The Biggest Fish of 2022

Mika Burkhart’s 118-pound blue catfish bested a long-standing record by more than six pounds. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agecny

In 2022, we watched angling records fall like dominos from the North Carolina coast all the way to the Colorado Rockies. Anglers hoisted massive tuna, big brook trout, and hefty blue cats from the depths of rivers, bays, oceans, and high mountain lakes. Then there was the 6,000-pound sunfish pulled ashore in Portugal—perhaps the biggest bony fish of all time. It’s been a banner year for big fish from all over the world. Here are five of our favorites.

1. State Record Brook Trout in Colorado

On October 18, a die-hard Colorado trout fisherman named Jason Smiley hooked into the biggest brook trout ever caught and recorded in Centennial State History. He had to hike 3.9 miles and gain 2,400 feet of elevation on his way up to Waterdog Lake in the Uncompahgre National Forest. But the high-mountain slog rewarded him with a beautiful brookie that weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces, measured 26.35 inches, and sported a 16-inch girth. “I went into I-can’t-lose-this-one mode,” Smiley later told Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “She pulled and rolled and was doing some crazy things. My heart sank when she flopped right back out of the net, but she stayed hooked up, and I brought her in a second time. It was a wild, crazy deal.”

2. World Record Butterfly Ray Arrowed in Delaware

In June, a Pennsylvania angler named Jeremy Gipe arrowed a butterfly ray in the Delaware Bay that was more than 7 feet long and weighed well over 200 pounds. The fish toppled the Bowfishing Association of America’s previous butterfly ray world record, which was set in 2021. After measuring and weighing the fish and submitting it for the record books, Gipe says he filleted it out and saved the meat. “It’s very similar to crab,” he said. “We’ll fry it up and make it like pulled pork. We’ve also made it in different dips like a buffalo chicken or spinach dip.”

3. A Record-Breaking Blue Catfish in Tennessee

A blue catfish of epic proportions was pulled out of Tennessee’s Cumberland River on September 24, 2022. Angler Mika Burkhardt measured the 118-pound catfish at 54 inches in length—with a girth of 41 inches—after hauling it from the Cumberland on 30-pound test line. He caught the behemoth while fishing from a boat and using skipjack for bait. It bested a 24-year-old record set in 1998.

4. A State Record Swordfish Off the Carolina Coast

On August 21, an angler named Cary Carney upended a long-standing North Carolina swordfish record when he managed to boat an absolute giant weighing 504 pounds. Carney and a crew of fellow anglers were fishing 50 miles offshore from Morehead City, at a depth of 1,300 feet, when the sizable sword took the albacore belly he was using for bait. He landed the fish despite a malfunctioning electric reel. While the broken reel made the battle more difficult, it also ensured that Carney’s fish would go down in the North Carolina state record books, as fish caught on functioning electric reels don’t typically qualify.

5. A 6,000-Pound Sunfish Found Floating Near Portugal

Some of the world’s most impressive critters aren’t caught by anglers or tagged by hunters, but simply found dead after a long life lived wild and free. Such was the case with a 6,049-pound “bony fish” located by a team of researchers off the coast of Portugal. The giant member of the sunfish family was dragged ashore and measured for posterity in December of 2021, but news about its record-breaking size didn’t make waves until October of this year. It was 10.6 feet long, 11.8 feet tall, and 2.8 feet wide, according to a study published in the Journal of Fish Biology. It outweighed the previous record bony fish—found off the coast of Japan in 1996—by nearly 1,000 pounds.

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