"Mudcat" Mudger captured the "Monster"
March 30, 2023 | View PDF
WALTERVILLE: Rumors of a monster catfish living in the Walterville Pond have been told for generations by natives up and down the McKenzie Valley.
Although most simply enjoy telling their version of the story, many claim to have actually seen it, yet some never believed it ever existed.
Red Mudger of Deerhorn first told the story of the day he discovered the big fish. That was in 1912, only a year after the Eugene Water & Electric Board constructed the 70-acre storage lake.
The Mudger family comes from a long line of expert fisherman. Over the years, the secret bait remedies and special techniques and tools have been passed on and held sacred to the Mudgers.
One evening in March, Red said he was walking on the bank when he decided to cast his dinner line. It wasn’t long before it tightened and his pole was ripped into the water. He jumped in after it, knowing that pole was the only way to put food on the table for his family. Slightly frantic but determined to find what was on the other end of the line, Red found himself face to face with a catfish that “could eat him whole.” Luckily, Red made it to shore safely.
After Red got back to dry land, he raced into town to warn the residents. The people decided that for everyone’s safety, the catfish must be captured before the fish had some unsuspecting kid its supper menu.
So the search began, but no luck. Hours turned to days, days turned to months and soon, people began to question old Red and wondered if maybe he had too much whiskey that day.
Although it was years before anyone got back into the water, things eventually went back to normal, yet the legend was never forgotten.
Carrying on the family tradition, Kato “Mudcat” Mudger of Cedar Flat had spent every morning this March out on the levee in search for the monster catfish.
On Monday, Kato set out to the pond just before the sun rose on the last day of his yearly attempt.
Still slightly lethargic from having just rolled out of bed, he set up shop along the bank.
“Something just felt good about this particular morning,” Kato recalls.
He got out his tackle box and began to prepare his hook as he thought about how many mornings were spent by family members out on this pond, searching for something that may actually not even exist. It was this very moment that Kato came to the realization that what he thought was always to be true, may just be folklore.
But, as he and those before him always have, Kato stayed to keep the tradition alive. The sun rose and the water grew warmer. A couple hours went by and Kato decided to throw one more cast before heading home empty handed. As he slowly wound the reel, winding in the line ever so gradually, he felt a tug. The tug turned to a pull and before he knew it, Kato was yanked right into the water.
“That’s when I just knew this was it, the moment I and many before me have waited for,” said Kato. “I had a harness on so I wasn’t going anywhere and with that hook, neither was he.”
Kato fought and fought and fought, determined to prove once and for all that his grandpa Red was not a delusional drunk. An hour went by and the game of tug of war was in full swing. By this time, Kato had been drug down the pond nearly to the dam and with a gate at the west end. It was then that he was spotted by a pair of deputies on foot patrol who came to assist. They called for backup and before they knew it, fourteen men were on the scene combatting the oversized fighter fish.
“I just couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” said Kato. “This was my moment of glory and I was determined to keep it, knowing my family’s name would go down in history.”
After battling all day and through the night, the fish grew weaker and weaker. Due to old age and exhaustion, the men finally overcame the monster catfish and were able to pull him ashore with a crane.
“We all just stood there in disbelief,” said Deputy Joseph Bellringer of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. “I’ve never seen such a thing, it was unbelievable.”
Despite the effort to keep the catfish alive, it later died.
“I had heard of those stories where people find all sorts of things in the bellies of whales and stuff,” said Kato. “So after it died, we cut him open to see what we could find and wouldn’t you know it, we found a boot!”
The boot was a size 37 and there is only one man with a size 37 boot, Red Mudger.
The catfish weighed in at 736 lbs. Experts say the fish, a Mekong giant catfish, was around 170 years old and never been seen in this part of the world.
The catfish also broke the world record for heaviest fish and oldest fish ever caught - and in the process earned Kato his new nickname, “Mudcat.”