In this song fable, a woman named Kate goes fishing at a rather dangerous river where she is attacked by a catfish, who drags her under. They tussle, and Kate emerges victorious, wearing the catfish as a robe. From that day forward, she is known as "Catfish Kate." The story is told from the perspective of a guy named Black Jack Hooligan.
In a Songfacts interview with Black Francis
(Frank Black) of the Pixies, he explained where the story came from. "When I was a kid, our father used to tell stories to my brother and me," he said. "Some of them were made up on the spot, some of them were stories that he may have heard when he was younger, but they were all around this character called Black Jack Hooligan. He was from Scotland, sort of lived a ruffian lifestyle, traveled around the world, probably in the 1800s, a lot of times in the American west - the mountains of modern day South Dakota - sailing a ship somewhere. And he had a girlfriend - her name is Catfish Kate. There is one story about Catfish Kate which sort of tells how she got her nickname. That was where I took the lyric from - it's from that story. I just kind of retold the story, basically."