I remember the crudely-lettered sign on the hillside along Route 10 about a mile downriver from U.S. Grant Bridge. I still recall the exact wording: “For Fresh Fish Come in Here to the River Crawford.”
The sign was adjacent to the first of three railroad crossings leading down into the village of Beattyville, the only community in Kentucky where I spent my boyhood days. An arrow pointed down that street toward the river. Fred Crawford lived in the last house down on the right.
His weather-beaten home, surrounded by fishing nets drying in the sun, barrel-shaped hoop nets, a couple of wooden johnboats undergoing repairs, and several sets of long oars, lay just 50 yards from the water’s edge.
Any traveler along Route 10 (now Route 8) desiring fresh fish for supper need only follow the arrow to Crawford’s house and place an order. There were live boxes floating in the river in which he kept several species of fish caught in the hoop nets, including mostly catfish, but also carp, buffalo, bass, walleye, sauger (known then as skipjacks), paddlefish (spoon-billed catfish), and now and then a sturgeon of two. He would clean the fish while the customer waited.
Sturgeons, a big lake fish, were also native to the Ohio River Basin, but are now very rare. They can grow to be more than six feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds. They can live for 150 years.
They’re thought for the most part to be extinct in the Ohio River. However, seven or eight years back, an angler fishing from George’s Dock just upstream from South Shore landed a juvenile on rod and reel that would weigh about two pounds.
BIG CATFISH THRIVE
There are some very big catfish swimming in the Ohio. In 1999, Bruce Midkiff battled in a blue cat from the tailwaters of a dam below Louisville that weighed 104 pounds. It was the Kentucky record and thought to be even a world’s record.
But in 2004, Cody Mullennix landed a 121-pounder from a lake in Texas. A year later, that world record was broken Mike Pruitt, who fought and rolled a blue into the boat from the Mississippi River that pushed the scales down to 124 pounds, the current world’s record.
Kentucky’s biggest flathead catfish weighed 97 pounds and was caught by Edgar Carroll from the Green River in 1958. Ohio’s record on the flathead weighed 76.5 pounds and was caught in 1979 by Richard Affoller from Clendening Lake. No record for the blue is listed.
In West Virginia, the record flathead weighed 70 pounds and was caught from the Little Kanawha River in 1956; the biggest channel was a 33-pounder caught from Patterson Creek in 1993.
The channel catfish is the one caught most frequently by pole and line fishermen from the Ohio. The Kentucky record for that species is a 28-pounder caught from a farm pond in 1994 by Hope Tinsley. Ohio’s biggest channel weighed 37.65 pounds. It was caught by Gus Grnowskie from La Dur Reservoir in 1992.
THE CRAWFORD RIVER?
Strangers to the area might have thought, from the highway sign’s wording, that it was the Crawford River flowing by out there between Crawford’s home and the lower end of Portsmouth.
THE OHIO RIVER’S NAME
I shan’t be held responsible for the accuracy of either of the following allegations of how the Ohio River got its name.
According to Elmer Sword’s booklet, “The Story of Portsmouth,” the Wyandot Indians gave it the name, “Oh-he-uh.” Oher sources said that translated to “beautiful river.”
French explorers said the name translated into “La Belle Riviere.”
The Shawnees, who displaced the Wyandot’s in this area about 1745, called the river “Kiskepila Sepe.” That meant “Eagle river” because of the great number of eagles living along its shores.
That name was dropped in favor of the one given it by the Wyandots.
If Fred Crawford was still alive, he would no doubt feel thrilled to have his name associated with the river that provided him a livelihood.
Reach G. Sam Piatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 932-3619.