River Monsters: The 5 Largest Fish in the White River

American Paddlefish
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Public domain

Written by Hailey Pruett

Updated: September 5, 2023

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Originating in the Boston Mountains, the White River stretches across much of Arkansas and Missouri before it reaches its mouth at the Mississippi River to the east. In total, it’s about 722 miles long, and within it lives an incredibly diverse range of native fish, most notably various species of trout. But what are the absolute largest fish swimming around in the White River? Read on to learn some interesting facts about them, as well as the largest individual catches on record from the river for each species!

On average, when fully mature, the typical paddlefish averages around 4.5 to 5 feet long and weighs between 50 and 60 pounds.

1. American Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)

American Paddlefish

The American paddlefish is perhaps the largest fish residing in the White River. When fully mature, it can reach more than five feet long.

The American paddlefish meets our criteria to be considered a true “river monster!” It’s something of a living fossil, as it’s the oldest and only living species of paddlefish remaining. As a close relative of the sturgeon, it has a long yet heavy body with a paddle-like snout that makes up a third of its total body length. Its grayish-brown body has a light gray or off-white underside. Despite not being closely related to sharks, it has a shark-like, almost entirely cartilaginous skeleton.

Incredibly, in April 2023, Arkansas angler Robert Murphy managed to fish up a specimen from the White River that weighed a whopping 102 pounds, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission! This size isn’t uncommon for American paddlefish, either. On average, when fully mature, the typical paddlefish averages around 4.5 to 5 feet long and weighs between 50 and 60 pounds. 

In addition to being impressive in size, the American paddlefish boasts an equally impressive lifespan. It matures and grows slowly, reaching sexual maturity at around 5 years old for males and around 7 to 10 years for females. Studies have suggested specimens are capable of reaching at least 60 years. By tracking and measuring rings along the fish’s jawbone, it is possible to estimate an individual’s approximate age.

2. Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

Fishing - Holding a Brown Trout

The brown trout’s distinctive spots range in color from reddish to nearly jet-black.

The second-largest fish lurking in the White River is likely the brown trout, which also happens to be one of the most popular and sought-after among local anglers. The White River in particular is home to some especially massive “monster browns,” and every winter, anglers flock to the region in hopes of potentially reeling in one of their own. 

One of the largest brown trout ever fished from the White River weighed in at an eye-watering 38 pounds! The specimen was caught by angler Calvin Johnston on February 27th, 2015. Though he typically focuses on catching bass, he opted to try his hand at trout fishing, even using the same rod and setup he often uses for bass. The “monster brown” trout measured nearly 37 inches long.

It’s not unheard of for brown trout to reach sizes like this, too. The fish’s long, slender body can grow to over 40 pounds. However, much smaller weights ranging from as little as 2 to 10 pounds are far more common. By comparison, the world record brown trout weighed 44 pounds, 5 ounces, and was approximately 38.5 inches long.

Brown trout are easily recognizable thanks to their distinct coloration and spotted patterning. Though they can range from a yellowish-brown shade to a more reddish-brown tone, all individuals’ bodies have many small brown, reddish, and black spots. These spots cover the fish’s entire body, aside from its underside, which is usually a pale yellow or off-white color.

3. Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)

Catfish, Fish, Mississippi River, Underwater, USA

Flathead

catfish

are North America’s second-largest catfish species. They are one of the White River’s largest and most sought-after game fish.

There are several types of catfish living in the White River, but the flathead catfish is among the very largest. The largest flathead catfish ever caught in Indiana was fished up from the White River back in 1966! It weighed an astonishing 79 pounds, 8 ounces. Sadly, the specimen’s length was not recorded, but it likely measured at least 50 to 60 inches long.

Ranging in color from a dull, olive green to grayish-brown, flathead catfish’s bodies have a mottled coloration and patterning. Its eyes are small and wide-set, while its head is large and flattened as its common name suggests. Its lower jaw protrudes slightly and extends past the upper jaw, giving it the appearance of an underbite.

Flathead catfish are common in the White River, where they feed on a wide range of other, smaller fishes, as well as insects and crustaceans. They are North America’s second-largest type of catfish, second only to the blue catfish. When fully mature, they can exceed 120 pounds in weight and 60 inches in length. It also matures and grows quite slowly, reaching sexual maturity at around five years old. Its maximum lifespan is 28 years, though most individuals only live to be around 5 to 10 years in the wild.

4. Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Largemouth bass jumping at the surface fighting a minnow imitation lure.

Largemouth bass can thrive in a wide range of temperature and water conditions.

Many types of bass reside in the White River, with the largest and most prized being the largemouth variety. It’s also among the most popular game fish in general amongst anglers fishing along the White River, in large part due to the species’ sheer strength and “fight” when hooked. Especially large largemouth specimens can reach over 15 pounds, with the current Arkansas record sitting at 16 pounds, 4 ounces.

The ideal time to fish for largemouth bass along the White River is in the early morning or late evening hours when the species is most active. As fearsome, opportunistic predators, largemouths feed on just about anything they can fit into their enormous mouths. This can include other, smaller fish, insects, crustaceans, amphibians, and even other basses. Incredibly, they can swallow prey up to 50% the size of their own body.

The world record largemouth bass weighed in at 22 pounds, 4 ounces, and the longest specimens ever recorded measured around 30 inches long. More commonly, though, they reach anywhere from 2 to 8 pounds and are around 16 to 24 inches long. As a highly sexually dimorphic species, females tend to be much larger than males. This is largely because females must be able to carry more than 50,000 eggs at a time.

5. Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus)

Blue catfish
The blue catfish is the White River’s largest type of catfish.

The largest type of catfish that can be found in the White River is the blue catfish. This variety is an incredibly popular game fish due to its size, taste, and relative ease of angling compared to other related and similarly-sized types of catfish. It’s a manageable fish to approach even for a novice angler, and its large body and hefty weight make it an exciting catch.

As its common name implies, the blue catfish is mostly a uniform grayish-blue in color. They have long yet bulky, heavy bodies with a prominent dorsal hump just behind the head. They also have barbels, whisker-like tendrils that function as sensory organs on either side above the upper lip. Their tails are noticeably forked, and the upper jaw extends past the lower jaw.

Blue catfish are commonly mistaken for channel catfish. However, it is possible to tell the difference between the two by counting the number of rays on an individual’s anal fin. While blue catfish have at least 30 to 35 rays, channel catfish always have less than 29.

Notably, the largest blue catfish ever caught in Arkansas was caught in the Mississippi River, which happens to be the mouth of the White River. The catfish in question weighed a whopping 116 pounds, 12 ounces. The species is a fairly common catch among White River anglers, with many vying for the next record-breaking specimen.


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About the Author

Hailey "Lex" Pruett is a nonbinary writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering reptiles and amphibians. They have over five years of professional content writing experience. Additionally, they grew up on a hobby farm and have volunteered at animal shelters to gain further experience in animal care. A longtime resident of Knoxville, Tennessee, Hailey has owned and cared extensively for a wide variety of animals in their lifetime, including cats, dogs, lizards, turtles, frogs and toads, fish, chickens, ducks, horses, llamas, rabbits, goats, and more!

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