GIANT catfish below dams?

Catfish are super popular among fisherman and diners. I don’t know anyone where I live in the American South who doesn’t like fried catfish.

Catfish however are subject of some myths and misconceptions.

#Anglers noodle giant flatheads (ops)—If you have an e-mail  address, you have probably seen the photos of anglers in the water with huge  yellow-skinned catfish with a subject line like, “Angler’s Noodle World Record  Flathead” or something like that. Well for starters, “noodling” is the practice of feeling around with your hands and grabbing catfish by the mouth and  wrestling them to shore.

The author with his Wels caught in 2005 in Spain's Segra River.
The author with his Wels caught in 2005 in Spain’s Segra River.

The photos passed around the Internet of anglers with super-sized flatheads are not really flatheads at all. They are Wels catfish from Europe. They look almost exactly like flatheads except for the fins, which grow like a tadpole. And then there is the size. Wels grow up to 10 feet in length and catches of fish over six feet are common. The world record flathead was just over five feet in length.

My wife Lisa and I both caught Wels over seven feet in the Segra River in Spain in 2005 and nearly everyone who sees the photos
thinks they are flatheads until we tell them differently.

The next time you see photos of giant catfish supposedly “noodled” look closely at the fins. It is probably a Wels.

#Man-eating catfish below dams—One of the most common urban legends in the region is the story of divers going below a dam to inspect the walls and seeing catfish “large as a Volkswagen and big enough to swallow a man”. Usually the story is related by someone who said their friends cousin’s uncle was the diver.

I actually dove a reservoir to see if there were any catfish at all around them and came to the conclusion this story originated by someone seeing a catfish of record proportions like the former world record caught on Lake Texoma that weighed over  120 pounds that I got to dive with at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.

The author diving with "Splash" at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.
The author diving with “Splash” at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.

Seeing a fish that large in murky water would be frightening and it might seem as if the fish was much larger than it really was. Also, I am sure there are record-sized fish out there. In fact, there are probably some cats either blues or flatheads over 150 pounds that no one has been able to catch.

Seeing one of these at point-blank range would be frightening but probably not life threatening.As for the “Volkswagen-sized catfish”,
maybe on a Godzilla movie but not in real life.

Chester Moore, Jr.

2 Comments on “GIANT catfish below dams?

  1. Hi Chester,
    If you want to see some big catfish just go to the spillway at Toledo Bend whenever they are not generating and walk out on the bridge over the outflow of the generator and look down. I don’t know the average size of these catfish, but it is fairly large. Maybe nothing like the size of the one in your picture diving with it, but there are some really nice sized ones. Unfortunately for us fishermen, it is illegal to fish there. However…if you know of a night when the generator will definitely be running at full flow, go further down the outflow channel, and using heavy duty saltwater gear, find a place where it is safe to cast and use cut bait and you have a good chance at catching one of the big ones which live below the dam. You might also catch a big Striped Bass. I have dived below the spillway and down the outflow channel many times when they have the generator shut down, while hunting for petrified wood, but have only seen one large catfish during my dive. It spooked as soon as it saw me in the super clear water, but that was OK with me since I didn’t have a speargun with me and I didn’t know the Texas requirements for taking freshwater fish while diving. It does make for an interesting dive since the slow water speed allows the water to be crystal clear most of the time. The water is shallow, less than ten feet in most places. The people who operate the generating station sound a very loud siren before they open the spillway, and give you plenty of time to get out of the water and up the Cliffside. Be sure to wear a wet or dry suit since the water is usually very cold since the only water coming down the channel when the spillway is closed comes from the very bottom of the lake. You must climb down steep cliff sides with all your gear, so it isn’t a dive for the physically challenged. I have also made quite a few dives off the dam into the lake itself, well away from the intake for the spillway. You can find water depths of 90 feet there, but I prefer the shallower dives where I don’t have to worry about decompression as much. I am not sure if Toledo Dive is still open since I haven’t been up there in a couple of years, but it is a complete dive shop where you can find gear and air refills. There is almost always someone there who can tell you about some of the more interesting spot to dive. The shop is on the Louisiana side just North of Pleasure Point campground. I can’t remember the name of the marina there. Pleasure Point is one of the nicest campgrounds in the state of Louisiana and that is where I stay whenever I go to Toledo Bend and spend my time on the South end of the lake.

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