Jaws--the freshwater version

Over the years rumors have persisted of giant catfish seen in the vicinity of the Bagnell Dam. According to the yarns, these fish--as large as a man--were seen in deep water by divers working on the intake gates of the dam. But reason would seem to suggest otherwise. Below a certain depth there is too little oxygen in the water for fish to survive, and the deep water is very cold.

I decided to check with the Missouri Department of Conservation. They kept no records of sightings, but they did provide a list of the biggest fish caught in the Lake of the Ozarks. The largest catfish weighed 103 pounds. The largest fish of any kind caught at the lake was a 134 pound paddlefish. So that seemed to settle the matter.

But maybe not.

Back in the 1970s a tourist on a helicopter ride looked down at a fishing boat near the dam. The tourist said that there were several fish visible in the water around the boat. She stated that they were longer than the fishing boat and they seemed to be interested in whatever bait the fisherman had on his line. Though she could see the fish from her high angle, she doubted that the fisherman was aware of their presence. Since the fish seemed to be interested in the bait, it seems unlikely that they were paddlefish, since paddlefish eat plankton and cannot be caught with a baited hook.

And then...

Several years ago, one of the stops along the Bagnell Dam strip was a site called the Missouri Aquarium. This aquarium featured a five-foot long catfish. It was caught in the lake. Now a five-foot catfish is a big fish. But there was something even more unusual about this fish. It had bite marks around its middle. Something very large had tried to eat this fish.

Enjoy your swim.


© 1999, 2011 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.