“Git’im, git’im,” was the cry that rang out from Paula Edwards’ husband and friend as they all realized what a big fish she had hooked.
“It took about 20 minutes to get him in,” the Conway High School bus driver said of her 50-pound Trophy catfish.
“I was give out by the time I got him,” she said.
Edwards has now received an official parchment from S.C. Governor Henry McMaster heralding her huge accomplishment.
Although she is an avid fisherwoman, Edwards said the largest fish she had caught before this weighed 32 pounds.
“I knew he was big,” she said of her recent catch, “but I didn’t really expect him to be any bigger than the one I caught before.”
But things changed when she saw him roll on the water.
Her response was, “Oh, my Lord, look how big he is…It was just a whole motion of excitement from all three of us when we saw how big he was.
Edwards, her husband Russell Edwards, who works with the Horry County School District’s Maintenance Department, and Willie Gore, the football coach at Green Sea Floyds High School, were fishing in a canal at Harry’s Fish Camp when the big fish hit. She was “anchored out” fishing with cut bait on a rod and reel when she joined a short list of history makers who have made notable catches.
Her fish-landing strategy was fairly simple. She just “let him take line until he wore himself out.”
She gives credit to her husband and Gore for helping her get the heavy fish into their pontoon boat.
“When I got him to the pontoon, my husband and Willie netted him, put him in a big net, and the two of them lifted him over in the boat,” she said.
When she took him to be weighed, she was encouraged to send a document to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and Santee Cooper.
Although the fish was bigger than any her husband has ever caught, she says he was fine with her catch.
“I think it excites him just as much for me or my daughter to catch one as it does for him,” she said.
It didn’t take her long to decide what to do with her big catch. Her freezer now is filled with filets and catfish nuggets, but “part of him’s done been eat.”
The Edwards, members of Hickory Grove Baptist Church on S.C. 905, just out of Conway, typically share their bounty with the senior members of their church at two or three dinners a year, events she thinks they enjoy.
“I grew up with my daddy hunting and fishing my whole life, and I’m 63-years-old…I deer hunt and everything. I’m big outdoors,” Edwards said.
Jane Powell, who will move up from assistant director to executive director of Santee Cooper Visitor’s Center July 1, says the Trophy Five Award Program has been around “forever and ever and ever.”
She explained that anglers can qualify for the Trophy award if they catch large fish in five categories – striped bass, large mouth bass, catfish, bream and crappie. Notable fish in different categories must be different sizes to qualify for the record books.
For instance, a striped bass must weigh more than 15 pounds and a catfish must weigh more than 40 pounds.
“This lady caught a 50-pound Arkansas Blue. That’s a pretty impressive fish,” Powell said of Edwards’ feat.
When someone catches one of these weighty fish on Lake Marion or Moultrie or the six-mile diversion canal that connects the two lakes, they contact the Governor’s Office.
The two lakes are located in Pinopolis in Berkeley County.
Right now, Powell said, people are flocking to her area to fish and camp. She thinks the COVID-19 scare might have inspired the crowds she’s been welcoming.
“People come and they’re boating and bringing their children and they’re camping and fishing. A lot of people who come to our lakes are coming from the coast,” she said, adding that many of their guests come from Conway.
Edwards says she caught her fish in April in the canal at Harry’s Fish Camp.
She’s been going there on and off for 40 years. Her family now has a permanent place, a 40-foot Fifth Wheel, at Harry’s Fish Camp. She, her husband and daughter use the camper every summer.
Due to the early release of school, Edwards was able to start her summer early this year.
“My children have pretty much grew up down here in the summer, and it’s kind of like a big family. You see the same people from year to year, and our kids know each other and run around,” she said.
They’re like a close-knit family because it isn’t a large place.
She says she fishes four or five times a week.
She and her daughter fish by themselves occasionally, but they depend on her husband to do most of their fishing.
When she fishes alone, she sometimes uses her heavy, very stable 12-foot kayak.
“The biggest fish I caught on the kayak is probably 15 pounds. Now they will pull the kayak around, but with the weight of the kayak, it wears them out quick so you don’t have much trouble with them,” she said.
Powell says in the past six years, fishermen have averaged about 25 Trophy fish per year including all five categories .
“They don’t catch them everyday,” she said.