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Hungry Catfish Snags Scientist By The Foot


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Hungry catfish snags scientist by the foot

HAYS, Kan. - True to its species' reputation, a 30-pound flathead catfish roaming the bottom of a southeast Kansas river saw Curtis Schmidt's foot - and promptly chomped. And didn't let go until Schmidt hopped ashore.

"Nobody's ever heard of that before," Schmidt said, and he should know: he's an assistant curator of herpetology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.

And lest the tale sounds just plain fishy, Schmidt has a witness: Travis Taggart, also an assistant curator of herpetology at the Sternberg.

Schmidt's unusual encounter happened while he and Taggart were driving from northwest Kansas to Pittsburg for a late February meeting of the Kansas Chapter of The Wildlife Society.

On the way, they stopped near Neosho Falls to trap mudpuppies - aquatic salamanders - and put on their waders before stepping into the 33-degree Neosho River.

Something on the murky bottom bit Schmidt.

"I just started wondering what had hold of me," he said. "It just didn't hurt at all. I just felt it clamp around my foot."

Taggart watched as Schmidt hopped toward the riverbank, thinking a rock or log had fallen on his colleague's foot. Then they saw the catfish.

"It was hilarious and scary at the same time," Schmidt said.

Hilarious to Taggart, certainly, who was laughing too hard to talk. But Schmidt did worry about losing his footing and having his waders fill with the icy river water.

Taggart hoped the flathead would hang on until Schmidt was out of the river.

"I wanted to keep it on his foot," Taggart said.

Schmidt said the tiny, sharp teeth allowed the fish to hold on tight, but did no damage to the waders he was wearing.

"They're really small," he said of the teeth, "but they're sharp and there's a lot of them."

Once Schmidt reached the shore, the fish loosened its grip, and the scientists returned it to the river.

"It got a little banged up, but probably nothing that hasn't already healed up," Schmidt said.

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