missouri mud-cats

01Aug05

Fishing with Tabata-sensei reminds me of my dad’s stories about giant mud-cats in the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers. My dad grew up in St. Joe Missouri and was steeped in river lore (kind of like Mark Twain) as well as the historical background of two local St. Joe legends — the Pony Express and the death of Jesse James. St. Joe was, of course, the place where railmail stopped in the middle 1800s and, until the railroad was finished, the point from which all overland mail was carried on horseback by Pony Express riders. There’s a statue in the middle of downtown St. Joe of a Pony Express rider, windblown. In addition — and in addition to the St. Joe Museum, which houses what once used to the be the World’s Largest Ball of Twine — St. Joe is the place where Jesse James was gunned down. The house where Jesse James was shot to death is now a museum and you can take a tour for about 50 cents (it may be up to a buck or two now). The house is a one room affair, or perhaps two, with plain wood floors and a pot-bellied stove for heat. Etched into the floor, under a protective glass covering, is the dent that was made by Jesse James’s head as he fell to the ground after being shot. There’s also a bullet hole in the wall across from the dent, covered in protective glass to keep people from prying small slivers to keep as holy relics.

The true holy relic of the Missouri area, however, is the hundred-pound Missouri mud-cat, a type of giant black catfish that had to be wrestled out of the river. My dad described standing on the riverbank one day and watching a man, dressed down to his shorts, dive into the water at the end of a taught line. A few feet from the shore he stood up with a giant wriggling mass in his arms, and then he flopped into the water, still holding the mass tight. Slowly, as the minutes wore by, the man moved closer to the shore until finally, exhausted, he pulled the fish up out of the water. The fish was more than half as large as the man and it’s mouth gaped open and closed. My dad told me that you couldn’t really eat those fish because they were old, and tasted like the mud at the bottom of the river.

Recently, the largest living freshwater fish, a catfish of course, was caught in the Mekong River, though it died soon after it was captured. Click here for an article about this 646 pound fish, and the danger of the disappearance of this species.

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