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."
These are those legendary giant fish that inhabit certain lakes, as much a part of the local folklore as of the local wildlife. They have names like "Bubba" or "Sherman", and are usually literal catfish, although any large game fish like trout, sturgeon or pike (or some other aquatic animal, in a pinch) will do. 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 inevitably 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.
Several shows will have a whole episode about an evil vicious Catfish, focusing on the pursuit of a game fish that should be easy prey, but which will inevitably turn into a Moby-Dick-style hunt. If you've got at least one character around who's sworn to kill or die trying, and who reacts to mention of the Catfish like Captain Ahab to mention of Moby Dick, you're probably dealing with this trope.
Sometimes a non-fish, terrestrial game animal, be it a squirrel or a deer, will be used in this manner, giving someone far more trouble than it should for the kind of game animal it is. This is fairly rare, however — there is a very strong tendency for this trope to focus on things that live in the water.
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, or fish, in fiction are the Catfish, and not all examples of the Catfish are literal catfish. That said, in the places where catfish are common, they are well known for attempting to eat anything they can swallow, growing to enormous size given enough food, driving out other fish, and being 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 15 ft long (5 m) and weigh 675 lbs (305 kg). They eat ducks, and may have inspired the idea of the Loch Ness Monster. They also tend to be found in shockingly small bodies of water due to a fondness for hunting in shallows where they can sit in the current and vacuum up everything vaguely food-like.
Not to be confused with being catfished.
- Hunter × Hunter: Gon 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.
- In Persona 4: The Animation, Yu has to catch a massive catfish in order to get back a comb that a woman had thrown into the river.
- Pokémon: Whiscash, which based on the mythical Japanese earthquake catfish, features in an episode where an old man is trying for years to capture a famous giant Whiscash. He eventually gets a Master Ball, a Poké Ball with a perfect chance of capturing a target, to use on the Whiscash — and the Whiscash eats it.
- Sword Art Online: The King of Lakes is a creature requiring near-mastery of the fishing skill to even get its attention and the strength stat of a top-level player to reel it in (Nishida and Kirito, respectively). After finally being pulled up, it's revealed to be the size of a house.
- Voltes V 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!
- 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.
- Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island: A swamp-dwelling fisherman is trying to catch a pesky giant Louisiana catfish. It not only keeps stealing his bait, but swims up to his houseboat and spits water in his face to taunt him each time it does so.
- Big Fish: At the beginning, 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.
- On Golden Pond has "Walter", a legendarily prodigious trout that Norman has tried to catch for years. This becomes a plot point when Norman and Billy wreck their boat attempting to navigate a rocky cove to look for Walter. Toward the end of the film, they catch him, but decide to throw him back on the grounds that he's earned the right to keep living after eluding capture for so long.
- Grumpier Old Men has the crotchety pair pursuing one of these. They eventually work together to catch him, but decide to turn him loose to be with the father of one of the leads, who spent his life trying to catch the fish and whose ashes were released into the lake.
- In Radiofreccia the protagonist and his gang go on a nighttime wels catfish fishing session to see if the fish exists.
- 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 North America has its own Catfish legend. Make sure to ask around when you visit one. Granted, this is usually limited to large, natural lakes (with some exceptions, such as North Carolina's Lake Norman), and only the ones that don't have prehistoric monsters in them, although there is some blending between these two tropes.
- An Urban Legend from South America goes that a large fish was seen by the locals of a lakeside town thrashing 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.
- The Belgariad: In Polagara 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 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 with "several fascinating subterranean storage tanks", until an excavation led by a monk known as the Venerable Boedullus went... less than ideally. The lake has apparently very good fishing, but the local shepherds avoid it due to their belief that the fish are the souls of the villagers and excavators lost in the lake's creation, and out of fear of Bo'dollos.
- 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 it.
- "The Fish", by Elizabeth Bishop, 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."
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway has this with a swordfish the titular Old Man is hunting, with the bulk of the story spent by the Old Man tracking the fish, fighting it on the line and having his boat dragged through the sea by the swordfish. Only for sharks to eat it when he finally catches it.
- In more than one book, the Abbey Pond is the home of grayling, which give the squirrel Fermald the Ancient obsessively wants to catch.
- An actual giant catfish (a wels, in fact) shows up in Doomwyte, serving as oracle and garbage disposal to Korvus Skurr (he thinks his advisor Sicariss can hear the wels when its mouth opens and closes). Even it isn't enough to take out Baliss the Slayer, who responds to nearly getting eaten by it by dragging it out of the pool and sinking his venomous fangs into it.
- The Sharing Knife: In one novel, 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.
- In 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 The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, Wart and Merlin encounter the king fish of the moat, who argues that might is right.
- A book 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".
- Good Eats: In an episode focusing on different ways to prepare catfish, Alton answers the door and gets swallowed by a giant catfish, just as he was talking about the largest species. He also visits a fish farm, where the (much smaller!) catfish are trained to feed at the surface like koi, rather than sucking up stuff off the bottom as they would in the wild.
- Midsomer Murders: In "With Baited Breath", fishermen flock to Solomon Gorge desperate to catch a giant fish that is said to lurk in the lake. Their plans are threatened when hundred of others appear for the Pyscho Mud Run.
- The Mighty Boosh, as the show is wont to do, puts the most outrageous and outlandish subversion on this trope in "The Legend of Old Gregg". When the protagonists go fishing in a quaint country village, the locals tell of Old Gregg, the most vicious maneating fish ever to swim the local lake. When Howard Moon actually catches it, however, it turns out to be a half-man, lisping, effete stalker who abducts Howard back to his cave for some nice Bailey's Irish cream in an attempt to woo him.
- River Monsters is about tracking and catching dangerous, elusive and ornery fish.
- 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, Jeremy 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, 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 species of catfish, on the other hand, is definitely Truth in Television. The Goonch catfish of India, Bagarius yarrelli, can certainly reach man-eating size given the right environment. 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. What really sets the Goonch apart from other catfish, however, is that most have tiny needlelike teeth that are good only for holding squirming prey and keeping it from escaping and are thus limited to things they can swallow whole while the Goonch has large triangular teeth more like those of a shark that can theoretically allow it to dismember prey.
- Xena: Warrior Princess: 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.
- The Austin Lounge Lizards: "Boudreaux Was a Nutcase". This one's a large-mouthed bass, named Moby Jack.
- Cledus T. Judd has a song called "Goodbye, Squirrel!", which is a parody of Dixie Chicks' "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".
- The folk song "Madison Brown" tells the story of a legendary brown trout. The narrator claims to have hooked her once, but ostensibly let her go out of respect.
Somewhere in the icy deep
Beneath a mossy crown
Lies the queen of the river
By the name of Madison Brown
- In Adventures in Odyssey, Trickle Lake has a fish named Old Grundy, known for being impossible to catch due to being smarter than the average fish, though simultaneously full of hooks from people having at least gotten him to bite. The episode "Ice Fishing" sees Monty make a goal of catching him to prove he can be better than his sister at something for once, though by episode's end, he decides to let that goal go. Meanwhile, Eugene, much to Tom Riley's disbelief, manages to land him several times just by choosing the right place to drill his hole in the ice, but throws him back in just because of how impossible he'd be to eat with all the hooks still in him
- 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.
- Animal Crossing: The Coelacanth. In addition to appearing only when it rains or snows, it's extremely rare even within those circumstances, it was the largest fish in the early games until sharks were added in, it's one of only five fish that sell for 15,000 bells (alongside the Golden Trout, Dorado, Great White Shark, Stringfish, and Barreleye), 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.
- 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!
- Deadly Premonition: The Legendary Tabitha. Even the 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."
- Eastshade has "Old Pops", an exceptionally large sandfish that you can catch as part of a quest. Whether to spare him as a Worthy Opponent or keep him to eat or sell is up to you.
- Endless Ocean and its sequel have several examples of rare, semi-legendary marine creatures for you to track down, though you only observe them, not catch them.
- Harvest Moon: The King Fish. There are actually several per game, and while many games play the whole "release the 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!
- The Legend of Zelda: In the 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 Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening: The Switch remake has "Ol' Baron", a unique fish who is longer than Link is tall and will net him a chamber stone as well as over 100 rupees if caught (whereas most other fish are in the 10-20 range).
Fisherman: Wow! Lots of people say they caught Ol' Baron, but you actually did it!
- LEGO Island 2: The Brickster's Revenge has a fishing minigame where you must catch the giant fish Big Birtha, who has swallowed one of the missing pages you are searching for.
- Live A Live has a special Bonus Boss in Oboro's chapter named Lord Iwama, which turns out to be a giant koi; it's represented by an enemy sprite that's 4x4 squares in size.
- 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.
- The first game 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.
- The One That Got Away: The Old One, an immense fish of legendary reputation that only appears every thirty years, confounds every fisherman trying to catch it and features in some rather wild local legends.
Fifty, perhaps a hundred or two hundred pounds, long as the tallest pine and wilder than the savage bear of the forest, and appearing only once every thirty years, the Old One has defied the fishing poles of men for centuries. "They even say," says one man, "the Old One even carried away the bride-to-be of ol' Bob of the bait store, though he never really believed it. That I heard when I was a boy of five, that I did!"
- 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.
- In Persona 4, you actually have to catch one named the Guardian to max out a Social Link. It's not easy.
- 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.
- Resident Evil 4: Del Lago, a huge mutant salamander that guards a lake. It's big enough to give Leon a Nantucket Sleigh Ride.
- Skies of Arcadia has a fish so legendary, it's actually a Discovery. And then you can catch it and sell it like any other flying fish, but for way more cash.
- Stardew Valley has five "legendary fish" that can be found only under certain circumstances, but are worth a lot of money:
- The Legend is found in the mountain lake on rainy days during Spring, and is the hardest one to catch.
- The Crimsonfish is found off the eastern pier on the beach during Summer, which requires you to use 300 pieces of wood to fix the bridge.
- The Angler is found on the north side of the wood plank bridge near Jojamart during Fall.
- The Glacierfish is found off the southernmost point of the island in the middle of the lake in Cindersap Forest during Winter.
- The Mutant Carp can be caught during any season, but is found only in the Sewers, which are unlocked with the Rusty Key you get for donating 60 exhibits to the Museum.
- Trails Series: Almost every game in the series has one as the final challenge of the fishing minigame.
- Sluggy Freelance: In the first month or so of the comic, 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.
- The Angry Beavers: Legend are told of a fish known as "Old Gramps" which was large enough to swallow a Swede. Turns out it's his mate who's the large one, and SHE'S big enough to swallow the Beaver Bros.' dam... along with several Swedes.
- Camp Candy: One episode has Mollys nephew Toby visit to catch a local fish called Old Mossback. He eventually succeeds, but throws him back into the water after Robin takes a photo.
- Classic Disney Shorts: Chip and Dale serve this purpose for Donald Duck in countless old Disney shorts. Regardless of how much effort Donald puts in, how elaborate his schemes get and what aides and contraptions he uses, he is never able to catch the two tiny chipmunks or stop them from giving him grief.
- Dennis the Menace (UK): In "Fish Tale", Dennis and his gang attempt to capture 'the legendary pike of Beanotown Lake'.
- Deputy Dawg and the swamp critters go after a legendary catfish named Ol' Fighter. After catching it, Deputy Dawg turns it loose out of the goodness of his heart.
- 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.
- Grossology: Ty gets dragged on a fishing trip by his father that includes the obligatory giant catfish in episode "Squirm".
- Hey Arnold! has an episode involving such a fish. Arnold's grandfather tells him the story about how he almost caught him with a harboon, but the harpoon broke, embedding the tip in the fish's scales. Arnold and Gerald then try to catch it to win a fishing contest and do, but end up letting the fish go in the end. Arnold does recover the broken harpoon end and returns it to his grandfather as proof, however.
- Nightmare Ned: An episode 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...
- The Simpsons: The Season Two season episode "The War of the Simpsons" sees Homer and Marge go to a marriage counseling retreat with Reverend Lovejoy, except Homer only goes to catch the legendary catfish called General Sherman who lives in 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.
- This Real Life example.
- In 2006 there was a rumor that a sea monster had been seen in the moats of Varbergs fÃ¤stning 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 sizes. 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:
- In 2015, after 25 years of searching for the Loch Ness Monster, one expert has decided that the monster is merely a large Wels catfish. While Wels catfish are not naturally found in Loch Ness, they can live for many decades, so a single individual accidentally released there as a juvenile could give rise to many years' worth of "monster" sightings.