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Sea Monsters

Hang around any school of anglers long enough and eventually you’ll hear about the Monster Catfish. The tale, usually told around the campfire, claims a diver performing an underwater inspection at a nearby dam surfaces, then quits on the spot. The reason? There’s catfish down there as big as a man and he’s afraid of getting swallowed.

There is a kernel of truth to this urban legend. In 1999, Owensboro resident Bruce Midkiff wrestled a 4-1/2-foot-long, 104-pound blue catfish from the Ohio River. That wasn’t the biggest blue out there, either. Several years ago, a commercial fisherman netted a 125-pound blue catfish from Lake Barkley.

July is the best time to try your luck on the Ohio River for the biggest fish in Kentucky waters.

“In July, blue catfish gang up below dams because the water’s oxygenated, deep, and cool,” explains Ted Crowell, assistant fisheries director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Usually the first mile below the dam is the best water.”

Baitfish sucked through a dam form a chumline for hungry catfish. “It’s a smorgasbord coming through the dams,” Crowell says. “Basically, all the catfish have to do is sit down there and open their mouths.”

Fishing for big blues requires heavy equipment. Most anglers use light saltwater outfits spooled with 30- to 100-pound line. Tie on a stout hook then a swivel a few feet above it. Use a 2- to 3-ounce egg sinker above the swivel to keep the bait deep. Some dams have scour holes 70 to 80 feet deep downstream of the outflow. This is where you’ll find the big ones.

Successful anglers use live shad or large hunks of cut-up shad. This bait can be bought or netted from the river.

Blue catfish are most plentiful nearest the Ohio-Mississippi River confluence. Their numbers drop off upstream of Maysville, but good opportunities exist near Paducah, Owensboro, Louisville, and Covington.

Be safe on the water if you want to catch Kentucky’s big cats this summer. Have enough personal flotation devices for everyone and stay out of marked restricted zones in the tailwater.


Experience the hunt of a lifetime with a Kentucky elk hunt. It costs $10 to apply, and 40 hunters will receive permits this year. Applications are available wherever hunting licenses are sold, by calling (877) 598-2401, or through the department Web site at The deadline to register for this year’s hunt is July 31.

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