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W.Va. couple burns midnight oil to catch trophy catfish

Tyler and Morgan Jeffrey ply the Kanawha, Ohio, Pocatalico and Coal rivers for oversized blue and flathead catfish, May 11, 2021, in W.Va. In three years, the self-taught anglers have learned how to catch bait, how to find fish, how to handle their boat, and, most important, how to hook and land their bewhiskered quarry. (John McCoy/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

By JOHN McCOY, Charleston Gazette-Mail

ELKVIEW, W.Va. (AP) — Something you’re not likely to hear from Morgan and Tyler Jeffrey:

“What do you wanna do tonight?”

“I dunno. What do you wanna do?”

No, the Jeffreys know what they want to do every evening. They want to go fishing. They’ve been doing it since they first met as teenagers — appropriately enough, at a popular local fishing lake. It was love at first bite.

“Once we got together, we found out we shared a passion for fishing, and we just kept chasing it,” Tyler said.

“We just assumed we were going fishing every day,” Morgan added. “We didn’t even ask.”

Throughout their high-school courtship, the Elkview residents fished as often as they could.

“We just threw worms in the (Elk) River, for carp or whatever,” Morgan said. “Anything that would bite.”

They got married right after their graduation from Herbert Hoover High School. They didn’t let trivial things like setting up their household or finding gainful employment get in the way of their fishing.

They didn’t own a boat, so they fished from the bank wherever they went. They didn’t focus on anything in particular, and they caught just about everything — bass, trout, crappie, catfish, carp, bluegills and even muskie.

A couple of years into their marriage, after seeing reports of people catching huge flathead and blue catfish from the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, they decided to try their hand at that.

They didn’t have much success at first.

“We were slow learners,” Morgan said. “We sat out there for months and didn’t catch anything.”

“It was probably six or seven months before we landed a fish,” Tyler added.

A guided trip to Virginia’s fabled James River taught them a little of what they needed to know. It also ignited an even more fervent desire to learn how to catch big catfish.

“We got on the boat at 7 a.m.,” Tyler recalled. “By 7:30 I had a 50-pound blue cat laying in my lap. After that, we never looked back.”

They returned to the Kanawha determined to succeed. “We did horribly for a while, but gradually we got better,” Morgan said.

“When you start at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up,” Tyler acknowledged. “Persistence is a key when it comes to catfishing, that’s for sure.”

They didn’t go to the internet for help. They learned by trial and error.

Well, by error, mostly.

“We had all the fishless evenings,” Morgan said.

When one of them got discouraged, the other one took the lead.

“We’d be sitting at home and he’d say, ‘I don’t want to go,’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t care, I’m going anyway,'” Morgan recalled. “And the next day, I’d say, ‘I’m tired, I don’t want to go,’ and he’d say, ‘Oh, we’re going.'”

“It was definitely a team effort,” Tyler said.

After they finally started catching some nice catfish, they realized they’d probably do a lot better if they had a boat. They bought one last year, and they haven’t looked back.

“Other than one recent four-day stretch when the boat was broken, we’ve had it on the water every day,” Morgan said.

They’ve put a lot of oversized catfish in that boat.

“The biggest so far was 52 pounds,” Morgan said.

They fish in any kind of weather, from the hot, muggy days of a West Virginia summer to the bone-numbing cold of midwinter.

“At midnight this past New Year’s, Tyler caught a 37-pound blue from the bank,” Morgan said. “We literally brought in the New Year catching catfish.”

“And that fish set off a three-week string of catching at least one 20-pound fish every time we went out,” Tyler added.

They readily admit that their relentless pursuit becomes tiring at times.

“It’s like going to work, getting off work, then going to work at a second job,” Morgan said.

“A lot of it is drive,” Tyler added. “You have to want to be out there.”

They both hope that someday, their avocation will become their vocation.

“We’d like to start a guide service,” Morgan said.

“We’re just as happy seeing other people catch fish as we are catching them ourselves,” Tyler said. “Their eyes light up, and you can see the passion start. Fishing sinks its claws into them.”

The Jeffreys particularly enjoy taking friends out on the water.

“One of our buddies asked me if we could take him blue-cat fishing,” Tyler said. “We weren’t out there 30 minutes before he caught a 40-pounder.”

For the meantime, the young couple plan to keep doing what they’ve been doing — heading out every evening to enjoy and learn more about their favorite pastime.

“We know we want to make a living on the water somehow,” Tyler said. “With that being said, we’re just keeping our options open and seeing if opportunities open up to us as we go.”