Swap a few big fish tales Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Most people growing up in Etowah County have heard the strange stories of giant fish in the lakes and rivers of Alabama. Horror stories began to surface during the late 1950s and early 1960s when the many dams were constructed along the Coosa River and the other rivers in Alabama.These stories of catfish as large as a Volkswagen have been told over and over again for more than 50 years. While these stories have been told as true, is it actually possible for a freshwater, Alabama catfish to swallow a man?The Coosa River is formed at Rome, Ga., by a junction of the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers, which flow to Gadsden and on to Wetumpka. Riverboats began bringing commerce to the Etowah County area as early as 1845, when this area was sparsely settled.The steamboats were a major means of transportation for both passengers and goods.As commerce and transportation began, so did the legends of unusual creatures and giant fish.The riverboat traffic on the Coosa River not only brought commerce and growth to the small village of Gadsden, but also a legend of a sea monster that was sighted on several occasions.The serpent was seen by several prominent residents of the surrounding area and also was reported by several riverboat captains making the trip between Rome and Gadsden.While the story about this “sea monster” caused a panic for many years along the Coosa River, it eventually faded into the history of the river.The stories were retold many times during the late 1800s and early 1900s when several alligators were reported killed along the Coosa River.The unusual sightings and reports seemed to explain missing livestock along the river banks The strangest stories seem to have surfaced with the constructions of the dams along the Coosa River and Tennessee River. The stories tell of catfish large enough to swallow a man or at least a small child. These sightings supposedly have come from experienced scuba divers who have witnessed the giants when the structure of the dams have undergone inspection. Do these sightings explain the story of Jonah in the Holy Bible, which tells of an unwilling prophet who was swallowed by a “great fish,” or are they merely the product of an overactive imagination? This question seems to appear in the news more frequently in both print and on the Internet, as well as many television specials.There are historical reports that can’t be verified from the 1800s and early 1900s of catfish weighing more than 200 pounds in Alabama. Those may or may not be true. Still, a 200-pound catfish would not come close to being able to eat even a small child. At a lake in Kansas in 2004, a flathead catfish made national news for its appetite. Lakeside residents there discovered the catfish, estimated at 50 pounds, had inhaled a child’s basketball and it was stuck in the fish’s mouth.The fish was alive and trying to dive to the bottom, but the basketball kept bringing it to the surface. The giant fish was caught in a net and the basketball was punctured, allowing it to be removed from the While these fish are huge and reports of Alabama catfish tipping the scales at 100 pounds or more surely exist, these fish could not come close to swallowing a human, even a small child. The giants either do not exist or may never be caught if they actually are out there. There are saltwater fish that do exist that could possibly swallow a man whole. These include whale sharks and modern day whales.Although there has never been any evidence found to support the stories of giant fish in the Coosa River, there has been evidence found throughout much of the world of a prehistoric shark known as Megalodon. The giant shark was an ancient relative of the Great White Shark found throughout much of the world. It was up to 75 feet long and had a mouth large enough to swallow a bass boat. Teeth from the giant were up to seven and a half inches long, and the monster fed on whales. Teeth from the Megalodon are found throughout the Southeast. Reports of strange creatures and giant fish probably will continue to emerge from the Coosa River. The reports have been a part of living in Gadsden and Etowah County as long as people have lived here.
Mike Goodson is a correspondent for The Gadsden Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.