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'Reel' big legend haunts river goers in Kentuckiana

Could a giant catfish be lurking near the lock in the Ohio River? WHAS11's Hayley Minogue finds out.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Being "Kentuckiana Proud" is about highlighting the people, places and things in our community often overlooked.

But it's hard not to overlook something quite literally lurking underneath the surface.

We're digging into an old urban legend you've probably heard or told yourself about a human eating bottom feeder in the Ohio river.

Along the banks of the Ohio River, Alonzo Chappell takes in the sun, patiently casting, reeling and repeating.

"I'm going to try and catch it," he says, when asked about a lurking monster, rumored to live near the lock.

"I've heard that one before, but I don't know how true it is," he said with a smile on his face. "I know there's some pretty big fish out here. You never know what you're going to catch in the Ohio river."

As his day continued, he did catch one fish, but nothing quite like the fish in the story bringing us to the banks of the river.

As the legend goes, there's a catfish the size of a Volkswagen, exploring the depths of the Ohio river until an unsuspecting child or diver (depending on the legend, and who you're telling it to) crosses the fish's path and is never seen again.

Credit: Kletr - stock.adobe.com

"No one has ever asked me officially, as part of my job about it," said Phillip Kacmar, the Big Rivers Fisheries biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

"Personally, I've heard that when I was in Wisconsin and Tennessee," Kacmar said with a chuckle. "I've talked to people in Missouri and Arkansas who've heard the same story. Always below a dam, or a bridge depending on where you are in the states."

If the legend is so wide spread, could it mean we have giant catfish swimming around in multiple waterways?

"That's the thing!" Kacmar said, disproving my questions about a collective of man eating fish so sneaky we've just never seen them. "Over in Asia and also in Wells? i guess Wells catfish, they can get massive and eat bigger things. But that's the thing, that's a 250 pound fish, and its still not big enough. Maybe an infant, but people aren't letting their infants go into the river unattended."

Kacmar says the cautionary part of the legend, the 'don't swim alone,' or 'don't dive too deep,' or 'don't swim after dark,' aspect of this tale could be what helped create the story in the first place.

"It's a lot easier to blame a catfish than people's own issues," Kacmar said. "It's easier if someone goes missing or drowns to blame a catfish as opposed to the river current took them or something else is the reason they passed away."

So, in summation, giant catfish are not ready to swallow you whole as soon as you let your guard down. At least, none that we've seen at this time.

I asked Kacmar if it was possible the fish were being impacted radioactively, or if there could be something in the river causing monstrous mutations.
"Oh, I'm not touching that one!" Kacmar said with a chuckle. "I'm sorry!"

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