Summertime battles with big catfish

By G. Sam Piatt - PDT Columnist



Submitted Photo

In the hot summer days of July and August bass become finicky and difficult to catch. Even crappie are harder to locate.

But one fish always ready to do battle is the catfish. And there are some big blues, muds, flatheads and channels lurking in the waters of the Ohio River.

On a mid-August day nearly eight years ago, John F. McDowell of South Shore, fishing just downstream from the Portsmouth waterfront about an hour before nightfall, hooked a big mud cat that he liked to have never got up to the surface.

Following a 15-minute battle, John’s son, Jacob, gaffed the fish and they were able to pull it up over the side and into the boat.

On Bill Carver’s fishing scales, it weighed a whopping 48 pounds.


McDowell’s catch was in the same area where John Nixon and Bradley Hall, fishing in early July, fought a 66-pound catfish for 45 minutes before bringing it into the boat.

Good places to find big cats include the piers of the bridges and around Old Dam 31, which saw its walls and bear traps blasted to pieces years ago, after the new high navigation dams completed at Greenup and farther down at New Richmond.


Incidentally, John McDowell and I were in the Naval Reserves out of Portsmouth for a while. Several of us had gone off for our annual two weeks active duty for training, One incident from that trip, even though it happened more than 25 years ago, still sticks vividly in my mind.

We were stationed with the regular navy at New Port, R.I. One evening when we got off duty we held a little cookout in a park by the seashore.

At that time we called John “Big John.” He was big and strong, one of the strongest men I’ve known – still is, I suppose.

At any rate, I foolishly challenged Big John to a wrestling match there in the grass. We grappled, and I got one leg behind his legs, tripped him up, and put him down. As our shipmates cheered, I jumped on top of him, seemingly pining him with my 210 pounds.

I says, “What are you gonna do now, big boy?” He says, “I’m gonna get up.” Holding his hands down and locking my knees in tighter against his torso, I says, “I’d just like to see you do that, big guy, if you think you can!”

Then, despite all my efforts to hold him down, John McDowell sat up, stood up, with me still clinging to his upper body, and flipped me off as though I were a flea on a dog.


Keith Sutton, in his 2008 book, “Catfish. Using the Secrets of the Pros to Catch More and Bigger Catfish,” published under the Pro Tactics series by The Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, dispels a few myths about the catfish in his Introduction.

“Some of these ugly rumors are as persistent as the old wives’ tale about toads causing warts,” Sutton said.

For instance, Sutton reports, the whiskers of the catfish are not poisonous stingers, as some people tend to think they are. They’re organs of taste, covered with taste buds to help the catfish find food.

The pectoral and dorsal fin spines of the channel, blue, and flathead catfish are not poisonous. They can inflict painful wounds that often require medical attention when an unwary angler gets “stabbed.”

Catfish don’t feed just at night. They feed around the clock, and not just on the bottom. They are “highly efficient predators adept at chasing down and ambushing prey,” Sutton reports, whether it be cicadas or frogs on the surface or shad in midwater.

Although the record catfish weighed nearly 125 pounds, they don’t keep growing until they’re big enough to swallow a human. The story is told about dams all over the nation where divers went down, then popped back to the surface and refused to go back underwater because they saw a catfish they feared would eat them.

Old wives tale.

Piatt Submitted Photo

By G. Sam Piatt

PDT Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at or (606) 932-3619.