There have been no reports of sharks caught from the Ohio River since I did a story 39 years ago on three young fishermen catching one from the river near Portsmouth.
The fishermen – Chuck Howerton, Tim Slater and Sam Cooper, all in their early 20s – said one of them caught the baby shark, little more than a foot long, on a nightcrawler while fishing from a johnboat near the mouth of the Scioto River.
They came up from the river into the village of Beattyville, where all three lived, carrying the fish as proof of their tale. They showed it about so long that the poor thing died. It was still limber when I snapped a photo of it.
The photo and a little information in the cutline beneath it ran the following day on the front page of the Daily Independent, where I was employed as a senior news writer.
The Associated Press picked it up and circulated it far and wide. An Ohio wildlife official said it was probably a sturgeon or a paddlefish.
It had been identified from a fish identification book as a sand shark, which can grow to 10 feet in the Atlantic Ocean.
A professor at Ohio State University said it was impossible for a shark to survive in the Ohio River.
Sports Illustrated even ran a brief story on the tale.
Daily Independent Editor Paul Sierer was a little embarrassed by all the publicity. He ran an editorial about how the paper dealt in facts, not rumors – that rumors never reached print unless they could be confirmed by official sources.
Two days after the photo ran, I had run a story on my interview with the three fishermen. That was their story and they were sticking to it.
There was no way I could confirm their story.
Some of my colleagues referred to me as “the shark reporter.”
Bob McCullough Jr., chairman of the board of Ashland Publishing Company, scattered some sharks’ teeth across my desk.
I knew he’d been on a beach vacation to Florida.
“You picked these up on the beach?”
“No,” he answered, “I picked them up down below the Greenup Dam.”
Reach G. SAM PIATT at email@example.com or (606) 932-3619.