Thursday, July 23, 2009

A MonsterQuest Look a Giant Freshwater Fish

In the MonsterQuest episode entitled “Giant Fish”, the team takes a look at reports from around the world of giant freshwater fish. While the species of fish vary, the reports talk of abnormally large fish that will attack humans under the right conditions. Tales from the Amazon report of giant catfish that can swallow a child whole. A Canadian fisherman reports seeing a lake trout the size of his boat. MonsterQuest investigated these fishing tales to find out the truth.

Known Freshwater Killing

Our fear of giant fish lurking in the water is a primal fear that is in all of us to some degree. According to shark expert Ralph Collier, this fear was what inspired the success of the movie Jaws. What a lot of people do not realize is that real life shark attacks inspired this book and movie. Not only were the attacks real, but they occurred in a river 16 miles from the ocean. In July of 1916, three people were attacked in Matawan Creek and unfortunately two were killed including an 11 year old boy. Mattawan Creek is a tidal river that is about 40 feet wide at the point where the attacks took place. Experts believe that the attacking shark(s) were most likely a bull shark or a great white.

Giant Catfish

Different species of catfish are found throughout the world and some of them are giants. Catfish do not have scales and some are covered with bony plates. The whisker-like barbels of some species can deliver a poison powerful enough to hospitalize a human. Many species are indiscriminate eaters that will ingest almost anything they can swallow. The largest known species of catfish is the Mekong giant catfish which are found on the Mekong River in Cambodia. According to Dekila Chungyalpa of the World Wildlife Federation, these catfish can grow to be 9 feet long and weigh 646 pounds.

Another species of catfish has been reported to swallow small children whole. The giant red tail catfish is found in the Amazon River area of South America. The official record size of the giant red tail catfish is 54 inches long and 108 pounds, but the locals say they get much bigger. Local fishing guide Marc Cobos translated the story of a local woman. According to the woman, a giant red tail catfish knocked over a canoe that her young cousin was riding in. The boy disappeared and the villagers were not able to find him. Several days later a giant red tail catfish was found dead with the legs of the unfortunate boy sticking out of its mouth. Apparently, the giant red tail catfish had died while attempting to swallow the boy.

MonsterQuest will attempt to investigate these stories by sending a team of expert fishermen to the Amazon to investigate. Colorado sports fishermen Brian Coe and Mike Knee teamed up with local guide Marc Cobos in search of these giants. They base the expedition out of the Amazon Tours Lodge which is near the area of the reported catfish attack. Using local piranha and barracuda as bait, they attempted to catch a giant red tail catfish.

After several days of attempting to catch a giant fish, they have no luck. The largest red tail catfish that they catch is 20 pounds. According to Marc Cobos, the giant catfish are becoming less common as the area is more heavily fished. Cobos does believe that the giant red tail catfish are still out there.

The “Freshwater Barracuda”

Pike are found throughout the northern hemisphere and their aggressive nature has given them the nickname of the “freshwater barracuda”. Pike have rows of razor sharp teeth and a torpedo shaped body that can move through the water at up to 30 miles per hour. According to aquatic expert Roland Sigurdson, pike are an ambush predator that will eat their own kind and have been known to attack humans on rare occasions. The largest known pike to have been caught was over 60 inches in length and weighed 67 pounds.

An example of pike aggressiveness was experienced by Blaine Johnson. In 2004, Johnson was wading near the shore in Pine River, Minnesota. Suddenly, he was attacked from behind. He rushed out of the water to find blood streaming down his ankle and foot. The teeth marks are still visible today. Experts believe that Johnson was attacked by a pike.

MonsterQuest looked into the possibility that there could be giant pike in America. They examined the remains of what some believe to be the largest pike ever to be found. In 1998, Jack Woehler and his family found the remains of a giant fish in Chippewa Flowage, Wisconsin. There were enough of the remains to identify it as a type of pike known as a musky. The jaws of this pike were kept on display at the Treeland Resorts hotel. Frank Pratt from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources believes that the jaws may have belonged to a giant pike that was bigger than the world record holder.

MonsterQuest enlisted the aid of wildlife forensic reconstructionist Matt Yernatich to determine the size of this creature. According to Yernatich, the size of a pike is proportional to the size of its jaws. Using the jaws as a guide, he created a reconstruction of the creature. The reconstruction showed that the pike in question would have been a little bigger than the current world record. Yernatich estimates the pike would have been about six feet long and weighed around 70 pounds.

Giant Lake Trout

Lake trout are known as fighters with keen eyesight and strong jaws. They can be very big with the known world record at 59 inches long and 120 pounds. According to expert fishing guide Jim Peterson, they can get mush bigger. In July of 1987, he was guiding a fisherman on Point Lake in Canada. While trolling in 50 - 60 feet of water, Peterson said they caught on to a giant lake trout. After struggling with the fish for hours, the fish was brought in close enough that Peterson could estimate it to be as long as his 14 foot boat. Eventually, the line snapped and the fish got away.

Wildlife biologist Dick Sternberg believes that giant lake trout are a definite possibility. Sternberg believes that these giants would be found in lakes similar to Point Lake. This deep clear lake is 70 miles long and has not been over fished by humans.

To catch a giant lake trout, Sternberg believes that oversized lures should be used. He thinks that these giant fish would feed on fish in the 25 inch to 30 inch range and eat on very seldom occasions. Brad Peterson of Waterwork Fishing Accessories develops two specialized lures for Sternberg. The lures are 24 inches long and are able to be mounted with cameras.

MonsterQuest sends Sternberg to join up with Jim Peterson on a giant lake trout expedition on Point Lake. For several days, they troll the waters with numerous lures trying to capture footage of a giant lake trout. While capturing footage of trout in the 20 to 30 pound range, the giant lake trout is not found. Sternberg is not discouraged by their lack of success. He believes that the giant lake trout may be out there. They are hard to find in a lake 70 miles long and up to 300 feet deep.

Giant Alligator Gar

Alligator Gar are a fearsome looking species that is found throughout the southern United States. Their long alligator-like snouts give them their name. The official record for this species is a 7 ½ foot long, 279 pound behemoth. Tales and pictures from the early 20th century illustrate that they may have been much bigger. One famous picture shows an alligator gar that was reportedly 10 feet long. This carnivorous giant lurks in reeds and vegetation in order to ambush its prey.

The MonsterQuest team enlists fishing guide Kirk Kirkland in the quest for a giant alligator gar. Kirkland has been running a fishing guide service in Texas that specializes in alligator gar for fifteen years. He states that it is not uncommon to catch a 7 foot, 100 pound alligator gar. Kirkland is joined by videographer Jared Christie as they fish the Trinity River in Texas for alligator gar. They manage to land an alligator gar that is 79 inches long and 111 pounds. While this is a typical mature alligator gar, it was an extremely impressive fish.


While the MonsterQuest team was able to find extremely large freshwater fish, they did not locate any of the giant man-eating fish of legend. As the world’s freshwater lakes and rivers become more accessible to fishing, the likelihood of native species growing to giant size becomes less and less. But the stories continue to come in about giant fish that may look at humans as a possible food source.

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