David Hayes knew from earlier catches that lunker catfish patrolled the acre pond a few feet behind his rural Wilkes County home.
But he never suspected it held a state-record channel cat. Or that he would land it with a hot-pink Barbie rod and reel 2 inches shorter than the fish.
How that happened is a whale of a fish story, and says something about a 3-year-old girl's bond with her grandpa.
Between calls from journalists including CBS News, Hayes retold it this way:
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It was 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, Aug. 5. Hayes was home in the Shoaly Branch community after work running the dye house for a local textile maker. Granddaughter Alyssa Hayes, who lives nearby, helped Hayes pick tomatoes. Then she decided she wanted to go fishing.
Fishing and riding four-wheelers together are what Alyssa loves best with her Papa.
Hayes, who's 56, caught a few crickets and baited the hook on her 21/2-foot Barbie rod and reel combo – $13 at Wal-Mart. Alyssa caught a couple of bluegills.
Then she had to go to the bathroom and thrust the tackle in Hayes' hands as she turned for the house.
“They hadn't no more than closed the door than the cat hit the cricket and took off,” he said. “He turned the water over and I saw his tail was about as wide as my two hands.
“I knew I was in trouble.
“By the time she got back out there, she said, ‘Papa, you're going to break my rod,' because it was bent double.”
After 25 minutes, pink plastic and 6-pound-test line prevailed.
Hayes netted the exhausted fish. Alyssa “squealed and her eyes got as big as silver dollars.”
Scales at a local grocery said the 32-inch fish weighed 21 pounds, 1 ounce.
A state fisheries biologist certified the record, nearly three pounds over the previous mark.
The fish will go on the wall, along with Alyssa's Barbie rod.
“It looks like a toy,” Hayes said, “but it's a functioning toy.”