Last summer, two people drowned in Deer Creek Reservoir. They were the victims of separate, unrelated swimming accidents. Soon, a rumor began to circulate. Could it have been one of those giant catfish? A rogue shovelhead grabbing swimmers by the foot and drowning them? This rumor was so widespread, and believed, a local newspaper ran a story in which officials denied the tale. Shovelhead (or flathead catfish) have been a part of southern Ohio lore for many years. Sometimes the truth about these gigantic predators can be nearly as unsettling as the fiction. When Milton Trautman, professor emeritus of zoology at Ohio State, was researching his book, "The Fishes of Ohio, he took a nighttime boat trip up the lower Scioto River, near Portsmouth. Trautman wrote: "When using jack light, I have seen large flatheads with their mouths widely open lying on the bottom. . .Ohio river fishermen have told me that they have seen frightened fishes dart into the open mouths of flatheads, to be swallowed immediately. The large number of such hiding species as rock bass, spotted black bass, and small catfishes found in the stomachs of large flatheads lends credence to these statements." Trautman described the catfish industry that used to thrive on the Ohio River before the turn of the century. These oldtime commercial fishermen would tie enormous fish hooks and gallon jugs to either end of a 10-ft. leader and bait the hooks with baseball-size hunks of beef, small chickens and live kittens. The jugs were released in the rapid chutes that used to be common before so many dams tamed the river. The fishermen followed behind in boats, and when a jug bobbed under the water, they would wait until it resurfaced and haul in the catch. Considering the size and eating habits of a large adult shovelhead, using chickens for bait made sense. Quite a few 20-40 pounders are taken every year. The Ohio record is over 70 pounds, and there are reports of shovelhead in the Mississippi River that would exceed 100 pounds. Shovelheads are nearly always feeding. They don't bite, chew, and then swallow their food--they inhale it. The big jaws swing open (one third of a shovelhead's total body weight can be in its head), gills start pumping, and a strong gush of water flows in through the mouth along with their prey. George Billy probably knows as much about shovelhead in Ohio as anyone does. He is a 33-year veteran of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and spent 27 of those years in fish management--mostly in southeastern Ohio. "From our records, we indicate an abundance of large flatheads," Billy said. "We conduct yearly studies to determine the relative numbers, weight and length of the flatheads. "There are good populations in the Muskingum and its tributaries, in the Scioto from Ross County on down, and all along the Ohio River. Any large stream that empties into the Ohio, probably has flatheads in the mouth of the stream," he said. "They take more to the lower gradient streams. Flatheads will swim up onto shallow riffles to feed, but you will usually find them in the calmer pools. Anywhere immediately below a dam on the Muskingum could be good water for flatheads," Billy said. "Good underwater structure is important--rock cliffs and dropoffs. The flathead wants his own niche. Clendening and Piedmont lakes have produced some of the largest flatheads in the state in recent years," Billy said. "They aren't at all deep lakes, but they have good underwater structures." Because of their size and strength, few large shovelhead are taken on conventional tackle. Most are taken on trotlines. "If we were going catfishing tonight," Billy explained, "we would leave now, while there's still daylight, and get our trotline set. You don't go out in the middle of the night, set a trotline and return in the morning to pick fish off of it. A trotline is something you do all night long," he said. "Every hour or so you run the line. One guy rows the boat and the other checks the baited leads. You have to be alert and lift each line carefully," Billy said. "Sometimes a big one will stay down--you wouldn't believe how strong they can be. Sometimes they float right up to the boat. If you ever see a 40-pounder come up out of the river at night, you'll think it weighs a hundred pounds." Although trotlines are the most effective way to fish for a big shovelhead, many people still prefer the challenge of rod and reel. If you're trying shovelhead fishing for the first time, be forewarned: Forget about medium weight tackle if you expect to catch a monster. If you do hook a big one on this tackle, it will strip the line and maybe break the pole, too. A large baitcasting reel loaded with 200yards of 30-pound test line and mounted on a heavy-duty rod will even the odds a little. Serious shovelhead fishermen always have at least one outfit that looks like it's set up for ocean fishing. Because shovelhead tend to migrate upstream, any body of water that eventually drains into the Ohio River may have shovelheads in it. However, dams, pollutants, and other factors act to limit the range of these big catfish. So don't assume anything. Here is a list of Ohio waters that are known for their good shovelhead fishing: (Every shovelhead fisherman has his favorite spot, and most of them aren't on this list, so ask around.) The Muskingum River; Stillwater Creek and its two impoundments, Piedmont and Clendening lakes; Wolf Creek, Wills Creek and Raccoon Creek, all in southeastern Ohio; in south-central Ohio, the Scioto River, Scioto Brush Creek, Paint Creek, Deer Creek and Big Darby; Ohio Brush Creek.