Catfish Profiles in Passion – Zac Zajac
by Ron Presley
Put the experience first.
Zac Zajac caught the catfish passion later in life compared to some. He grew up in Northern Indiana until his freshmen year in high school when he moved to Durham, NC. It was a move that would change his life.
“My parents were not into fishing,” offered Zajac. “I never even had a line in the water until I was in my 20s. I bought my first house when I was 20. I bought a boat and loved cruising, skiing and knee boarding.”
“The catfish are just a bonus.”
His fishing endeavors started when some of his friends started fishing for bream and channel cats from the bank. He started fishing with his friends. When he discovered the fun of fishing he started taking his wife and daughter out fishing also. One thing led to another and bigger fish came into the picture.
“I feel very lucky and blessed to have been trained by some catfishing legends,” continued Zajac. “I am also fortunate to live so close to some of the best trophy catfish fisheries in the world. I would have to say that Kaleb Page influenced me the most. He took a lot of time, not only taking me out fishing, but explaining how and why he did what he did.”
“One day in 2013 my friends Tony Cayton and Kaleb Page (Now owners of Catch the Fever) took me out catfishing at Kerr Lake,” recalled Zajac. “We were on the Virginia end of the lake and we drifted for catfish. It was a blast. We caught a ton of catfish between 10 and15 pounds. Soon after that, they invited me to go with them to the James River in Virginia.”
It was that trip with friends, to the James River, that solidified Zajac’s passion for catfishing.
“As we were reeling in for the day a huge fish hit the reel behind me,” recalled Zajac. “The fish started peeling drag. With Kaleb Page coaching me I was able to land a 50-pound James River monster blue cat! From then on I was hooked!”
As the fishing friends traveled home from that James River trip, Kaleb Page mentioned he may be selling his 17-foot Carolina skiff. Zajac collected cash from all his accounts to buy the boat from Page and shift his boating interests from cruising, skiing and knee boarding, to catfishing.
“Kaleb continued to coach me on how to catch bait in a cast net and how to catch catfish on Kerr Lake and the James River,” continued Zajac. “I learned quickly and started taking out friends and putting them on catfish. By early 2015 I wanted to try a different body of water.”
As Zajac monitored the Big Cat Fever Members Group, he noticed that Zakk Royce was posting a lot of catfish from Lake Gaston. Zajac contacted him to see if he would share some pointers.
“Zakk was in Wilmington, NC that night, but he told me a good spot to fish,” said Zajac. “I went to that spot and caught fish nonstop until 3 am, when I was just worn out. From that point on I knew Zakk Royce was the real deal. I started fishing with him several days/nights a week.”
He quickly outgrew his 17-foot skiff and wanted a bigger boat. He had admired Zakk’s 21-foot Carolina Skiff with a T-top. Thoughts of buying that boat led Zajac to a new chapter in his life.
“I was thinking of a way to convince my wife that I needed a new boat,” recalled Zajac. “I contacted Zakk one night and asked him if he wanted to start a guide service. We thought that we could get at least one trip each, every other weekend. We got all the necessary paperwork filed and started Blues Brothers Guide Service in late 2015.”
Blues Brothers Guide Service was an instant success. It operates today with Zac and Zakk at the helm. There are no plans on stopping, only plans to grow.
“Zakk and I enjoy the awesome friendship we have made through fishing,” declared Zajac. “That is what it is all about, fishing with good friends and just having a fun time. The catfish are just a bonus. Nowadays, I feel like I have more fun watching someone catch a personal best catfish more than I enjoy catching them myself.”
Zac has done some tournament fishing and says that he enjoys it. But between working full time, owning and operating a guide service and making time to fish for fun makes it a challenge to tournament fish.
Reminiscing about his best day on the water also gives Zajac call to not worry about tournament fishing. It was the kind of day that brings anglers back to the water for more and taught him a lesson about staying home.
“If was January of 2017,” recalled Zajac. “The weather was pretty bad with very high winds and I almost didn’t go out fishing. I made the decision to go anyway and caught a ton of fish. We caught everything from small fish to multiple 40-plus pound catfish.”
“That trip gave me the opportunity to do some live streams on Facebook about marking bait,” continued Zajac. “I also created some live videos of fishing alone and catching these nice size fish. What I learned from this trip that almost didn’t happen was that I should fish as much as I can. You never really know what might happen. It could be the best fishing you’ve ever had, when everyone else stayed home.”
Of course, all fishing trips are not bonanzas like his best one. However, even the bad ones are learning experiences.
“My worst day of fishing occurred on a guided trip,” revealed Zajac. “I was 7.5 hours into an 8-hour trip and the skunk was still on the boat. I was so down on myself and afraid my clients were going to be so disappointed. In the last 30 minutes we finally caught a couple of fish, but they were nice about it. They were some of my favorite clients.”
“I learned an important lesson that day,” offered Zajac. “If I go out and try my best, and work hard, most people will recognize that and understand that fishing is fishing. Now, I just try to enjoy my clients company and not get as stressed out about the bite being slow when it happens (and it does happen)!”
While there are still plenty of catfish anglers that need to learn a few lessons about conservation, Zajac learned it from the start.
“Ever since I started catfishing I’ve always been taught the importance of conservation for trophy catfish,” declared Zajac. “It has always made sense to me. Anglers should put the bigger fish back so others can have the same opportunity and enjoyment that I felt when catching it. Anglers also have to understand that these bigger catfish have better genetics and are able to produce more fish because of their genetics.”
“Common sense aside, conservation should be even more important as a guide,” said Zajac. “Why would I want to take out fish that make me money and give my clients the fun of catching them. I also feel that catch-photo-release (CPR) shows my respect for these fish that my clients and I enjoy catching.”
Zajac has a boat rule that fish over 15 pounds are returned to the water. That includes his personal fishing and his clients. Everyone loves a good fish fry and he has no issue with anyone keeping eater size fish. He does emphasize keeping no more than needed. Selective harvest is part of his efforts to set a good example for others in maintaining the future of trophy catfish and he says it includes the kids.
“Kids need to be taught the importance of CPR,” said Zajac. “They will enjoy the catch, but I think they enjoy watching that fish swim off even more. The bottom line is that releasing the fish will protect the fishing for our youth as they get older. Then they can share with their children.”
The 32-year-old’s goals for his business and his future relates to Blues Brothers Guide Service. He would like to be remembered as someone who always had a good time and as someone who was respectful of all aspects of life. Zajac wants to continue taking clients out on the water and giving them the possibility of catching their personal best catfish but would also like to add some guides to the business.
“I would like, someday, to have enough people working for our company that Zakk and I can fish whenever we want, together just for fun,” imagined Zajac. “Also, a state or world record or two in the meantime would be fantastic!”