News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 2, 2012

REDNECK QUAKER: Local fishermen share tales of big catfish

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — While I was at a fish fry amongst a lot of good country folks, I couldn’t help but hear some fish stories.

Fred Wilson of Prairie Creek asked if I heard about Marty Kerr catching a 32-pound channel catfish. Well, I’m told the state record is in the neighborhood of 37 pounds, so I had to see this fish for myself.

When I asked Marty for directions to his house, he said, “We live south of Praireton and our place is called Gods Little Acre! If you ask anybody in the neighborhood, they may refer to us as Kerr Pound.”

As I pulled in the drive, it was evident they are good down-to-earth country folk. Buck Dillon. 86 years of age, had a cabin on the river for 57 years and started all the fishing with the Kerrs.

Marty’s mom Libby is second to none on running a trot line. It is hard work when you get several big fish on at once. Libby has brought in 50-plus-pound flathead catfish on her own.

For bait, Marty tells me crawdads are the best hands down. Libby likes to use beef melt for bait; it comes from the belly of a cow.

They have a honey hole that they have fished for 57 years, so if you see a maple tree on the creek bank with a lot of old trot lines still tied around the base, you can think about generations from the past that put them there.

Libby said with pride, if they catch a big fish, they always take it to Grandma Katie Dillon’s grave to take a picture of it.

While driving the country roads south of Praireton, you may keep an eye open for “Catfish Road.” There are more than 15 catfish heads nailed onto telephone polls for a mile or two. Marty says they have to be 20 pounds or more to be a poll hanger. It is one way they can honor their memories, while going to the river to see if they caught any of their ancestors.

OK, here is the fish story you’ve been waiting for. Seems there is a legendary catfish called Old Sam that is as old and big as the river itself. Marty says “If I’m lying, I’m dying.”

Grandpa was in the front of the boat and Marty in the back with Rusty Kerr in the middle. The boat is a big-river john. They thought the trot line had snagged on a log. After pulling the log up from the bottom, it turned into being Old Sam, and while lying next to the boat they judged him to be at least 8 to 10 feet long. Not thinking, Buck grabbed the dip net, which you couldn’t even get the fish’s head in. Then when he touched him, the fish made one big splash and went back to his lair, being bored with the humans attempting to catch him.

The last 9 years, they have caught a lot of 30- to 50-pound catfish, with taking 10 to 15 fish of this caliber a year.

One time they had a 4-pound channel cat on a hook and a 49-pound flathead at it, so they cleaned them both to eat.

At 84, Grandpa’s last fish he pulled from the river was a 49 and 28-pound fish on the same trot line.

June to September are the easy fishing with the water low and not much current, it brings the fish to the deep pools. Marty’s dad said with pride that of the 600 pounds of fish filets they have each year, a lot are given to the elderly in the community.

Libby says one of their favorite fish batters is corn-muffin mix and flour with beer. Yes, the beer is in the batter! Marty’s dad displayed a large container of fish batter he likes that originated in New Orleans named “Slap Your Mama!” He said it will make a fat dog fart.

If you want to try your hand at running a trot line, get some 700-pound test with lead lines about 18 inches long, tied every 6 feet, using about 30 to 35 8 aut hooks. Oh yeah, don’t forget a wide-bottom-river john boat also.

Marty has a son, little Marty, and Shelby, his daughter. Shelby, 13, harvested a nice button buck and 8-year-old little Marty took a 6-point buck. Good going, kids.

Marty not only trots lines, he holds onto a poll also. He caught a 3-pound, 4-ounce crappie that was 18 inches long. If it doesn’t make the record books, it will always be a record in Marty’s mind.

This family is hard-working folks with great pride. They are pure country!

Kenny Bayless can be reached by e-mail at