Unfortunately I come from an era when the pursuit and capture of a double figure carp was the highlight of a season. In your wildest dream you might wake up thinking you had slid the net under a 20lb Common. And of course there was the never-never land of catching a carp of unheard of proportions….the magic 30lb barrier. When I was knee high to a pair of chest waders the ultimate cult bait was a par-boiled potato, held on by a small crust pad to prevent the hook pulling through. The bite indicators, if you could afford them, were the old “Herons”, with a buzzer that sounded like a call in a doctor’s waiting room. Then something peculiar happened. Particle baits made their mark, and the use of trout pellets, which I used to good effect, but not whole, instead I scalded them and mushed them into a soft, pliable medium, as paste baits were all the rage. Within ten years, the doubles had escalated to twenties; more waters held larger stocks of fast growing carp, boosted by the high-pro feed anglers were pounding in. The record came and went, and from there we reached the balloon bellied football fish that seem to be all over the papers and magazines, which to me anyway, pretty much look like they are all the same three fish. Rigs were conjured up, different rods, reels, nets, bivvies, techniques, clothing, the list was endless. Youngsters coming in to the sport didn’t want to work their way up to get a low double as their P.B. They wanted immediate success, and let’s be fair, with the huge number of waters stocking giant carp, it wasn’t going to be too difficult. Some got fed up and disillusioned, so moved to foreign countries, the Canary Islands being one of the first, then France, then Spain, then Canada, then Thailand. The British Carp fishing scene had almost overnight turned into a tackle selling machine, elevating the species to the status of being our country’s number one fish. I’m amazed it hasn’t been emblazoned on a flag to replace the Union Jack! Somewhere along the line I missed those twenty years, but I can see, looking from the outside, that the catching of carp is going to be overtaken, by a species that allegedly fights harder, and most certainly grows bigger. I talk of course of the British Catfish.
Now while I do like my floater fishing for carp, I can see the attraction of trying not to get “Girty the Thirty” of the carp world, but “ton-up Tessie” of the Catfish world. It was while filming with Phil Williams in deepest Devon that I began to realise just how much of a cult fish the catfish looks set to become. We were at Zyg Gregorek’s “Angler’s Paradise”, somewhere I had never fished before, but we dropped in with a couple of cameras on the way back from a fruitless session hoping to break the British Porbeagle shark with a 500-plusser.At the complex Zyg has a very large head of catfish, running from 5-pounders up to about 80lbs, which I certainly do consider as a fish well worth catching. While filming and catching everything from Golden Tench to Grass carp and ornamental Koi, I noticed that rather than being full of carp anglers, I would guess half of the big fish guys were out after a catfish. Supposedly a night feeder, the Catfish at Zyg’s complex don’t seem to have read the books and many were coming out in broad daylight. Blazing sun and blue sky. There were different techniques, different rigs, and some clonking great baits.
The mouth on even a 20lb Catfish is like a B&Q bucket, so no worry if they can eat it or not. Livebaiting at the fishery is not allowed, but deadbaits are OK if you get them from Zyg. So what do the anglers catch on? Top selling bait in the site’s tackle shop were the giant sized Halibut feed pellets. In fact many of the anglers threaded them on a hair rig as doubles, to make even bigger bait. I fished a couple of hours for a Cat one evening on a smaller lake and watched a guy walk down to a corner, lob out what I thought was an enormous baitdropper,then walk back to his swim, feeding out line as he went. I sent Phil off on a mission to find out. It turned out he was using an entire half tin of pork luncheon meat as a monstrous hair rigged cube. Now that’s what I call fishing. Although I never got my first Cat I was suitably impressed with the enthusiasm level (Phil got a 15 to camera, so he’s off the mark with a new P.B.) as soon as I got back I decided I needed to learn more. As fortune would have it my local “Tackle Up” fishing shop was owned and run by Simon Clarke, and Simon is, well, Chairman of the Catfish Conservation Group, and has a personal tally of several hundred catfish. Here’s how my interview went….
GP-“Simon, give us introduction on the history of the British Catfish as I seem to recall the first time I read of them was many years ago at a place called Woburn Abbey”.
SC-“Yes, they were introduced as a folly of the aristocracy in the late 1800’s into Woburn Abbey Lakes by the Duke of Bedford at the time. But it wasn’t until the 1950’s that they expanded around the country with some local clubs being given stock, and it basically all started from there”.
GP-“What sort of sizes were they running back then?”
SC-“Around 1970 the record was only some 31lbs, so they started out small, but there were supposed to be accounts that they reached up to 70lbs, but there was a lack of photos. But now with the upsurge of commercial fisheries and high protein baits going into the waters has supercharged the species growth, so 30lbs is no longer an exceptional fish”.
GP-“Now the sizes have increased are there actually many waters where the beginner to Catfishing can go, and have a reasonable chance of catching?”
SC-“Twenty years ago I would say there were less than fifty waters in the entire country. Today there are over 500.I go to a lot of tackle shows and meet with many anglers who say they would love to catch a catfish but they are not in many waters. That in fact is not the case today. With over 500 waters holding cats, most anglers are probably within a striking distance of about 45 miles from a venue”.
GP-“Tell me about the CCS. Are they an elite club, or can anybody join it?”
SC-“It was started back in 1984 by catfish enthusiasts. Basically it’s a club to help beginners and help understand the species, but there are no real cat experts, because although I have fished for them for more than 25 years I am still learning something from every session I do. After all, that’s the magic of going fishing in the first place”.
GP-“Let’s start with the meat-and-potatoes of the tackle in respect of what a beginner to cats would need. Start at the sharp end with hooks”.
SC-“What you need is to match the size of hook to the size of bait, and invariably you will be using big baits-Lobworms,Meat,Fish,Squid,Luncheon Meat and it can be very easy to mask the hook if you are not careful. What you need is a hook with a nice wide gape, long point, and long shank so it can sit nicely off the hookbait corner, or you can hair-rig it. Catfish have big bucket mouths. They come in, nab the bait so you need plenty of hook to go into that large, and very hard jaw. An adequate size for a bunch of small worms would be a size 2 or 4.With a strangling great bunch of lobworms then a 1 or 1/0 would match the bait size. For the fantastic Cats abroad then you go right up to very large hook sizes as the fish can be enormous, up to and over 200lbs, and I may need to floatfish a 1lb carp livebait in the middle of the river. The largest I would say I use in the UK would be about a 2/0, and that’s on a big deadbait where I don’t want the hook bait to be masked. On the subject of the braid hooklink, this is most important .Use something like an armoured braided hooklink like Catlink XT which is impregnated to make sure it is abrasion resistant when rubbing over those small teeth. You can get a 15 metre spool of 70lb braid, but it is also soft and supple. The Cats, during the scrap, have a habit of whipping their head from side to side which drags the braid over the jaws. You don’t want to be using something like the popular skinned carp braid hooklinks or they may get worn through.
GP-“Attaching the hook, I understand, is generally to a braid link. Why is that?”
SC-“What you can use is a pop-up, as the fish do actually spend quite a bit of time cruising off the bottom. Use a simple running leger rig with a hair, or polyball which will lift the bait off the bottom. This is particularly useful if you fish a lake with a “sour” bottom, maybe lot of leaf mould, this way you have the bait like a bunch of wriggling worms floating enticingly and the Cats are going to come in and nail it.”
GP-“Simon, most of the anglers will have some sort of carp gear,rods,reels etc,is this tackle going to be suitable for using on some of the Cats currently swimming around in the UK ?”
SC-“Average carp gear, with say 15lb line is OK, but I feel the most important part is the hooklink. You need a specialist hook for that big mouth. There is no point in using small hooks as they skid out. You want big baits as you are looking to avoid smaller fish. A big hook is required for chunky baits like Squid, liver etc”.
GP-“On the subject of baits most anglers I have talked to appear to be using the Halibut pellets. Is that something you favour, as I have heard talk that they are almost getting used too much now”.
SC-“To answer your question about baits, I am now in my 26th year of Catfishing, and I have NEVER used a Halibut pellet for bait. I personally believe they are very poor baits for the species, but the thing is there are very few Catfish anglers if you compare them to the number of carp anglers. Thousands of Cats get caught every year because so many Boilies and pellets are going in to the water. If you actually compare proper Catfish methods on a one-to-one basis against the occasional carp angler’s catch, then nine out of ten catfish caught will go to the Cat specialist. The reason that I think Halibut pellets are not good bait is because they are hard, and in my experience they like soft bait which they definitely take more readily. The Cats have crushing plates at the back of their mouth and if they can’t break down the Halibut pellets they just pass them straight through their system, which cannot be good. A bit like the nuts problem with carp.There are times when the Cats go mad on the feed, particularly in hot weather, and its then that the Halibut pellet will be picked up. But over the course of season you will catch more cats consistently if you target them with what I call proper catfish bait”.
GP-“Do you use freelined baits, or running leger rigs. And do Cats just pick up the bait and march off?”
SC-“If you are using baits like worms etc and the cats are moving around in what I term “scavenging” mode then they can be particularly nervous, but I will always freeline where I can, and should I need a running lead I use it with a very light drop-off indicator, as they can be very adept at dropping the bait once they feel resistance”.
GP-“Do you actually need to strike the fish if you have a standard reel with a baitrunner, and what sort of tension? Also do you lock up the reel and hit them fast?”
SC-“In general they are not like Pike where you give a small amount of time, and it’s not like a Tench when you want to hit it quickly. Just get to the rod in a decent time and strike, but don’t hang about as they will drop a bait. You certainly don’t want to wait a long time for the run”.
GP-“What size of fish do you think are running at present in the UK.Is there some sort of sustainable bait supply for them, and are they breeding?”
SC-“Catfish in this country are on the northernmost latitude of any population of the species. They don’t grow as big as they do in warmer countries, but they do breed successfully. However the survival rate of the small fish is quite poor, so they do get predated on quite heavily and in consequence don’t get through the system to reach a catchable size very often. In this country they probably start naturally maxing out at around 60lbs,but there are several lakes in this country with fish over 100lbs,but virtually all those waters the fish were introduced at 100lbs and have maintained that weight. There are now a lot of waters in the UK with cats over 100lbs”.
GP-“Now I know you are a specialist and I understand you had a personal best just recently. What was it?”
SC-“I was fishing a small commercial water with a fried who had never been Cat fishing before and I managed a 56 pounder, which is currently my UK personal best,thpough I’ve had them over 150lbs abroad. I was night fishing, though we caught equally in the day”.
GP-“Are they affected in any way by the moon?”
SC-“Opinions are divided; some say the full moon is good, but I have never found it so. Cat anglers need to pool their research to get hard facts rather than opinions, and record everything before making any hard and fast assumptions.
GP-“They are obviously a fairly expensive investment for most fisheries. Do they need any special treatment on the bank”.
SC-“Not specifically. They are a long fish so plenty of ground cover in the shape of a big enough unhooking mat is important. They don’t bounce and flap around like carp, but tend to snake about on the mat. Watch out for them in very hot weather, looking for any change in colour. If they start going pale get them back in the water ASAP”.
GP-“Simon, I appreciate your time and information, I am sure there are some readers who will doubtless be upping their braid links and hook sizes from carp to catfish”.
“No problem Graeme. Any beginners or experienced alike can contact us for any help we can offer, just visit the website –www.catfishconservationgroup.com Or give me a call at the shop-Tel-01252-614066”
So, armed with some of the history of the great British Catfish, I sense a whole new cult fishing species developing. Of course there are always going to be those who think the species will devour every living thing in our waters, but on that subject only time will tell. The Sturgeon introduction has already seen the Environmental Agency act against stockings, and it should be assumed the catfish will also be under the spotlight. However, I cannot see them being totally removed from our waters if they are breeding.
COPYRIGHT-Graeme Pullen.All Rights Reserved.