruitt of Alton. Pruitt caught a 124-pound blue catfish on the Mississippi River near Alton.

The Missouri record, until Tuesday, was a 103-pound catfish caught with a pole and line in 1991 on the Missouri River.

Bernal fought his big catch for 15 minutes and spent another 30 minutes — with help from his girlfriend, Janet Momphard — pulling it into their johnboat as rain pelted them and lightning flashed. The fish's teeth snagged Bernal's hands and drew blood.

Bernal and Momphard, 47, a nurse from St. Charles, said they used 40-pound test fishing line and Asian carp as bait.

"I am still numb," said Bernal, a lifelong fisherman. "That's the biggest fish I've ever seen."

Bernal's fish was at least 25 to 30 years old, officials said. It was 57 inches long and 45 inches in girth. That's one inch shorter but also one inch fatter than Pruitt's catch.

Bernal wouldn't reveal the exact location of his fishing spot, saying only it was near the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area.

Bernal's fish was weighed Tuesday morning at the Straatmann Feed Store in New Melle. Manager Jim Blair said he brought a portable scale out to the store's front porch, a spectacle that drew a crowd and caused a small-town traffic jam.

"It was total chaos," said Blair, 61. "Everybody was jumping for joy. People were getting out of their cars and taking pictures."

Bernal's catch will have to be certified before it becomes an official record.

Pruitt, 38, the outgoing record holder, had hoped to profit from catfish fame by selling DVDs about his catch on his website, www.timpruitt.net. But he says he lost more money in that venture than he cared to discuss and no longer offers catfish merchandise.

"It didn't work so good," Pruitt said. "Catfishermen don't like to spend too much."

Pruitt said he is happy for Bernal and isn't bothered that his five-year reign as catfish king is ending.

"Records are made to be broken," he said. "I've held it long enough. It's time to pass the torch."

Bernal, an unemployed land surveyor, says he won't eat the record-breaking fish, but plans to mount a reproduction in his home, next to a 79.12-pound catfish he caught in 1995. He hopes there's room for another someday.

"I'm going to go out there and catch a bigger one," Bernal said. "They're out there."

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