Catfish Profiles in Passion – Mac Byrum
by Ron Presley
He’s got it bad, but it’s not an addiction.
Mac Byrum says he was still wearing short pants when he first started fishing. He was lucky enough to be exposed to both freshwater and saltwater fishing at the ripe old age of four years old.
“I was the first grandchild on both sides of my family,” recalled Byrum. “I had an uncle on each side who started taking me fishing. One lived close to a river and backwaters and the other on the coast of NC. We used cane poles in the freshwater and hand lines at the coast. I grew up fishing the eastern part of North Carolina fishing creeks and swamps using a cane pole and a hook my mother made from safety pins back in the 1950s.”
Byrum says he has a passion for fishing, but not an addiction. He has other interests and will not be tempted to stop doing what he enjoying to go do something else.
“Because I have other things I like to do I won’t, at the drop of a hat, stop what I’m doing, to do something else. If I’m gardening and see the gulls feeding on the hybrid bass activity I’m not going to run off and fish for hybrids.”
“I have three passions,” said Byrum. “First my wife, then fishing and then gardening. They are fairly equal in value. I really don’t know what I would do without my wife of 46 years. Fishing and gardening are pretty much equal. They both get me outdoors; they both allow my mind to be clear of all external factors. But fishing allows me to experience more things, like being with Mother Nature and all her creatures and other wonders. Fishing also challenges me to try to figure out what the catfish are doing, feeding wise, on the day I’m drifting for them.”
Over the years he migrated from his birthplace in Greenville, NC to Lake Norman and Denver, NC. He says that will likely be his final resting place. At the age of 80, he describes himself as a laid-back type of fisherman who won’t likely stop fishing until he can no longer walk down to the old Lund and get in it, or when the day comes that he has to call someone to come down to the dock to help him get out.
“I am content to catch what I catch and I’m not disappointed if I don’t catch a trophy cat each and every time,” said Byrum. “And, catching large numbers of fish is no longer my goal.”
“Losing a big one doesn’t bother me either,” continued Byrum. “But I go back and relive what just happened and why. Maybe the hook turned into the bait; Maybe I was slow to react; Either way, none of this causes me to kick myself or feel sorry for myself due to this failure. I just want to understand what happened.”
People worldwide know Byrum as a catfisherman. But back in the day, the 80s, 90s, and part of this century, he was no slouch when it came to striper fishing.
“I won two or three times the money fishing striper tournament than catfish tournaments,” recalled Byrum. “I drift fish for stripers and catfish. So, drift fishing is my specialty.”
Byrum has enjoyed many accomplishments over the years. He has a background in teaching Economics at the Community College level and also worked as a real estate appraiser and consultant. He even taught and trained his associates in real estate appraisal.
Add in a decade of seminars for Bass Pro, Gander Mountain, and local bait shops and you wonder how he had time to do it all.
“My background offered me the skills to teach others,” offered Byrum. “When I got into striper fishing the older fishermen didn’t want to share their knowledge. Then when I switched to catfishing, I saw the same thing. So, from that point on, I decided to share my knowledge with the newbies and disclose everything I knew as it related to fishing.”
Byrum started writing articles to share what he had learned. One result was “Mac Byrum’s Catfish University” that he began on the Brotherhood of Catfishermen (BOC), a forum on the United States Catfish Association site. If you check out the site and click on “Notable Members” you will find Byrum right there at the top.
Byrum’s fishing experiences instilled him with a strong sense of conservation. He has long been a steward of catfish conservation and general promoter of the sport. He demonstrated his commitment through volunteerism. He served as President of the Carolina Catfish Club for two years and also served in other official positions.
“I started to see how some fisherpersons were abusing our public fisheries,” recalled Byrum. “I did my part to support regulations to stop some of this activity. I have dedicated some of my time and skills to our profession and don’t regret a monument of it.”
Byrum’s view of conservation places the burden directly on the participants in the sport. He believes sincerely that sportsmen have a responsibility to be involved with protecting our outdoor resources.
“We should be setting examples and working with our wildlife folks,” declared Byrum. “It is our responsibility to see that laws and regulations are passed to protect public waters and fisheries.”
“I don’t put people down that keep their catch and only keep what they need to feed their family,” said Byrum. “What I don’t like seeing is someone with a trophy catfish going from bait shop, to service station, and elsewhere showing off their monster and then throwing it in a dumpster or ditch on the way home. Also, I don’t believe pay lakes should move fish from public lakes and rivers to their pond. According to NC fisheries, the catfish relocated do not gain weight, but waste away in the private ponds and die.”
Byrum has always been a tad competitive in everything he does. One of his favorite stories reveals that competitive side.
“When I signed up to fish my first catfish tournament in about 2001. I got a side-handed challenge” stated Byrum. “The tournament director, who also ran the striper tournament, said to me, ‘Mac, you are great striper man, but this group of river rats will eat your lunch.’”
Well as luck would have it on his first outing, he caught a 41.25-pound blue cat on Lake Norman. As of that date, it was the largest blue catfish that had been caught on the trail. Byrum and his partner came in second place overall and won big fish.
“Afterwards they handed out cash awards,” recalled Byrum. “The tournament director, in front of a local TV cameraman, ask me if I had anything else to add to the interview that he had just completed. I said, yes sir. I turned to him in front of the camera and asked, ‘Who Ate My Lunch!’ I remember the cheers and hand clapping that I got from the group that had gathered for the weigh-in.”
Another Byrum story related to his Heart Attack Cat. He was out fishing in 2012 when he caught a trophy blue. He did not know it at the time, but he was actually having a heart attack during the trip. Five hours later he was on the verge of passing on to that great fishery in the sky. His blood pressure was at dangerously low levels. The doctors put a stent in an artery and he was OK. Luckily, he had no heart damage. To this day he calls that fish his Heart Attack Cat!
In his unpretentious way, he identifies that mysterious feeling of never knowing what’s going to bite his bait as the thing that keeps him coming back for more.
“I love the suspense of not knowing what’s next,” said Byrum. “Also, I don’t think about external forces or any type of problem when I am on the water. As for the future, I hope my fishing articles, videos, and my view on conserving our public fisheries will have an impact on those that see them.”
“I don’t believe one fisherman should ever putdown another one, “ concluded Byrum. “We should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We should all just enjoy all our moments while fishing or hunting.”
Epilogue: The Catfish Hunters
Byrum co-authored the book, “The Catfish Hunters,” with Jake Bussolini. A friendship developed between the two anglers after Bussolini met Byrum in a sporting goods store.
“Mac was one of the first people that I met when I moved to NC nearly 25 years ago,” recalls Bussolini. “My first impression was that he was just another old timer working a part-time job at a sporting goods store. He gave me a few short words of wisdom about striper fishing on Lake Norman.”
“I asked him if he took people out on fishing charters,” continued Bussolino. “He said he did but only those people who were friends of his. He followed that by indicating that since he and I had exchanged a few words, I was considered a friend now and he would be glad to take me out.”
From that moment Bussolini knew that he and Byrum had a great deal in common. He took his first catfishing trip with Mac and described it as one of his greatest learning experiences in life.
Bussolini was working as an outdoor writer when he asked Byrum to co-author a book about catfishing. He agreed but only under the condition that Bussolini did all the writing and Byrum supplied the knowledge.
“We agreed and together published a very successful book,” offered Bussolini. “It is titled “The Catfish Hunters.” To this day nearly 25 years later, when I need to know something new about catfishing, I call Mac and he always has the answer. I quickly found that he had forgotten more about catfishing than I ever knew.”
“I have found over the years that Mac doesn’t say much, but what he does say contains great wisdom,” concluded Bussolini. “His knowledge and experience span a wide range of life’s subjects from fishing to subjects deep into the human culture and from birth to death.”
Click on the link to view a video profile of Mac Byrum from Dieter Melhorn Fishing, presented by Katfish Clothing. https://youtu.be/vqXRMMqIEXw