Fact Check

Giant Catfish

Monstrously large catfish lurk supposedly underwater at the base of dams.

Published Dec. 3, 2003


Claim:   Monstrously large catfish lurk underwater at the base of dams.



[Collected on the Internet, 1998]

Skin Divers, while cleaning out the intake to the power plant, had to be rescued from the murky depths by EMS crews. Found floating and unconscious, (one of which was in a coma for several days), they reported catfish so large that one of the divers was sucked into the giant bottom-feeders mouth, only to be spat out.

[Collected on the Internet, 2000]

There is this lake near where I live that is dammed up. The dam repair man goes down to fix/check for cracks in the dam. He sees a HUGE catfish that could swallow a Volkswagen Bug whole. He comes up from the murky depths of the lake and never is a dam repair man again.



  • Various locales have been given as the location of the mythical catfish: quarries in Georgia, lakes in Texas, the Colorado river, plus less specific sightings naming only the state. The legend moves around, and has been told for decades as a true occurrence that happened locally throughout the southern, midwestern, and southwestern United States.
  • In rare tellings, the fish will be described as a carp or pike.
  • Narratives commonly include declarations of "I'll never go back down there again!" plus vivid descriptions of the size of the fish, such as "The size of a pickup truck," "Big enough to swallow a man," and "Could've swallowed several men at once!"
  • Sometimes the catfish does more than just look at the divers: he chomps on a leg. Alternatively, this piscatorial presence doesn't actually do anything to the divers, but their hair turns white from the shock of the encounter.

Origins:   Though Jonah probably holds the record for the oldest "big fish that got away" tale to make it into print, the "giant catfish shocks diver" legend is a bit more recent in origin, dating to the early 1950s. In an early recounting,

the underwater rescue of a motorist whose car has plunged into the deep waters near a local dam brings man and beast face to face. When an attempt is made to open the car door and free the person trapped inside, giant shadows menacingly pass over the divers. They look up in horror and behold catfish the size of Volkswagens guarding the vehicle.

The divers make it back to the surface hundreds of feet above them, but the driver and the car still rest on the lake bottom in that nest of giant catfish.

By the 1960s the mythical catfish had grown to the size of Ford Falcons; in the '70s those same fish were as large as full-sized Buicks; and more recently some were just a bit smaller than Winnebagos. (If the current trend in storytelling continues unchecked, by 2100 those cats will rival space shuttles.)

How big catfish commonly found in North American waters can actually get is widely disputed. Supposedly, the record is a 123 lb. flathead catfish caught in Kansas.

Folks, however, swear cats have been known to weigh twice as much (and often that they almost landed one or were chased by one). A widely-circulated 1914 Tennessee photo has any number convinced there was at least one 500 lb. monstrosity. The picture shows the fish with its tail hanging off what appears to be a logging wagon, with a man viewing the behemoth from a standing position at the rear of the wagon. Very believable evidence, that, even if the original has long been surrendered to the mists of time and all that now survives are copies of this controversial snapshot.

A member of the photographer's family dismisses the matter as a prank. "My daddy had a little wagon that looked like a log wagon," said Joe Brownlow Pitts of Savannah, Tennessee. "He put the fish — which weighed, I recall, about 85 lbs. — on it. Then, my uncle Frank, who was good at photography, cut out a cardboard man that was being used in a clothing advertisement and stuck it on the wagon, along with the fish. He took the picture." Explanation to the contrary, many still prefer to accept the evidence their eyes perceive over what they hear.

Possibly the "divers encounter giant catfish" story is the rural counterpart to the Alligators in the Sewer legend. Both feature frightening subterranean encounters with oversized critters, which invoke fear of the darkness and unknown that is the underground/underwater and anxiety about being taken by surprise by large wild creatures.

Barbara "such as the Green Bay Packers" Mikkelson

Additional Information:

      ESPN on Disputed 1914 Catfish Photo   Disputed 1914 Catfish Photo   (ESPN)

Last updated:   31 March 2015


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