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Pastor Everly’s 65-pound flathead

March 11, 2009

Illinois hunting and fishing

Big Fish Info

Species: Flathead catfish

Size: 65 pounds

Date: March 11, 2009

County: Tazewell

The Good Lord provides. So says the Rev. Charles Everly of Pekin, who caught a 65-pound flathead catfish Wednesday evening at Powerton Lake.

“I had a big pole out with a bluegill for bait for whatever would take it,” the 76-year-old Everly said. “And he took it. Boy was he a fighter.”

Everly fought his flathead for 30 minutes before bringing it to shore. That’s the second monster pulled out of Powerton this week. On Saturday Jason Smavely of Mackinaw caught a 56-pounder. For bait Smavely uses Asian carp that he catches on waxworms.

Both flatheads are headed to the fryer at Everly’s Zion Baptist Church at 1320 S. Fifth St in Pekin. First up is a Saturday gospel concert that starts at 6 p.m. and features the Gospel Messengers, an old-fashioned male quartet from Decatur. “Our bluegrass gospel band will play first,” said Everly, who keeps busy preaching and singing when he isn’t fishing or cleaning fish. “The Lord’s a blessing, the Devil’s a fighting and I guess everything else is in good order,”

Everly figures he’ll still have more than enough fish left to fry for Monday’s noon prayer luncheon.

“We’ll probably have enough for our next Saturday too,” he said. “But I have had three different calls from some of my people saying, ‘Fry me up a pan of that.’”

Everly caught his fish on a large 10- or 11-foot rod and a heavy-duty spinning reel loaded with 30-pound test line. He borrowed the rod and reel from a friend, Larry Stepanski of Pekin. He used a bluegill caught out of Powerton as bait and had a 5-ounce sinker to keep his bait on the bottom in the swift current of Powerton’s hot-water discharge.

“There’s almost always a good current out there,” said Everly, who fished Powerton religiously. “It’s a rare occasion the current is not strong.”

Late February and early March is typically the prime time for big flathead catfish at Powerton and this year is proving to be no exception.

Everly is full aware of that and has a home-made gaff he carries to help land large fish. To land the 65-pounder he called on the assistance of another nearby angler.

Everly also catches good numbers of blue catfish out of Powerton, typically using just waxworms as bait. “They are averaging about 10-15 pounds and sometimes you’ll get one that will go over 30,” Everly said. “My biggest one was 38. That was when I had six that went 115 pounds.”

Below are my stories and pictures about Pastor Everly from the July 25, 2004 Peoria Journal Star.

Illinois hunting and fishing

A divine excuse to fish


The main reason for starting a weekly fish fry was fellowship.

But Pastor Charles Everly has a confession. Feeding fish to his parishioners at Zion Baptist Church in Pekin isn’t a completely selfless act.

“I figured if I could find some outlet for fish that had to do with the Lord that would be the best excuse to go fishing there ever was,” Everly said, a sly smile sneaking across his tanned face.

And Everly uses that excuse to the fullest, often venturing out with rod and reel four or five times a week.

Perhaps you’ve seen him prowling the bank at one of his usual haunts—Powerton Lake, Spring Lake or the Sanganois Conservation Area. He’s the older gentleman with a battered blue Toyota pickup, a 20-foot fishing rod and an uncanny knack for catching something when others can’t get a bite.

“I’m so crazy about this fishing stuff I even enjoy cleaning fish,” Everly said.

That’s good, since heaven Illinois hunting and fishingknows he had plenty to clean last year. Everly caught a 44-pound flathead at Sanganois one July day (pictured at right). Another productive outing produced a stringer of Powerton Lake blue catfish that weighed 50 1/2 pounds. While big fish have not been as cooperative this year, Everly seldom returns home without a bucket of bluegill, crappie, sunfish, catfish or bullheads.

“I just can’t get into that catch-and-release business,” he shrugged.

No doubt that traces back to being raised on a subsistence farm outside Hopedale. While on the farm Everly, 72, developed a lifelong love for fishing during visits to Mackinaw River tributaries with his grandfather.

“We’d fish for bullheads, bluegill, green sunfish and every now and then a catfish,” Everly said.

In the years since he’s never stopped fishing, according to his wife of 46 years, Luetta, who said “he was fishing when I met him back in 1956 in Chandlerville.”

Aside from his equipment, not much has changed for Everly when it comes to angling. He still fishes for the same species he did as a boy. He still keeps most of what he catches for the frying pan. And he still fishes from the bank - a source of both comfort and consternation.

Comfort comes from the fact he gets sore in a boat. “Plus I’m the world’s worst at backing up a trailer,” he said.

Consternation comes from the changes he’s witnessed at his favorite haunts. During an outing last week, Everly took me to several honey holes on the east side of the Illinois River - starting with a depressing visit to silt-choked Pekin Lake.

“This used to be my favorite place,” said Everly, who has spent 41 of his 48 years as a preacher in Pekin. “There’s no way to declare how many thousands of pounds of fish I caught out there in my younger days.”

But Pekin Lake was so dry last week Jesus would have been hard-pressed to fill a net, let alone to catch a keeper. Any talk of a proposed multi-million dollar U.S. Army Corps of Engineers restoration at Pekin Lake only makes Everly shake his head.

“The problem I see with a lot of these places is that if something needs fixing, (the government) feels they need to mount a big expensive program to restore it instead of trying something small to make it better,” Everly said later after a visit to the weedy south end of Spring Lake.

Everly knows all about small measures in the face of large problems. Before undergoing open-heart surgery in 2000 he visited Haiti more than 150 times to perform missionary work. Yet while that poor country shows no sign of improvement, Everly counts those trips among his finest moments.

“You can’t believe the joy I’ve had with that ministry in Haiti,” he said.

Everly exudes similar joy while fishing. Blue catfish are his current favorites, but even tiny bluegill earn big smiles.

Seeing his “tackle box” made me smile. Nearly all his gear was contained in a small brown pill bottle. His fishing system is similarly simple, aside from the 18- to 20-foot rods he prefers. Everly’s typical rig consists of a bobber and two short leaders tied about 6 and 12 inches above a sinker. At the end of each leader is a No. 6 hook baited with 7-10 waxworms.

While simple, the Illinois hunting and fishingset-up catches virtually anything that swims. During our trip, Everly caught bluegill, green sunfish, catfish and a healthy 15-inch smallmouth bass (at right) he released while calling the fish “a Powerton gar.”

“The only thing they’re good for is tangling up your line,” said Everly, as devoted a catch-and-eat angler as you’ll meet. “I am the self-appointed fish frying champion of the world,” he added later.

As for those fish fries - scheduled to run Sept. 11 through the week before Memorial Day - Everly believes there’s plenty of precedence for mixing angling and religion. For proof, he cites the disciple Peter’s actions following the resurrection of Jesus.

“Some people make a big deal out of how Peter went fishing after the resurrection, how he turned back to his worldly ways and dragged others with him,” Everly said. “I always say, ‘He met the Lord out there when he was fishing.’

“So a lot of times when I go to the fishing hole I meet the Lord. I always say I can get more prayers answered at the end of a fishing pole than in any other position.”

Amen to that Pastor Everly.


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