Originally created 07/11/98

Shellcracker catch sounds good enough for a world record



WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Ray Lee doesn't think of himself as special, though his record 5-pound, 5-ounce fish is.

"I was just the motor-scooter who happened to be out there at the time. It couldn't have happened to anybody," said Lee, a 57-year-old lifetime fisherman who last month pulled the whopper shellcracker from the Diversion Canal near Cross in Berkeley County.

Also known as a redear sunfish, Lee's weighed 2 ounces more than the current world mark.

Now Lee is waiting for official paperwork from the International Game and Fish Association in Pompano Beach, Fla., which certifies fishing records. The processing can take a few months.

The catch also eclipsed the 5-pound, 1-ouncer Gerald Mishoe of North Charleston landed in March 1997 from the Diversion Canal that was the previous state mark.

"We didn't even get a chance to have that first one mounted yet," said Val Nash, freshwater fisheries chief at the state Natural Resources Department.

Lee was just looking for a day of fishing June 18 when he and some buddies gassed up their boat and traveled to the canal between Lakes Marion and Moultrie.

"My brother-in-law said, `I'm going to get me a world record,' " Lee said. "But turned out I was the one who did it."

Lee used a live wiggler with ultralight tackle in about 7 feet of water.

When he saw the redear on the line, he knew it was a big one -- "Fifteen-and-three-quarter inches long, eighteen-and-a-half inches around the belly," Lee says proudly. He rushed to get it weighed, but it took about three hours to find an official scale.

"I bet it would've been even bigger," he said.

Lee grew up trolling Newberry County farm ponds as a child and has done everything from construction to real estate sales. He likes to spend time swimming and relaxing on the water, but when it's time to fish, he doesn't fool around.

"That's the way I am; I fish hard, and I like to play hard," he said.

Nash said South Carolina's waters have spawned several world freshwater records through the years, including a 58-pounds channel catfish caught by Pineville's W.H. Whaley in 1964 and a 21-pound, 8-ounce mudfish by Florence's Robert Harmon in 1980.

Lee and Nash said the state will preserve and mount his record fish and show it off at outdoor festivals.

The attention is nice, Lee said. "I got a trophy throwing darts, but I've never gotten anything fishing. Not everybody in South Carolina has a world record," he said.

Nash doesn't know why the canal grows monster fish. Maybe its the good habitat, or the lack of fishermen, or the life-giving back eddies where shellcrackers can hide from enticing hooks.

"It could be a little bit of luck," Nash said. "I think it's going to be a short-lived phenomenon, though."

Lee said Mishoe and others have constantly called to talk about his catch and to find out where he landed it.

As for Lee, he said he was hooking up his boat for another angling trip this week.

"Where do you think I'm going?" he said.