PSU's Morelli reels in big catch -- really

| Saturday, June 2, 2007

In a role reversal of sorts, Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli found himself making the big catch on a recent night.

It was two weeks ago, on the Allegheny River near Harmar, when Morelli hooked up with what turned out to be a 40-pound, 44-inch flathead catfish. Thirty minutes later, the massive fish had been boated.

"My forearms were burning, my legs were shaking," said Morelli, who packs 230 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame. "I thought it might be a state record. We called some people on the phone, and they tried to look it up on the computer. They said it was close."

Morelli and his cousin/fishing partner Dave Pucka transported the fish to Morelli's home about five minutes away, using a large plastic container in the back of Pucka's pickup truck.

They weighed and measured the fish, then took it back to the river and released it.

"I didn't want it to die for no reason," Morelli said. "We just took the pictures and enjoyed the moment. Who knows, maybe 10 years from now he'll be 10 or 15 pounds heavier and I can hook him again."

That would be a state record. The current record is 48 pounds, 6 ounces, for a fish caught in the spillway of the Blue Marsh Reservoir in the eastern part of the state. The previous record had been 45-9, caught from the Allegheny River. The world record is 123-9, caught from a Kansas reservoir.

Morelli and Pucka had gone fishing in the evening, targeting bass early, then trying for walleye and sauger as it got dark. Morelli was fishing a spinning reel with 12-pound test line and a medium action, 7-foot rod. He was using a countdown lure, retrieving it slowly near the bottom.

"We were catching the sauger and walleye pretty good and then the big man took it," Morelli said. "He ran the drag about 50 yards and I'm yelling to my cousin to get the net."

Tale of the tape

Twenty minutes or so later, Pucka decided the net wasn't needed immediately.

"He thought I was snagged on a bullrope or something, but I was telling him, no it's a fish," Morelli said. "He pulled up the anchor and we drifted down over the fish. He was just going to pull on my line and reach into the water, but I told him it might be a musky or a big walleye or something crazy.

"I'm reeling it in and he's pulling up on the line and he goes down to reach in the water and he jumped back and said 'Oh my God, it is a fish.' "

It was a monster fish.

"I could almost put my head in this dude's mouth," Morelli said. "It's the biggest fish I've ever been around."

Morelli, who will be a senior this fall, is primarily a bass fisherman, having in the past caught a smallmouth and largemouth bass that each pushed five pounds. Both of those catches came from the Keystone Power Dam in Armstrong County. He caught the largemouth last December ahead of the trip to Tampa for the Outback Bowl.

"It was 40 degrees, the water was freezing cold, and we found some structure near the shoreline," Morelli said. "We'd been fishing for walleye, but I put a jig and pig on and got the bass."

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