A 124-pound blue catfish caught by an Illinois man died on its way to an outfitter store here, where it was to be displayed in an aquarium.
Fred Cronin, a fisheries biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, told The Kansas City Star that the stress of being transported may have proved too much for the old, heavy fish.
"We're guessing that this fish was at least 30 years old," Cronin said. "When you have a fish this old, this heavy, that has lived in zero gravity its whole life, it just won't tolerate a lot of handling.
"Its death was a sad footnote to a great story."
Tim Pruitt, 33, of Godfrey, Ill., caught the fish early Sunday on the Mississippi River at Alton. He donated the fish to Cabela Outfitter's and workers had been getting the store's giant aquarium ready on Monday.
"I wanted to give other fishermen the chance to see the fish of a lifetime," Pruitt said. "I knew a world-record fish would draw a crowd."
58 inches long
The fish, measuring 58 inches long and 44 inches around, was taken from a holding tank at Beasley's Fish Market in Grafton, Ill., and put in a truck near the Mississippi River. It died midway through the trip to Kansas City, Kan.
The world record for a blue catfish is 121 pounds, eight ounces. Pruitt, whose fish has already been weighed in the presence of a conservation police officer, still must apply for the record and go through a routine investigation.
Cabela's says it will have two replica mounts made of the catfish. One will be displayed at the store and the other will be given to Illinois for a museum display. Pruitt said he also hopes to get one.
"If we could have gotten that fish here, we think it could have lived a good life in our aquarium," said Randy Smiley, store manager. "We already have one 100-pound blue cat that was caught here in Kansas, and it has done real well. It has gained weight since it's been in our aquarium.
"A lot of people were waiting to see this world-record catfish. We've already had a lot of people come in, asking about it."
The fish could be lent to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for genetic tests and studies on big catfish before being returned to Pruitt.
Moment of doubt
Pruitt told NBC's "Today" show Thursday that the catfish bit on his line just 10 minutes after he'd complained to his wife and a friend that "we hadn't had a bite all night."
The fish was swimming below the Melvin Price Lock and Dam on the Mississippi River when it grabbed Pruitt's line. The two struggled for more than half an hour, and at one point the fish dragged their boat before Pruitt could reel it in.
"I didn't think I'd ever see the fish," he told "Today."
“My adrenaline was really pumping, so it wasn’t that bad,” Pruitt said of pulling the heavyweight into the boat. “Later on, when I was lifting him out of the livewell and into another tank I really felt the weight.”