Volkswagen-Sized Catfish

Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 29th, 2008

Mysterious America

Famed natural history artist Alexis Rockman painted the cover of the 2001 edition of Mysterious America depicting a real encounter he and his cryptozoology expedition associates had with a giant catfish in the Amazon.

The new edition of Mysterious America contains a chapter on “Giant Catfish” sightings, which continue throughout North America and elsewhere in the world.

These tales overlap with swamp monster encounters, lake monster ponderings, and weird animal happenings. Giant catfish do exist, which is a fact not in dispute. The question is how “giant” does “giant” get and where are they living today.

In an article today on the giant cryptid catfish accounts, news reporter Mike Bolton picks it up where I temporarily left the quest in my book:

You’ve no doubt heard the ages-old story.

Scuba divers inspecting a nearby dam emerge from the water terrified. In the dark waters below, they had spotted catfish as large as a Volkswagen. They refused to go back into the water for fear they might get swallowed whole.

That urban legend dates back to the 1950s. More than half-a-century later, fishery biologists in Alabama say they still hear the giant-catfish-below-a-dam story dozens of times a year.

It’s not just an Alabama story. A search on the Internet finds the same story told about dams all across the United States.

The question, though, is could there really be a catfish in Alabama big enough to eat a human?

Fishery biologists concede a catfish might actually try to swallow a human if it were big enough. There are plenty of confirmed stories of catfish eating unusual objects and taking on a meal so large that the fish or other objects became lodged in the catfish’s throat.

“Of anything predatory, you can find confirmed stories where a fish or animal attacked something too large for it to handle,” said Joe Addison, a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources fisheries biologist said. “On occasion they’ll even attack something so large it will become lodged in their throat and it will kill them.”

Still, Addison and other fisheries biologists say the stories of giant catfish capable of eating a human just aren’t true. Neither Alabama, nor anywhere else in the United States for that matter, has catfish that large, they say.

Catfish such as the 646-pound, 8-foot-long Mekong catfish caught recently in Thailand aren’t found in Alabama. Neither are the giant wels catfish found in Europe.

In fact, the largest catfish ever recorded in Alabama weighed 111 pounds. The largest catfish ever recorded in the United States is the 121-pound blue catfish caught from the Texas side of Lake Texoma in 2004.

Even a 121-pound catfish isn’t going to try to inhale a human being, Addison said.

“I have personally spawned 50-pound catfish at the hatchery in Marion and I can tell you that a catfish twice that size or even three times that size cannot eat a human,” he said.

Big one in Walker Co.:

Sumiton’s John Beal probably would have agreed with Addison prior to last Sunday. What he saw at Walker County Lake in Jasper changed his mind.

Beal was fishing at daylight Sunday when he spotted what he first thought was a log. It turned out to be an unusually large flathead catfish with a smaller blue catfish lodged in its mouth.

Beal, fishing by himself, snagged the struggling catfish with a hook as it slowly swam by. He then wrestled with the fish and dragged it ashore.

The fish was reported to the department of conservation on Monday and biologists were told that the flathead catfish likely weighed 150 pounds. A fisheries biologist was dispatched to Walker County Lake. The fish was weighed on certified scales and came in at 55 pounds. The fish taken from its mouth weighed 12 pounds.

The big catfish is still alive in a tank at Walker County Lake.

“I say definitely this fish could have gotten a child’s head in its mouth and possibly a grown man’s head,” Beal said. “We measured, and it had the other fish 14 inches down its throat.

“It was an incredible sight.”

Addison believes there is no way that even a child’s head could fit inside the mouth of a fish that size.

Stories of catfish biting off more they can handle are common. Noodlers, the fishermen who run their arms up in underwater holes to feel for catfish, often report having their arms sucked into a catfish’s throat up to the elbow, even on 30-pound fish.

At Sandalwood Lake in Wichita, Kan., in 2004, a flathead catfish made national news for its appetite. Lakeside residents there discovered the catfish, estimated at 50 pounds, had inhaled a child’s basketball and it was stuck in the fish’s mouth. The fish was alive and trying to dive to the bottom, but the basketball kept bringing it to the surface.

Lake resident Bill Driver caught the fish with a net and tried unsuccessfully to pry the basketball from the flathead catfish’s mouth. The ball was finally removed after it was punctured with a knife. The fish swam away unharmed.

Phony fish tales:

A catfish getting a less-than-regulation basketball in its mouth and getting a whole human in its mouth are two different things, state fisheries biologist Jack Turner says.

“Everybody has heard the old story about the giant catfish below dams,” Turner said. “There’s no reason to believe there are any catfish anywhere in Alabama capable of eating even a small child.

“There are historical reports that can’t be verified from the 1800s and early 1900s of catfish weighing over 200 pounds in Alabama. Those may or may not be true. Still, a 200-pound catfish would not come close to being able to eat even a small child.”

The Internet has done wonders for the rebirth of stories of man-eating catfish. The investigative Web site has refuted them all.

The story of the 187-pound catfish caught in Texas that has circulated around the Internet in recent years turned out to be a wels catfish caught in Italy. The monstrous catfish caught in a lake in China that reportedly had a whole human inside turned out to be a whale shark that was caught from the ocean and it had no human inside.

“There are some big catfish out there in other countries but I have never seen it documented that they have ever eaten a human,” Turner said. “The Mekong catfish in Asia grow to be 500 pounds or more and the wels catfish in Europe can grow to be several hundred pounds, I believe.

“But there’s nothing like that in Alabama.”

“Just another wild (cat)fish story,” by Mike Bolton, Sunday, June 29, 2008, Birmingham News, Alabama.


Thanks to Helen McGinnis for sending along this article.


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Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

12 Responses to “Volkswagen-Sized Catfish”

  1. graybear responds:

    A catfish the size of a Volkswagon, fifty pounds of corn meal, a deep fat frier the size of a pick-up truck equals Southern boy Heaven, he wrote from Tennessee.

  2. joppa responds:

    I tried noodling catfish once; I couldn’t get used to the fact that I was live human bait.

  3. shumway10973 responds:

    When fish have an over abundance of food and don’t have to really fight any currents, you would be surprised at how big they can get. I know a scuba diver here who has his own business cleaning out the man made pond’s drainage systems. He said that there’s one with big mouth bass as big as he is, and that was determined because the reflective flashes he saw were a little over half his height. Which means that about half the fish caught what little light there is and reflected it. Now, I’m not sure just how big fish can get. I’m sure there’s some sort of “off” switch that says, “grow anymore and I kill you,” and it means it. Humans have it (actually we have a few).

  4. pre-cbs responds:

    The European Catfish (Siluris glanis) can grow up to 5 meters and weigh up to 400kg. it can grow as long as a Volkswagen but the weight is not near.

    I have seen a Catfish that weighed nearly 150kgs [330 pds] and it was about 3 meters [9 feet] long. That was a huge fish and I am sure it could eat a child without any trouble. Not too long ago there was a Catfish in a pond that ate an old woman’s dog (in Germany if I remember correct). They eat seabirds as well.

    The length of a Volkswagen is already reached in Europe so why not in the States, especially in areas where the climate and the environment is similar?

  5. Amdusias responds:

    My roomie in school used to fish the dam at the Griffey reservor in Bloomington, Indiana, with a salt water rig for some unbelievable (I thought) catfish. Nothing the size of a car, however.

  6. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Many anglers here in the UK travel to Italy and Spain in search of giant wells catfish. As stated this is a different species to that of the U.S. There 150lb fish are not unusual. I believe the record for a line caught fish stands between 220-250lb but there are undoubtedly larger uncaught fish on the continent.

    ‘Jaws’ record-breaking catfish caught in Spain

  7. Rogutaan responds:

    My Aquaculture professor had a similar story to the basketball, except I think he said it was one of crappy red rubber balls. He punctured it with a sharpened pole.

  8. cryptidsrus responds:

    Gotta get me a giant jar of tartar sauce with that…

  9. Amdusias responds:

    CryptidsRus, I really wouldn’t eat a cat that was that big. Can you imagine how many years he has been feeding off of the bottom, soaking up mercury and pesticides? I wonder if glandular tumors may not add to the limit of size that these creatures can get, like our own HGH giants…

  10. AlbertaSasquatch responds:

    That’s hilarious, I never knew that was such a common myth. Where I live in Alberta there is a powerplant and dam close by and I heard that scuba divers had to go down to the water intake of the powerplant to clean it. When they got down I heard they were seeing northern pike(the big fish around here) as big as themselves and it put quite the scare into a few them. Now a northern pike thats 5 or 6 feet long couldn’t eat a person or a kid for that matter but they could give you one hell of a bite that might take a good chunk out of you(their teeth are very sharp and long just ask my hand!)
    But now after reading this I am wondering if it was just another urban myth with a little local flair added to make it more believable.

  11. korollocke responds:

    I have heard of nine footers in wyoming. monster quest did a monster fish ep and told of boy being knocked out of his boat and devoured by the big fish. The version of the giant dam fish in montana has jaques as the famous diver claiming big catfish at holterdam that would swallow them whole, can’t verify that one. It’s colorful though…also on a simular note flathead lake in montana is said to have a lake monster and it’s deep, supposedly deeper than divers or subs can go, think thats a bit of an exageration.

  12. Sordes responds:

    There is a whole lot of widespread misinformation about the actual size of the European catfish Siluris glanis.

    You can very often read this “5m” but never with much more information. As the Wels is a common species where I live, and I find it very interesting, I made a whole lot of research about this species since many years. The facts are much lesser imposants than the alleged tales.

    The wels can grow big, without doubt bigger than any north-american catfish species, but it stays much smaller than many of you probably think. You will find specimens over 2m only extremely rarely, and weights of more than 100 pounds are really exeptional. Even in Italy and Spain where they were introduced in the early 20th century, and where they grow due to the warm climate better than in most of their native habitat, lengths of more than 2m are far away from being normal. If you look at the statistics of record specimens as well as scientific investigations of sizes among populations you can see that the relation between size and individual number is some kind of pyramide.

    The bigger the rarer they are. There is only a handfull of specimens over 200 pounds or 2,50, and even lesser if you look a even bigger ones. There is one single specimen from the Po-Delta in Italy which was caught some years ago, which reached the incredible length of 2,78 and weighed 144kg. This is really extraordinairy, and only one among millions will reach this size. In fact there are no credible records of bigger ones. I checked a lot of primary literature, including historic literature, and there were nowhere true indications that this fish reached bigger sizes in the past.

    There is a handfull of alleged reports about oversized wels catfish, but none of them is credible. Not only that it would be strange if they would be able to surpass the known maximum length for nearly 100% without any records of immediate sizes, the relations between length and weight are also always ridiculous, which is a very typical trait for exagerated big fish stories. A hypothetical wels catfish of 5m would weigh at least 1400 pounds, but most probably even more, as they grow in general stockier with additional length. But there aren´t any reports of such weights. Even from early times of the Renaissance I found only a weight of about 150 pounds for the wels, what is still very big and would be probably among the top-ten in middle-european fishing-charts.

    You can also very often read that the wels attains huge sizes in Russia. But is also not the truth. It seems that there are two or three old reports which were repeated for more than a century in literature, similar to the alleged 12m great whites or 4,5m Arapaimas. I checked newer literature (including old reports) with more information about the sizes among populations, and there was not a grain of indication that the wels would reach larger sizes in Russia of the regions of the Caspian sea than in Europe. There is actually now already some sort of catfish-fishing-tourism in some regions of Russia. The fish there are good, comparable to those of Italy, but far away from being monster-sized.

    There is a lot of more things I could wrote about this topic (actually I wrote an aritcle about this topic for a magazine which is about 9pages long).

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