A catfish the size of a bus lurking in the deep waters of Lake Texoma, with eyes as big as a Volkswagen Beetle’s headlights.
Steven Neal heard this rumor and asked “How Curious:” Is it true?
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FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
Jimmy Koiner: There used to be about 15 or 18 guys here they called us the river rats.
Claire Donnelly: This is Jimmy Koiner. He's sitting in a recliner in the middle of his bait shop on the Oklahoma-Texas border surrounded by rods, reels, jigs and other fishing gear. There are a couple of taxidermied fish hanging on the walls and Koiner's big black dog, Sam, is sleeping on a chair behind him.
Koiner: I'm the oldest river rat left of the of the old group. Shoot, I'd have to sit down to try to recall their names but there were quite a few that basically was on the river every day. People just come by and seen us sitting there and everything and say "well, there's a bunch of river rats." And so that's what they started calling us.
Donnelly: I'm here to talk to him about a question submitted to KGOU's "How Curious." Steven Neal emailed "How Curious." He asked, "I always heard a rumor that there was a catfish the size of a bus somewhere in Lake Texoma. It was supposed to have eyes the size of a Volkswagen bug's headlights. Is that true? This is "How Curious" from KGOU, exploring the questions you have about the state we call home. I'm Claire Donnelly. Jimmy Koiner has owned Texoma Bait N Tackle for 20 years. The shop is in a small brown building with a screen door right on Route 91 by the Red River and Lake Texoma
Koiner: I've been fishing this lake and river for 70 years. I'm 77. I started when I was seven years old. Fished with a guy that was a legend in his own time. His name was Jigs Weger. And the guy that could tell you story on story on story about this river and this lake
Donnelly: Koiner says he never learned Jigs' real name, but Jigs taught him nearly everything he knows about fishing.
Koiner: Oh yeah, I fish the heck out of that lake. But I know the lake. I know where the deep holes are, I know where the best places are to go to get the big catfish.
Donnelly: Now, Koiner has a few fishing tricks of his own--especially for catching catfish.
Koiner: I sell a lot of catfish bait. I make it myself here and it sells like hotcakes.
Donnelly: How do you make catfish bait
Koiner: If I told you that, I'd have to kill you
Donnelly: And he knows a thing or two about big fish.
Koiner: My biggest blue catfish out of Red River is 96 pounds. My biggest paddle fish is 56 pounds. My biggest striper is 35 pounds. I've caught beaucoups of fish, beaucoups of fish
Donnelly: So I run the idea by him: Could there be a catfish as big as a bus lurking somewhere in the lake? I'll get to Jimmy's answer in a second. But first--imagine a bus: a school bus, city bus, whatever. They can be up to 45 feet long. And they're heavy--up to 36,000 pounds. Now imagine a 36,000 pound fish--like a school bus with gills. It's pretty intense. So Lake Texoma, in 2002, covered around 120 square miles. That's according to the Texas Water Development Survey. What I want to know is how many of these bus-sized fish could fit in the lake. So I did a little math. And the answer is about 18,950 catfish, if they needed very little room to move around. That's 18,950 buses with gills. Yeah. Texoma is one big lake. Unfortunately, I didn't do this math before going to Texoma Bait N Tackle. So when I asked Jimmy Koiner if there's a bus-sized catfish in the lake, he says..
Koiner: Young lady, that rumor is just a rumor. That's all in the world is
Donnelly: Actually, as it turns out, a lot of places have this kind of story.
Matt Mauck: So the idea of a giant catfish in the lake is nothing new
Donnelly: This is Matt Mauck.
Mauck: I'm a fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Donnelly: He and his staff manage public fisheries resources in the south central part of the state, including Lake Texoma.
Mauck: It's always "this fish lives down by the dam" or "it lives below the dam." It's always in that location because it's deep water. In some lakes, it's right behind the dam in the tail water where it's still kind of an unknown, kind of uncharted waters, anyway. And a place where a big fish could escape being seen by people.
Donnelly: Mauck says he heard about giant catfish growing up as a kid in Kansas. And he came across similar rumors while working in Missouri.
Mauck: Basically, any place in the Midwest likely has one of these rumors associated with their local lakes
Donnelly: And he says Texoma doesn't have a monopoly on giant catfish stories in Oklahoma. Lake Eufaula and Sardis Lake have them, too. I found one newspaper story from the 1980s about an 11-year-old boy whose family claimed he'd been bitten and pulled under by a giant catfish in Lake Eufaula. The article said the boy's left leg was bruised and scraped and had several puncture wounds. The fisheries chief at the time told the newspaper she couldn't imagine a fish biting someone like it was going to eat them. Here's Matt Mauck again:
Mauck: I'm not aware of any human and giant fish interactions
Donnelly: But what exactly counts as giant
Mauck: A giant catfish I guess is defined subjectively. What a giant catfish in my eyes is generally different than somebody else's. To a small kid, a 50 pound catfish is a giant. To a fisheries biologist that sees big catfish fairly commonly, it might take a 100 pound catfish before we truly get taken back.
Donnelly: Also part of Mauck's job is certifying state record fish. So if someone, like Jimmy Koiner from the bait shop, snares the biggest fish they've ever caught and thinks it might be a new state record, they called the Department of Wildlife. Mauck's team will look at a picture of the fish or take its measurements and compare it against the existing record fish. And what's the biggest fish ever caught in Lake Texoma? An 8-foot-long, 254-pound alligator gar, caught in 2015--the largest fish ever caught in an Oklahoma lake. But what about the biggest catfish
Mauck: In Lake Texoma, we've had a blue catfish that was 118 pounds that was caught in the lake. But, you know, that record has been broken several times and now the current world record is 143 pounds over in Virginia
Donnelly: 118 pounds--or even 143 pounds--is definitely not a bus-sized catfish. It's not even close. But Mauck says they're probably pretty close to as big as the species gets. And, just like Koiner, he says the rumor about huge catfish--at least school bus-huge or Volkswagen Beetle-huge--is unfounded. So then where did the huge catfish rumor come from
Mauck: I have several theories. One being exaggeration. Maybe somebody had a big fish on that they couldn't get in and so they exaggerate how big it was. Maybe it's out of fear. Some people fear what they don't see or what they don't understand, especially if somebody has a fear of the water or what might be in the water. Maybe to some it's hope--they want a record catfish.
Donnelly: Mauck says anglers will always be obsessed with catching big fish. And Jimmy Koiner at Texoma Bait and Tackle agrees.
Koiner: They come in and talk about, you know, how big the fish was and got it wrapped to the boat and just almost landed it. And either the hook broke, the line broke, or the fish got off. That fish might have weighed five pounds. But in the story it weighed probably 15 or 20. And by the time they got it to the bank, it might be 30 or 40. Fishermen are the truthful, biggest liars you've ever heard.
Donnelly: So maybe there is no bus-sized catfish in Lake Texoma. But I'm still holding out hope. Thanks for listening to "How Curious" from KGOU, a podcast that explores your questions about the state we call home. The show is a production of KGOU Radio. It's produced by me, Claire Donnelly, and edited by Jacob McCleland. David Graey composed our theme music. If you have a question you want "How Curious" to look into, email us! Our email address is curious at kgou dot org. And be sure to subscribe to "How Curious" on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Claire Donnelly. Thanks for listening.