Ohio River monsters

Ohio River monsters

Fishermen with large catfish

Carl Morris Jr. (left) of Johnstown and Rob Parsons (right) of Mount Vernon show off their Alabama blue catfish caught earlier this year that weighed nearly 115 pounds.

Chris Rolph with blue catfish

Stories of huge catfish — channel cats, flatheads, and blues — lurking in the deep, murky, mysterious pools of the Ohio River have been whispered from angler to angler for hundreds of years. For instance, David Zeisberger, a missionary to the Delaware Indians in what would one day become Ohio, recorded in his 1780 book, History of the Northern American Indians, the following fish story:

“In the Ohio [River] … [catfish] grow to an unusual size. In Pittsburgh, a man who had gone fishing at night, having bound the line to his arm and gone to sleep in his canoe, was dragged into the water by the catfish and lost his life. Man and fish were found close together several days later.”

Another large Ohio River catfish during pioneer times even provoked an Indian attack. In July 1782, near Wheeling, Tom Mills Sr. and two other men were fishing from a boat at the mouth of Glen’s Run, a small tributary of the Ohio along the north shore, when he hooked and landed a large flathead catfish. Unfortunately, a nearby war party of some 30 Shawnee Indians heard the trio whooping, celebrating their catch, and crept through the dense woods to investigate.

Cocking their flintlock rifles, the Indians took aim and fired simultaneously, hitting Mills no less than 17 times. Miraculously, only one of the other two men was wounded, and Mills somehow survived his many injuries. Upon later learning that his trophy flathead catfish weighed 87 pounds, Mills quipped, “Almost makes it worth it.”

Giant Ohio River catfish are not just a thing of the past. The largest fish currently on Ohio’s state-record list is a blue cat caught by Chris Rolph of Williamsburg on June 11, 2009, near Cincinnati. It weighed a whopping 96 pounds and measured 54.5 inches long!

“It took me half an hour to land the big cat,” remembers Rolph. “When my fishing buddy, Jon Owens of Amelia, netted the fish, he immediately knew I had a new state record. We headed back to the dock to find a certified scale and have the fish weighed as soon as possible.”

The fish was so large that the only place Rolph found to weigh it was a feed store. The record blue catfish was then released into a farm pond.

Two other Ohioans who are pretty good at catching large catfish are Rob Parsons of Mount Vernon and his fishing partner, Carl Morris Jr. of Johnstown. Earlier this year, the pair landed a blue cat that tipped the scales at 114.96 pounds. Unfortunately, the fish was not a new Ohio record, because it was caught from Wheeler Lake in Alabama, part of the Tennessee River system.

“It stands as the largest catfish ever caught in the history of the Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail,” Parsons says. “All the catfish caught during the tournament were released following the official weigh-in, so some other lucky angler may catch that fish again someday — and by then it will be even larger.”

Surprisingly, even with their big catch, Parsons and Morris did not win the one-day Alabama tournament. The winner was determined by the total weight of five catfish, and they caught only three that day, so they finished second.

If you’d like to try your luck at catching your own trophy catfish, the annual Monsters on the Ohio catfish tournament is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Owensboro, Kentucky.