Hayes landed the record-breaking fish, which weighed 21 pounds, 1 ounce, on Aug. 5 from a private pond in Wilkes County while fishing with his granddaughter Alyssa, 3.
According to Hayes, the unusual fishing experience began in the early evening with a trip to the garden for bait. After collecting several black crickets, he and Alyssa went down to the pond behind the house to fish for bluegill, an activity the pair have enjoyed together since Alyssa was barely big enough to hold a fishing rod.
Like previous fishing trips, Hayes baits the hook and Alyssa catches the fish, using her hot pink Barbie doll rod and reel combo. It is a routine that usually works well - until that afternoon when nature called at the most inopportune time.
"After catching two or three bluegill, Alyssa turns to me and says 'Papa, I've got to go to the bathroom. Hold my fishing rod'," Hayes recalled. "A few minutes later, the float went under and I saw the water start boiling up - I knew right then that I had my hands full with that fishing rod."
It took Hayes about 25 minutes to land the fish, which measured 32 inches in length and 22 ½ inches in girth. Once he got it to the bank, Hayes said he was pretty certain his channel cat would exceed the current state record, an 18-pound, 5-ounce fish reeled in by Wesley Trucks of New Bern in August 2007.
The fish was weighed on certified scales at Thurmond Grocery in Thurmond, N.C. It was certified by Kin Hodges, a fisheries biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
To qualify for a state record, anglers must have caught the fish on a rod and reel, must have the fish weighed on a certified scale witnessed by one observer, have the fish positively identified by a qualified expert from the Commission and submit an application with a full, side-view photo of the fish.
Hayes says he's been getting a lot of ribbing from folks who kid him about a grown man fishing with a hot pink Barbie Doll rod and reel. But Hayes takes the kidding in stride, knowing that he's the one with the new state record and a great memory to share with his granddaughter for years to come.
For a list of all freshwater fish state records in North Carolina or more information on the State Record Fish Program, visit the Commission's Web site, www.ncwildlife.org, or call the Division of Inland Fisheries, (919) 707-0220.