Steve Coursey was out for a leisurely afternoon of bass fishing with his longtime friend Winston Lewis.
He wound up with a state record for a different, much bigger species. In fact, it seemed to be a world record according to one listing, by virtue of the state standard it broke.
On May 20 on the Tennessee River "about halfway between the [Chickamauga] Dam and downtown," Coursey caught a 58-pound black buffalo carp. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fisheries staffer Mike Jolley signed off on it as the state record.
Edward McLain had held that record since May 3, 1984, for a 55-pound-8-ounce black buffalo caught in Cherokee Lake. The Fisherman's View website also listed McLain's whopper as one of its "official world record fish," but the more accepted authority, the International Game Fish Association, has a 63-6 black buffalo caught by Jim Winters in the Mississippi River in Iowa on Aug. 14, 1999, as the world all-tackle standard. A relative's initial web search brought up the Fisherman's View list, so Coursey thought his fish was a world record until Winters' grandson passed along the IGFA information.
Coursey's catch would still be a world record on the size line he used.
Coursey sent the official certifying paperwork to the TWRA on Wednesday. The 68-year-old Whitwell Mountain resident and owner of the Triple "C" small motor repair shop on 35th Street just off Rossville Boulevard will replace McLain in the records publication next year.
"It was about 3 in the afternoon that Monday," Coursey recalled. "We were on the right side of the river, going downstream, close to the bank. There's a little indention there.
"I got that hit and I set the hook, and then I told Winston to get the net. Then I got a better feel for it and I told him, 'Lay the net down and turn that big motor on. He's going to spool me.'
"If it wasn't for Winston, I wouldn't have this fish."
He also praised God for the success.
"The Lord was with me," Coursey said. "When I set the hook, it felt like it was solid, and something inside me told me I was going to catch that fish."
Coursey decided to ride out the big buffalo's fight on the Salmo lure. He really didn't have the rod or line he would've chosen for such an undertaking, but his 6-foot-6-inch St. Croix rod and Penn reel with 8-pound-test line held up through a 45-minute challenge.
"I knew I couldn't put a lot of pressure on him. I would have to wear him out," Coursey said.
"Winston told me, 'You might have a state record,' but we were out in left field," he added. "I knew I had to get it certified, but I didn't have any phone numbers for that."
He called one of his cousins from the Miami side of his family, and that cousin got his sister to check the Internet for species standards. She related that it was a world record.
Coursey had his fish weighed at Union Fork Bait and Tackle in Soddy-Daisy, near one of his former residences. He was born in Miami but grew up on a 112-acre farm in the Decherd area of Franklin County. A 1963 graduate of Franklin County High School, he worked for a year back in Miami for a company that tore down airplane engines.
Returning to southeastern Tennessee, he worked swing shift at DuPont for 14 years and at other places, including Astec Industries. He opened his shop in July 1990 and still keeps it open Wednesday through Friday every week. He normally fishes three or four times a month, mostly on Mondays.
Coursey has been fishing since the age of 7, he said. He caught a 10 1/2-pound largemouth bass once near Silver Springs, Fla., and a nearly 10-pounder at Fall Creek Falls, but the record buffalo is the biggest freshwater fish he's ever caught.
It's the second biggest anyone's ever caught for that species.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.