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In pursuit of Tennessee's river monsters | Sports | – Main Street Nashville

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Updated: October 8, 2022 @ 7:47 am
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Richard Simms, owner of Scenic River Charters, hoists a 52-pound catfish caught in the Tennessee River.

Richard Simms, owner of Scenic River Charters, hoists a 52-pound catfish caught in the Tennessee River.
There’s a popular show on the Animal Plant Channel called “River Monsters” in which host Jeremy Wade travels to exotic locales around the globe in quest of big, dangerous fish.
We don’t have to leave Tennessee to find river monsters. We’ve got our own right here – monster river catfish.
In 1976, a 130-pound blue cat was caught in Fort Loudoun Reservoir on the Tennessee River, and in 1998, a 112-pounder was wrestled out of the Cumberland River.
Biologists suspect there are even bigger ones down there, with whiskers the size of jumper cables and mouths wide enough to swallow a beach ball.
There are stories about fishermen hanging giant cats that towed their boat around before breaking off.
Fishing for Tennessee’s big cats is big business. Richard Simms, a retired Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer and outdoors writer, owns and operates Scenic City Fishing Charters out of Chattanooga. He specializes in catching the giant catfish that lurk in the meandering Tennessee River. Visit his website for photos and booking details.
Simms’ clients have caught 70 pounders, and his wife boated a 68 pounder.
Catching huge cats is like any other kind of fishing – the more you know about their habits, the more successful you’ll be. Simms, for example, knows every stretch of the Tennessee River he fishes, from deep pools in river bends to the swirling tailwaters below dams.
He knows where the fish lurk, and he knows what they like to eat. Size matters. Big cats demand big baits. One of Simms’ favorites is a whole raw chicken breast.
Skipjacks, whole or cut into large chunks, are so favored by cat-fishermen that the TWRA set a limit of 100 per day to prevent overharvesting of skipjacks for commercial use.
The agency likewise imposed a limit of one catfish per day 34 inches or bigger, to curtail taking too many of the big fish to stock pay-to-fish ponds. Such ponds are particularly popular in Northern states.
Bulldogging a powerful catfish in a churning current requires heavy tackle. Your bass outfit won’t cut it. Even a small 25-pound cat is an arm-cramping challenge when it bores into the depths.
It’s like reeling in a kitchen stove that wants to go the other way.
Charter boat skippers and other professional guides provide the requisite heavy-duty tackle.
Most fishermen who pursue giant cats release them after snapping a photo. Once catfish grow to such an enormous size, they’re not good to eat – too spongey and gristly. Plus, catfish are prone to absorbing chemicals and other impurities into their flesh, and the older they are, the more impurities are stored up.
Giant cats are caught for fun, not food. If you want a delicious fried-catfish dinner, load up on 2-3-pound channel cats.
Release the heavyweights to fight another day, and give another fisherman a chance to tackle a genuine Tennessee River monster.
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