goonch catfish
YouTube: River Monsters

Goonch Catfish: The Giant Devil of India's Freshwater Rivers

Here's a brief life history of the goonch catfish and its well-deserved reputation.

Between 1998 and 2007, three different villages on the Kali River in India and Nepal supposedly fell victim to a monster, 200-pound goonch catfish.

British biologist and "River Monsters" host Jeremy Wade brought these stories to light while filming an episode where he tried to capture the fish, or at least disprove the theory that it was in fact a goonch behind the assaults.

Other suspects included saltwater crocodiles, gharials and mugger crocodiles. Even bull sharks, which can exist in freshwater, were initially of interest, but quickly ruled out based on how far upriver the villages were.

So then, could a goonch catfish do these things?

Goonch Catfish

Bagarius yarrelli, also known as the giant devil catfish, is found in large, swift rivers in India. They tend to congregate in deeper pools near faster current, but never in small streams.

This fish can reach lengths of up to 5 feet and weights over 200 pounds, but many claim they can become much larger. In comparison, the easier-to-find, well-documented wels catfish can grow as long as 10 feet and weight as much as 300 pounds.

There are still facts researchers don't know about the goonch in the wild, such as their reproduction cycle, migration, life span, interaction with each other and potential growth. Even Jeremy Wade and other accomplished anglers have been known to wait weeks without so much as a bite.

They tend to follow similar behavioral patters as any other catfish, frequenting undercut banks, huge rock piles that give them a break from the current, and large blowdowns that afford them cover. According to one source, the current IGFA All-Tackle world record is only 165 pounds, 5 ounces.

However, veteran guides and others who have lived in the areas say they grow much bigger than that.

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What Jeremy Wade Had to Say

"Having caught some goonch before, I knew their tactics on the end of a line," Wade said. "They don't throw themselves dramatically out of the water and tire themselves out, like a 'sporting' fish. They just hunker down and let the current flow over their huge flat head and wing-like pectoral fins, practically gluing themselves to the bottom."

This esteemed angler even says most goonch are caught by accident since they just don't feed as voraciously as you'd expect. As much as he doesn't like to use heavy monofilament, Wade said he uses a heavy-action spinning combo rigged with at least 90-pound-test mono and a wire leader.

"I've found goonch to be extraordinarily sensitive and canny," he said. "I like to feel the lead bumping on the bottom, moving it occasionally to search the water. If the line is wrapped round a rock, preventing the bait from moving freely, goonch won't touch it."

These fish seem to merely toy with any angler that tries to catch one by traditional rod-and-reel methods, but it can be done. Sometimes, after hooking a goonch catfish, it's necessary to throw fairly large rocks into the water at the spot near where it has stopped to try and coax it into moving again.

For the native peoples that live in the areas where the goonch exists, it remains to be seen whether or not it lives up to its satanic name.

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