Myths From the Deep

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

saw the catfish. It's always some anonymous person, a friend of a friend, some friend of an in-law's, or someone else of unknown identity who isn't available for verification. This is a crucial element of all myths--rural, urban or fishing.

Another myth connected to catfish has to do with their "stingers." People often avoid or warn others to avoid the whiskers, or barbels, of catfish because they believe they can inflict a painful or poisonous sting.

Barbels are as limp as cooked spaghetti and couldn't possibly hurt you. These fleshy organs help the fish smell, taste and feel their surroundings.

Catfish can inflict a painful sting through their pectoral and dorsal spines. These spines, located within the pectoral and dorsal fins, can be very sharp, especially in smaller fish.

The fish lock the spines in place when they feel threatened. The spines aren't poisonous, but they can painfully puncture your skin and transfer some of the fish's protective covering of slime into your hand. Inside a wound, the slime produces an unpleasant stinging sensation.

The best way to handle a catfish when removing it from a fish hook is to place the fish's right pectoral spine between your index and middle finger and your thumb behind the left pectoral spine. Push the dorsal spine flat beneath the heel of your palm. Smaller catfish are best grabbed from beneath, placing the index finger and middle finger beneath the pectoral spines.

It's best to handle fish as little as possible, and watch those spines!

Drum Beats

Our freshwater drum are the source of a common myth. Most people I talk with know that drum, also known as sheepshead, white perch, stone perch, rock perch, croaker, grunt or gaspergou, make a very curious noise. However, almost everyone thinks that drum make this noise by rattling together two large bones that are inside the head of a drum.

Freshwater drum do have bones in their head. They are called otoliths. Most fish have them, but those of a drum are unusually large. Otoliths were once sought by Native American Indian tribes for making jewelry and are still collected by anglers today, usually as lucky charms.

These bones are pretty but are not the source of the grunting sound emitted by the drum. Instead, the sound is created by vibrating specialized muscles associated with the fish's swim bladder.

The ocean dwelling relatives of the freshwater drum make a drumming noise as a way to communicate during

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