Mark Spitzer is an associate professor of writing at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Season of the Gar: Adventures in Pursuit of America’s Most Misunderstood Fish, Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West (Nebraska, 2017) and In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet (Nebraska, 2019). Spitzer has consulted for Nat Geo’s Monster Fish and appeared on Animal Planet’s River Monsters. Spitzer’s previous guest posts can be found under the heading “Where in the West is Mark Spitzer?”.
Man-Eating Catfish! It’s a concept that’s been around for as long as humans have been co-existing with fish on this planet. It’s a theme that took root in our communal consciousness back in the Middle Ages. It’s in art, it’s in lit, and there are plenty of reports going back more than 500 years—most of them attributed to the true fat daddy of the catfish family: the legendary wels catfish.
Anyway, with those serpentine lurkers seething in the deep and historically growing to sixteen feet, there was no way I could be stopped from lighting off like a hobo with a sweet potato pie. So that’s what I did. To Cat(fish)alonia, where I caught two. The photo of the one that made it into In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet, however, was the smaller wels. As usual, there’s always a picture that gets left out. But now, for the first time ever in monster-fish mythology, two pictures of the neglected big one are getting their due:
Here’s the beast in its entirety. It was six feet, eleven inches long and 123 pounds! So let’s just call it a seven-footer.
But whatever the case, check out this photo of its man-eating maw! I mean, the size of that head is phenomenal, and that brilliant yellow is just as intense. And how about those patches of razor-sharp needle-like teeth on both the upper and lower jaw, built for gripping smaller fish? And just before the throat, you can see four rounded crushing pads, meant for crippling and compacting prey. And on the sides, look at all those gill rakers. You could fit a beach ball in that mouth!
But what does the sheer enormity and force of this eely grotesque have to do with Chapter 2 of In Search of Monster Fish? Nothing! That’s what. It’s just that it’s impossible not to talk about the wels without considering what they’ve been accused of swallowing—because again, just take a gander at that piehole!
This is indeed fertile ground for the imagination, but ultimately, that’s not what I discovered on the Ebro River. So what did I discover there? Well, that’ for me to know and you to find out because the book is available right freaking now. And even if you don’t care, guess what? You know someone who does, and this book makes an excellent gift—especially for those obsessed with big, brutal, bullheaded fish!