Are There Giant Catfish in This Alabama Lake?

I grew up in north Alabama, near a massive TVA hydroelectric dam. Throughout my childhood, I was captivated by the stories surrounding the dam and the vast, deep lake it formed. The most intriguing tale of all was the one about enormous catfish lurking in the waters near the dam. Stories spoke of catfish so colossal that they could rival the size of Volkswagens! Naturally, I became curious to find out if there was any truth to this legendary tale. Let’s delve into the subject and uncover the truth…

The Legend

Growing up in my hometown in northwest Alabama, the legend I always heard revolved around Wilson Dam and Wilson Lake. The story goes like this:

A diver was sent down to inspect Wilson Dam below the water line (as is done periodically). While at the bottom of the lake beside the dam, a giant catfish that was as big as a volkswagen and could swallow a man whole swam past him. The diver, terrified, quickly surfaced and refused to go back down.

The Same Legend Has Been Told Across The Country

The legend of a diver encountering a giant catfish is not unique to my hometown in Alabama; it is prevalent everywhere. This tale can be found in the southern states, the Midwest, and even California. Interestingly, the catfish in all these stories is always described as being the size of a Volkswagen. It’s never a Subaru or a Chevy, but always a Volkswagen. With such a similar legend told in various places, one might question its authenticity. However, being someone who would love for the legend to be true, let’s explore if there is any evidence to support it.

The Proof

I have personally spoken to numerous individuals who fervently believe in the tale of the colossal catfish the size of a Volkswagen. Some of them have become quite agitated when I dared to question the authenticity of this legend. I have received responses like,

“My granddaddy worked at the dam, and he said he saw one! My granddaddy would never lie! Are you calling him a liar?”

I haven’t come across any evidence, like photos or giant fish skeletons, that supports the existence of these enormous catfish. I’ve even spoken to TVA employees who have ventured deep into the dams where the turbines are located. Some dams, like Wilson Dam, have underwater windows, but still, there isn’t a single blurry cell phone picture or any other form of proof. This seems to be a recurring issue with this legend: everyone knows someone who can vouch for the giant fish, but no one has actually seen them or can provide any concrete evidence. So, is there any proof out there at all?


The Record Catfish So Far…

Last year, a photo of a massive catfish caught in the Tennessee River went viral on social media. However, it was later revealed that the photo was misleading. The catfish in question was not actually caught in the Tennessee River or even in the United States. It was a Wels catfish caught in Italy. While Wels catfish can reach sizes as large as a Volkswagen, they are not found in North America.

It’s worth noting that there are other species of catfish, such as the Mekong catfish in Asia, that can grow to enormous sizes. However, the largest catfish species found in the United States is the blue catfish, also known as the Mississippi River catfish. Just a few months ago, a record-breaking blue catfish weighing 122.3 pounds was caught in Tennessee. While this is an incredibly large catfish, it’s still not quite the size of a Volkswagen.

Why We Never See These Giant Catfish

When it comes to questioning the existence of Volkswagen-sized catfish, there have been numerous explanations provided to justify the lack of evidence. Some of the common reasons I have come across include:

    • They live at the base of the dam, where food is plentiful, so they don’t have to swim around and search for food. They get so fat and engorged there in the depths that they just stay there until they die, which, for a catfish, can be decades.
    • They exist, but they’re impossible to catch with an ordinary rod ‘n reel, and tackle. Some people swear they’ve had a giant catfish on their line, but the line snapped before they could reel it in.
    • A lot of people have seen them, but it was long before we all carried cell phones with cameras. It was usually caught by their dad, grandpa, or uncle, a few decades ago. Apparently, in the 1950s, everyone’s dad or uncle caught a giant catfish.

What Do the “Experts” Say?

If these gigantic catfish truly exist in American lakes and rivers, one might assume that someone like Jeremy Wade or another expert monster fish hunter would have already caught one. On his show, Monster Fish, Zeb Hogan embarked on a search for the “mythical catfish the size of a Volkswagen” a few years back. While it made for an exciting episode, I must reveal that he ultimately came up empty-handed. Biologists and fish specialists assert that the catfish found in North America simply cannot reach such colossal proportions. Although I’m no authority on the matter, it seems rather suspicious that this legend persists. Nevertheless, I must admit, I would be thrilled if it turned out to be true.

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