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The Catfish

"...and then I saw
that from his lower lip
...hung five old pieces of fish-line,
...A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw."
"The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop

Those legendary giant fish that inhabit certain lakes. They usually have names like "Bubba" or "Sherman". The exact kind of fish is usually a Catfish. They each have a story on how they're old as the lake itself, big as a bus, and almost impossible to catch.

That almost part is important. The protagonist will thus be encouraged to go out and be The One To Catch Said Giant Fish. Eventually he does so and he has a huge battle with it. Finally the protagonist wins the fight and the great fish gives in. Inevitably, the protagonist lets the fish go; usually he says that "the legend must live on" or makes up some other excuse.

In a more general sense, an animal that ought to be considered easy prey, yet it is also a vicious creature that attacks you instead, succeeds in biting you and leaving a nasty scar (sometimes despite having no teeth!). Oh, and it's darn near impossible to kill no matter how hard you beat on it, or how many bones you break.

Maybe it's a Killer Rabbit, Evil Squirrel, or a Rabid Raccoon, or the actual evil Catfish himself (Several shows will have a whole episode about an evil vicious Catfish), but if it's an animal that should be easy prey, but turns into a Moby-Dick-style Animal Nemesis you've sworn to kill or die trying, you're probably dealing with The Catfish.

Bonus points if catching it requires the use of your own flesh as live bait.

The central character in a Fish Story.

Note that not all catfish in fiction are The Catfish, and not all examples of Catfish are catfish. But in the places where catfish are common, they are well known for attempting to eat anything they can swallow, grow to enormous size given enough food, drive out other fish, and be extremely difficult to kill.

Truth in Television, at least in Eurasia. Look up the "wels catfish", also called a "sheatfish". They can be up to 10 ft long (3m) and weigh 330lbs (150kg). They eat ducks.

Compare Legendary Carp.

See Noodling.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Gon in Hunter × Hunter is introduced by catching the King of the Lake, a massive fish that dwells in a lake on his island, by using his nature skills.
  • The Pokémon Whiscash is based on a catfish. Specifically, a mythical Japanese earthquake catfish. There was an episode of the Pokemon anime that used this plot, with an old man trying for years to capture a famous giant Whiscash. Finally he gets a Master Ball to use on the Whiscash and the Whiscash eats it.
  • Is Voltes V obscure enough for you Western types? It had a Humongous Mecha catfish for its Monster of the Week. And it wasn't just an ordinary Monster of the Week, it was a Monster of the Week that can interrupt the titular Super Robot's Transformation Sequence!
  • In Persona 4: The Animation Yu has to catch a massive catfish in order to get back a comb that a women had thrown into the river.

Comic Books
  • Archie Comics' Little Archie spin-off featured The Perilous Pike, a huge pike that Mister Weatherbee constantly tried (and failed) to capture.
  • "Let him catch the great king sturgeon! That will prove if he be worthy to be friends to the Peeweegah!"

Film
  • At the beginning of Big Fish, Edward Bloom tells a story about how, when his son was being born, he was busy being dragged around a lake after having been foolish enough to try to catch one of these legendary catfish. After having used his wedding ring as bait.
  • Grumpier Old Men has the crotchety pair fighting over their pursuit of one of these.

Folklore
  • The association of catfishes with earthquakes seems rather common in Japanese works. This goes back to a Japanese legend that earthquakes are caused by a giant catfish wriggling in the mud underneath the earth.
  • This Urban Legend about a giant catfish.
  • Every Single Lake in America has its own Legendary Fish. Or at least some other awesome Folkie Tale or Legendary Legend, sometimes with cool gory bits. Make sure to ask around every time you visit one.
    • OK, OK, every single large, natural lake, and only the ones that don't have prehistoric monsters in them.
  • Russian folklore features the sentient "Miraclous Whale Fish", whose body was turned into a floating town as a divine punishment for swallowing thirty ships ages ago. The Protagonist tells The Catfish about the punishment's reason, after which it spits out all of the ships unharmed together with the crew. As soon as it's free from its curse, it starts helping the protagonist.
  • An Urban Legend from South America goes that a large fish was seen by the locals of a lakeside town trashing violently about in the water. Excited, they brought it ashore only to immediately call the authorities. The reason? It was a huge catfish that had died from choking to death on the last thing it tried to eat. The corpse of a fisherman, whose lower body was still sticking out of the fish's mouth. Jeremy Wade investigated this story on an episode of River Monsters (see below) and concluded that the species the legend is attributed to (the piraiba) does, in fact, have the ability to grow to sufficient size and possesses sufficient aggression to make the legend plausible.
  • One hypothesis that might account for sightings of serpentine "lake monsters" is the notion that a freshwater eel, if it failed to mature sexually, might remain in a lake or river permanently and grow much, much longer than its fellows, which migrate to the ocean to breed.

Literature
  • Moby-Dick.
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
  • "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop, quoted above, is a poem about a boy who catches a fish seemingly old as the sea. Big, googly eyes, huge teeth, hooks from the fishers who failed still in her mouth like lip-piercings and badges of courage, scarred all over with fins worn down to ribbons and - in the narrator's eyes - beautiful in his own way. Like he's survived everything the world can throw at him. And since this legend seriously deserves to live on,
    "Everything was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow - and I let the fish go."
    • Compare "Pike" by Ted Hughes, pike are one of those fish whose growth is limited by the body of water they live in and the food supply and they can get eat-your-dog big.
  • There's also a books of New England humor that suggests a name for this kind of Legendary Fish: "Knock Less Monster". As in "Knock (back) Less (alchohol while fishing) Monster".
  • The Irvin S. Cobb story "Fishhead."
  • In David Eddings' Polgara the Sorceress, one character is convinced to keep his true identity as the lost prince of Riva a secret by getting him hooked on trying to catch one of the local Catfishes, "Old Twister" - and, should he ever succeed, intends to let Old Twister go again. When Old Twister turns up dead after a hard winter, the heir actually buries it and gives up fishing.
  • In William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, there is an eddy outside of Boston inhabited by a trout which has been eluding capture for 25 years. A store in Boston offers a $25 fishing rod to anyone who catches it. The main character, after observing a group of boys looking out at the Eddy and coveting the prize, tells them, "Only don't catch that old fellow down there. He deserves to be let alone." One of the kids remark, "Can't anybody catch that fish."
  • In A Canticle for Leibowitz, the giant catfish Bo'dollos is rumoured to haunt a lake formed over a crater once occupied by a village and 'an intercontinental launching pad, complete with several fascinating subterranean storage tanks.' Incidentally, the site was excavated by the Venerable Boedullus.
  • The ultimate example has to be the short story "God's Hooks" by Howard Waldrop.
  • In The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, like in its animated Disney adaptation, Wart and Merlin encounter the king fish of the moat, who argues that "might is right."
  • In December Boys, an old fisherman named Shellback spends his days trying to catch a huge fish called Henry, and was visibly upset when one of the orphans beat him in catching Henry.
  • In one of Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife fantasy/romance novels, the protagonists are traveling downriver on a flatboat. Dag—a "Lakewalker" who uses "groundsense" to fight Malices (and lost a hand doing so)—responds to an innocent request from his wife for a fish dinner by using his groundsense to lure a catfish to the boat. The hundred-pound-plus monster that winds up clamping onto his hook nearly has him for dinner instead.

Live-Action TV
  • The show River Monsters and variants, are all about this.
    • They did a show about giant catfish in Germany, where tradition going back hundreds of years says, they eat people. It turns out they only nip at them a little. Overlaps with Legendary Carp.
      • In the episode focusing on them, he notes that the ones that've been allowed to breed in Barcelona are growing much bigger than the ones from their homeland typically do (thanks to warmer environment, basically), and it shouldn't be more than a few years before there genuinely will be ones big enough in those rivers to drag fishermen off the banks and swallow people whole.
    • A specific subspecies of catfish, on the other hand, is definitely Truth in Television. The Goonch catfish of India, given the right environment, can certainly reach man-eating size. It's also notable (not unique, but notable) among catfish in that it's a predator rather than a scavenger. Jeremy Wade caught a five-foot-long one that weighed almost 170 pounds, and it wasn't quite big enough to eat a person—which means that the man-eating fish of the stories is still out there.
  • In one of the comedy episodes, Xena goes hunting for "Solaris" instead of chasing down the villain of the week thanks to meddling by Aphrodite. She still gets them in the end, of course..and then shoots the fish into the sky, turning it into a constellation for good measure. This would also be the episode where the infamous "she wants me to fist a fish?" line came from.

Music
  • Boudreaux Was a Nutcase, by The Austin Lounge Lizards. This one's a large-mouthed bass, named Moby Jack.
  • Cledus T. Judd has a song called Goodbye, Squirrel!, which is a parody of the Dixi Chicks' song Goodbye Earl. The song tells the story of a couple of deer hunters who were thwarted from shooting a 34-point buck by a squirrel that jumped out of a tree and onto one of the hunters, causing him to fall out of the tree stand. The hunters return with TNT and M-80 fireworks and proceed to blow up a section of the forest (and themselves) in an attempt to kill the squirrel. The squirrel survived unharmed, but the hunters were "barely alive by the time the game warden arrived".

Newspaper Comics
  • Khan, the giant catfish, is Julius' nemesis in Liberty Meadows. Julius reacts to sightings of Khan the same way that Captain Ahab reacts to reports of Moby-Dick.

Real Life
  • This Real Life example.
  • In 2006 there was a rumor that a sea monster had been seen in the moats of Varbergs fästning in Sweden. A woman who was out walking her dog had seen something huge shoot up from the water and swallow a gull in midflight. The monster turned out to be a large catfish.
  • Reggie, a gator that ended up swimming in Machado Lake in Harbor City, California. After over a year of various attempts, he was finally caught in May of 2007 and currently resides in the LA Zoo.
  • Benson the giant carp, formerly of Bluebell Lakes, England.
  • In addition to the wels catfish, several species of freshwater fish can grow to huge proportions. Currently, these fish are all in the running for the title of the "world's largest freshwater fish". Debate continues, largely due to exaggerated, contradictory or incomplete measurement data:

Video Games
  • In Breath of Fire IV, there's a Bonus Boss to be encountered by approaching the hexed city of Chamba from the back (in other words, go to the next waypoint after Chamba and return). This boss is a gigantic Angler fish, called (appropriately enough) "Angler". Beating him earns you the North Chamba fishing spot, which is full of Jellyfish and some of the biggest catfish in the game. If you want to get the highest possible rank for catfish, this is your fishing spot!
  • There is a cross-dressing talking giant catfish in Dark Cloud 2
  • In Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, the first actually somewhat challenging enemy happens to be a giant, bored catfish that has been tormenting the nearby village with earthquakes.
  • Volt Catfish from Mega Man X3. He's more of an electric catfish, though.
  • Ōkami has you catch these two times in the main story: a giant catfish that ate the reflection of the moon and a "living sword" (i.e., cutlass fish). There's also That One Fish, a nigh-impossible to catch extra-special ingredient that must be caught for 100% Completion and to unlock a hidden brush technique. The marlin is truly a beast of pure evil.
    • Ōkamiden has one as well. A giant evil catfish that convinced himself that he was a Carp that would turn into a dragon when he climbed up a waterfall.
  • In Castle Crashers one of the bosses is, literally, a Catfish. In more ways than one.
  • Opoona has the aptly named fish "Legend". Though, the point of the battle is only to collect a scale, not to truly catch it. Said scale turns out to be a half-decent piece of equipment as well as Fetch Quest fodder.
  • Endless Ocean and its sequel have several examples, though you only observe them, not catch them. Examples include Magu Tapah and Thanatos, giant great white sharks; the Ancient Mother, a giant whale; and the Golden Catfish.
    • The sequel has three stronger examples the Sea Serpent, Anomalocaris, and Cameroceras all of which you can't directly interact with and agree to never speak of again.
  • In Persona 4, you actually have to catch one to max out a Social Link.
    • To the horror of many.
    • Once you catch the Guardian, you can use it to fully restore a party member's SP... or feed it to a cat to cut the feedings needed to complete "Cat Needs Food Badly" from twenty to four.
    • In Golden, the fishing is streamlined a little better and the Guardian has been renamed the River Guardian. However, now you can go a beach area and fish for the Sea Guardian, a much bigger and harder fish to catch.
  • In The Legend of Zelda fishing minigames, there is often a big fish of this sort that will earn you the maximum prize for catching it.
    • It's usually the "Hylian loach", and it has a tendency to be utterly impossible to catch, unless you have a special lure that the fishing hole's proprietor may or may not approve of, in which case it's merely nigh-impossible to catch.
  • The 'Hideous Hulking Lungfish of Lake Oblongata' or Linda to her friends from Psychonauts.
  • In Ape Escape, there's a level in the Primordial Era where you have to catch apes in an ancient jungle. Earlier you learn how to swim, but you can't swim in large areas in this level because a giant catfish lives in the water and will attempt to shock you.
  • The King Fish in the Harvest Moon games. There are actually several per game, and while many games play the whole "release tie fish to keep the legend alive" part straight—you can only catch the fish for bragging rights and completion stats—a few let you keep your massive catches and even cook them!
  • Del Lago in Resident Evil 4, a huge mutant salamander that guards a lake. It's big enough to give Leon a Nantucket Sleigh Ride.
  • The Coelecanth in Animal Crossing. In addition to appearing only under specific circumstances, it's extremely rare even within those circumstances, it's the largest fish in the game, it sells for the most money, and your player character has a mini-Freak Out when they manage to catch it. You are by no means bound to release it, and you will in fact need to donate at least one to the museum for 100% Completion. Any others you catch you can sell for a pretty penny... or just keep as pets.
  • The Legendary Tabitha in Deadly Premonition. Even park ranger Jim isn't certain what species of fish she is, since she looks like a king salmon but has vastly outstripped both the life span and size of one. Local lore regards her as half-mythical and a protector of the river. When the inevitable happens and you manage to catch her, York plays the trope to a T and lets her go. "I'm in the business of catching criminals, not fish."
  • The Amazon Trail has both giant catfish and the pirarucu, a fish bigger than your screen (and presumably your boat). Either if caught is worth over 150 pounds of food. The pirarucu is more prized by players, as it's rumored to appear only once per game.
  • Dwarf Fortress has carp, which are aggressive and perfectly capable of killing dwarfs (actually they usually just fall in the water and drown while trying to dodge attacks due to really dumb pathing AI), the carp used to be even worse in earlier versions, quoth Toady One "I think I made the fish too hardcore."
  • In Live A Live, there is an optional, very tough boss battle against a gigantic catfish named Lord Iwama in the Ninja chapter.

Webcomics
  • In the first month or so of Sluggy Freelance, Bun-Bun was the Killer Rabbit version of this trope. Torg and Riff tried everything to get rid of him, from hammers to killer bears to dimensional portals to lawsuits. Eventually they learned to co-exist with their sociopathic pet, though Bun-Bun still inflicts merciless violence on them from time to time.

Western Animation
  • Chip and Dale serve this purpose for Donald Duck in countless old Disney shorts.
  • Doug encounters one such giant catfish in his hometown's lake, having heard stories from his neighbor, Mr. Dink, about the huge monstrous fish known as Chester that had swallowed Mr. Dink's wallet. He discovers at the end, after helping Mr. Dink catch him, that the catfish in question is only a couple feet long. Dink elects to let it go and keep the legend going.
  • Family Guy did it - with Daggermouth. Who is actually animatronic and made as a way for its owner to make money from merchandising.
  • This was an episode of Hey Arnold! involving such a fish. But Arnold and Gerald ended up letting the fish go in the end.
  • The Simpsons. Early season episode where Homer and Marge go to a marriage counseling retreat with Reverend Lovejoy, except Homer only goes to catch the legendary catfish "General Sherman" who populates the retreat's lake. He does catch it — only to throw it back in to show Marge that she matters to him much more. Afterwards, the fishing shop owner tells a patron about the man who caught the fish, but describes him as a giant with tree trunks for arms and hair as fiery as the pits of Hell itself.
  • Ty gets dragged on a fishing trip by his father that includes the obligatory giant catfish in the Grossology episode "Squirm".
  • An episode of Nightmare Ned subverts the usual plot- Ned and his dad actually succeed in catching the legendary fish, but after a nightmare, Ned lets it go. Then his dad decides they'll try and catch it every year...
  • Legend told on Angry Beavers of a fish known as "Old Gramps" which was large enough to swallow a Swede. Turns out its his mate who's the large one, and SHE'S big enough to swallow the Beaver Bros.' dam... along with several Swedes.
  • The fishing episode of Kid vs. Kat features one.
  • In the animated Pippi Longstocking, the two policemen are always scheming to catch a giant (pink!) fish in a local lake. At the end of the film, it's lashed to the roof of their car.
  • A swamp-dwelling fisherman in one of the more recent Scooby-Doo cartoons was trying to catch a pesky giant Louisiana catfish. It not only kept stealing his bait, but swam up to his houseboat and spat water in his face to taunt him each time it did so.
  • Dennis the Menace (UK): In "Fish Tale", Dennis and his gang attempt to capture 'the legendary pike of Beanotown Lake'.


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