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UK CATFISH ANGLING

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									                                          UK CATFISH ANGLING
INTRODUCTION
 Being known on the internet as a keen catfish angler, catfish “virgins” often ask me for advice on how to go about catching
their first one. Despite there being several Catfishing articles by myself and others that I could refer them to, these are
mainly on fishing abroad or don’t really reflect either my opinions or experiences. Having a bit of spare time (for the first
time in years!) I thought I would nock up something about my approach to fishing for them here in the UK and try to
remedy this!

 Whilst I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on catfishing here in the UK (or any where else for that matter!) I did fish
exclusively for them during the summer months for several years back in the late 80’s with some success, before venturing
abroad in search of monsters. Back then there were only a handful of waters that held them in enough numbers to make
targeting them a realistic proposition. They certainly didn’t go to any where near the sizes they do now! A mid thirty was
the best you could realistically ever hope for. The waters I fished were mainly on the Leighton Buzzard ticket i.e. Claydon,
Tiddenfoot and Rackly Hills but there were some trips to Tring. It was my years spent fishing for them here in the UK that
whetted my appetite for trying for even bigger ones abroad. Some what dated now I suppose but the tackle, methods, baits
etc we used then worked well so I have no reason not to be confident in recommending them now.

THE EUROPEAN OR WELLS CATFISH (Siluris Glanis)
 The European or Wells catfish is not indigenous to Britain and first came to this country back in the late 1800’s when they
were brought in by the then Duke of Bedford to stock the lakes in the grounds of his home at Woburn Abbey. Over the
subsequent years they were spread to a handful of other waters mainly in the Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire area
.Recent years have seen a boom in the species popularity and this has seen it spread too many more waters through out the
UK. Many fish have also been illegally imported into the UK and this has seen an enormous rise in the size of fish now
caught including some over 100lbs! Sadly this has also lead to the Catfish being dropped from the British record list. Or
more accurately no more claims being accepted. The last one accepted was caught from Withy Pool by Richard Garner at a
weight of 62lb back in 1997 Despite Cats regularly being caught on rod and line in Europe to weights in excess of 200lb it
is doubtful that “home grown” ones will ever achieve weights of much over 70lb here. That said even the relatively small
specimens we get here are more than worth the effort required to catch them. Most waters with a good stock will now hold
fish of 20-30lb. Some a lot bigger!

 Like most predators Catfish don’t need to feed every day so regardless of stocking levels fishing for them can be a slow
game! However the hours of boredom are made more than worthwhile by the intensity of the couple of minutes of
explosive action when you do hook in to one. Cats are most certainly one of the UK’s hardest fighting fish. They combine a
surprising turn of speed with sheer strength and same as an eel the ability to swim backwards. Once on the bank they might
not look very attractive to some but their sheer size alone makes them an impressive looking creature! I personally find
their marbled colouration and general looks very attractive, not that I would want to sleep with one mind!

 Their colouration can vary immensely from water to water. The main governing factor seems to be the water clarity. The
clearer the water the darker the fish and the more coloured the water the lighter. This means that they can vary from an
exquisite marble like grey, through brown, to jet black in ultra clear waters. Albinism is also quite common in Cats. I have
seen European fish which are nearly totally white, through banana yellow, to quite a reddy orange! Some of the variations
and combinations would make a Koi breeder proud! Not so many in the UK, one that springs to mind though is the famous
Albino in Jones’s Pit.

 I know very little about their breeding habits and going on the very little wrote about this subject else where nor does
anyone else. I have heard a lot of fanciful stories about “nest” building and guarding but have never seen any hard facts or
evidence of this. Whilst working abroad on the River Saone in France I noticed that they tended to spawn at roughly the
same time each year. This coincided with the end of the floods normally around May/June. During this time they were nigh
on impossible to catch even though you could often locate them easily. After spawning you would quite regularly catch
them with a lot of what appeared to be bite wounds. Some as you can see from the pictures look quite bad. I don’t know if
this is part of the mating ritual between male and females or fighting between males. These wounds although looking bad
soon heal. I’ve never seen them on UK Cats though. Another story I was told by a Dutch friend was that he had actually
seen cats spawning and they would wrap their tails together and wave them out of the water! A bit fanciful and too much
like a scene from a Walt Disney film for me to take to seriously! The areas they would hang around prior to spawning were
typical “nursery” areas i.e. out of the main current and with plenty of weed cover. Please excuse me from having to draw
on my experiences abroad (in after all what is an article about UK catfish) but I have never seen Cats spawn in the UK and
must assume it is much the same. It has always surprised me how relatively little is known about their life cycle considering
they are such an important food source in several countries.

 Like a lot of predators I believe they are pretty solitary creatures who don’t actually like the presence of others of their
kind. I think the only two times you ever find them in close proximity to each other are when they are mating or when the
food is in a small area. I have often seen several Cats smashing into shoals of prey fish but wouldn’t go as far as to say it
was a combined effort like you would see with Perch or Zander. Very much the same as when several pike are feeding on
fry. More a case of them all being there together because that’s where the food happens to be rather than working together
to “herd” the prey.

LOCATION
 As with all angling, I feel location is most likely the single most important thing to consider when targeting Cats. That said
you may be surprised at the rather simplistic approach I have to this! It is generally accepted that fish of all species frequent
various different areas of the water they live in at different times and for different reasons. These areas are chosen for
reasons such as safety or comfort e.g. small fish hiding from predators in heavy cover such as weed beds, or fish holding up
under the shade of over growing trees on bright sunny days. However in both of the circumstances I’ve just mentioned the
fish aren’t feeding and normally can’t be persuaded to either! The easiest of fish for anglers to catch are therefore feeding
ones and these are inevitably found in areas where the food is! Find the food and you will be presenting your bait to feeding
fish once they start, simple as that. Only slight flaw in the simplicity of this is that a Cats chosen food can vary greatly from
water to water, at different times of the year and due to the influence of anglers. Let me expand on that a little, Catfish can
vary in their feeding habits from being active all out hunters feeding exclusively on a diet of live fish to being a total
scavenger picking up not just dead fish but anything remotely edible! As you will indeed see when we discuss baits. This
will usually be determined by the amount and type of food available in a water. It can also be influenced by anglers either
fishing for other species (carp being a prime example) and introducing large amounts of bait or Cat anglers themselves
introducing a bait and weaning the cats on to it. Examples of this are the large European rivers where until recently the only
bait that would take a Cat was a live one but after heavy baiting with halibut pellets they will now readily take these. Other
“hungry” waters (Claydon Lakes being a prime example) have always responded to anything edible! So logic dictates that
first you need to identify what the fish are primarily feeding on then find then target the areas of the water where an
abundance of this food source is to be found. Very simple but believe you me it does work and not just for Cats.

BAITS
 I have caught (or seen caught) Cats on a great variety of baits. As I’ve already mentioned their diet can vary greatly
depending on the water they are in. When fishing for Cats I prefer to choose a bait that will be a bit selective species wise. I
say “a bit selective” as in the past I’ve had some surprises like 20lb+ Carp on live baits, Bream up to 6lb on Mackerel
section and a double figure pike on a Squid! Baits such as worms or any of the carp baits certainly catch Cats and on waters
which see a great deal of these being introduced the fish certainly switch on to them. I have however never seen cats
become pre occupied on a bait. A live carp for example fished over the world’s biggest bed of boillies or pellets will most
certainly not be ignored! For me the use of baits like these just means that I will have to catch more carp, tench, bream etc
than I do Cats! Fine if you are happy catching a mixed bag but for me I would rather try as best as possible to specifically
target the intended species. I will however list the most common of baits that I have found to work and try to give an
indication to where they are best used. How they are used will be covered later.

LIVEBAITS
 The live bait is the most natural of baits and incidentally one that I have found to work every where. For me they are the
number one choice both here in the UK and abroad. There are several criteria to consider when selecting which species to
use as live bait, availability being one! First on my list though is the baits strength .Some species are just a lot stronger
which means they both work better and last longer than others. The species oxygen requirement (this varies from species to
species) is my second consideration. Species that require only low oxygen levels are not only easier to retain and transport
but also work longer in the higher water temperatures common during the warmer months which see the Cats more active.
Despite the fact that silver fish such as roach, trout, dace etc are far more visually attractive, carp, tench or eels fit my
requirements far better. As far as size goes even though a double figure Cat would have no problems dealing with a fish of
a couple of pounds I feel 5-6” is a good all-round practical size. Bigger baits tend to give more problems then advantages.
Controlling them, presenting them, keeping/transporting, setting the hook are some, not to mention consideration for other
anglers and conservation issues.

 As I have all ready mentioned live baits tend to work every where no matter what the Cats have switched on to. Even on
waters where they have become accustomed to large amounts of boillies or pellets being put in and have subsequently
“switched on to them” a well presented live is rarely refused. This is what for me makes them my number one bait. There
are however some situations when alternative baits are required. Some people are simply not happy using live fish for bait
and despite my views theirs must be respected. Also a lot of waters simply don’t allow live baiting. The one real issue that
stops me using them on a water is if there are Pike present. I will discuss the practical effects that Pike have on Catting in
general later.

 One last word on live baits. Even though I am quite happy to transport live baits and use them despite the laws prohibiting
it I would offer a word of caution. Please don’t be tempted to use ornamental fish. Even though the likes of Golden Orfe etc
look very visual baits they tend to be a waste of time as the selective breeding has made them very weak. Also far more
importantly the ornamental fish trade is renowned for being rife with disease. Although there has never been a proven case
of disease being spread by anglers transporting live baits there has been numerous caused by the ornamental trade.
Definitely not worth the risk.

LEECHES
 If for whatever reason live baits are out of the window don’t despair! There is a just as good (albeit slightly more
expensive!) option available and that’s Leeches. Medicinal Leeches are available from several sources all though I have
only used one based in the UK, Biopharm. These are based in Wales but they will supply mail order. Although expensive
they do keep well and if you go careful can be used several times. In fact keeping, transporting and to a degree using them
is far easier than live fish. One of their greatest attributes is that no other UK fish I know of (including Pike) will take them!
In fact I believe the only reason Cats take them is because they mistake the frantic vibrations they give off for a fish in
distress. They can be kept either in water with a good air supply or in damp cotton wool in the fridge. If you buy them from
a supplier like Biopharm they come in a gel like substance in which once again they will live happily if refrigerated.


DEAD BAITS
 I suppose logically this is the next group of baits to discuss. These can be used whole, halved or even cut up into sections
or strips. Both freshwater and sea deads can be used. With sea deads I prefer the more oily species such as Mackerel,
Herring, Sardine, Sprat etc rather than the likes of Whiting etc. Freshwater wise I must admit to having a preference for
Roach and Eels although on heavily fished waters I have found change baits such as Trout effective. When using the softer
fleshed oily baits you can some times get pestered by other fish Bream especially. Although I once saw a friend catch a
double figure Carp on Eel section it is reasonably “nuisance” fish proof! A lot of anglers swore by leaving their Eel
sections in a plastic bag for a few days to “mature” before using them! Sod that I use mine fresh, I reckon they caught
despite the stink rather than because of it! On a similar vein a word of advice about Mackerel, remember it can become
very toxic once it is no longer fresh and in the heat of summer handling it then eating your sarnies can result in a serious
case of food poisoning. One bait I have never used for Cats is Lamprey but given its effectiveness for pike and the amount
of blood it gives off I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest it would be a great cat dead bait.

“SEA FOOD”
 Sea food baits for the want of a better description are also very effective for Cats. The softer shell fish offerings like
mussels and scallops etc are unfortunately also highly attractive to other species. The large Tiger prawns are also very
effective if some what expensive. Squid used whole or cut up is a classic bait and has caught a lot of fish. I personally have
only ever had a problem with a Pike picking it up once but this appears to vary on different waters. Calamari which is
available frozen from most tackle shops is fine. Some prefer to remove the hard plastic like skeleton first but I’ve never
bothered and had no problems. Not really a sea food bait but as it’s so similar I will mention the freshwater Swan Mussel
here. They are certainly a good Catfish bait and I’ve caught using them on several waters regardless of whether they
contain them or not. Unfortunately t I believe the taking of them for bait is now illegal.

MEAT BAITS
 I suppose these can really de divided in to two categories, tinned and fresh. Firstly tinned baits, Luncheon meat, Bacon
Grill, Ham and sausages are all proven Cat baits. Despite being soft and attractive to other species you can normally avoid
them by using large baits. Half a tin of meat on the hook or a whole sausage threaded on the line is no problem for even
quite a small Cat but does deter most other species regardless of their size. All the usual meat dodges such as frying and
flavouring can be used.

 Fresh meat. The best of these has to be raw liver. I have found Ox liver to be the best as it has a firm consistency, a
stronger smell/flavour and lots of blood. Can some times receive a bit of attention from Carp, Chub or Eels if present but
normally ok. Despite having seen cats caught on Steak fished over mince I’ve never been wealthy enough to try it myself!
Under the description of fresh meat I suppose I should include a couple of the more unusual baits namely dead mice and
chicks! Not used either my self but a mate of mine who was a regular at Claydon back in the late 80’s did catch quite a few
Cats on dead couple of day old chicks! Honestly! He used to get these from a chicken farm local to him, some floated
(giving a great popped up presentation) and others sank!

 After mentioning these two baits I think it would be good to take in to consideration a couple of things about unusual Cat
baits in general. Even though a lot of strange things work this tends to be more on heavily fished waters where anglers are
constantly trying to find new baits to give them an edge. It must be remembered that this can give a false impression of a
baits general effectiveness for two reasons. Firstly these types of waters tend to have very high stocking densities and
therefore tend to be quite “hungry” waters where the fish have no option but to try any new food source. Also once a new
bait takes a fish it is instantly hailed as the new “wonder” bait and everyone switches to it! This in turn means the only bait
going in the water is the new one so obviously the only fish caught are taken on it! This doesn’t give a true measure of the
baits effectiveness as it is simply a “self fulfilling prophecy”. Experimentation is good but it pays to bear the above in
mind.

THE CARP BAITS
 In this group I include boillies, pastes and pellets. As previously mentioned Cats aren’t slow to switch on to any readily
available source of food. On waters that see a lot of these types of bait being put in by carp anglers they can very quickly
become a major part of the Cats diet. As also previously mentioned their main let down is that they are so attractive to other
fish. Same as the meat situation this can be remedied to some extent by using much larger baits than normal. For example
on one water I fished where all fish baits (live or dead) were banned and the owner wouldn’t allow me to use leeches I did
well on tangerine sized Trout pellet boillies. I’ve always made up my boillies from cheap ingredients such as fishmeal or
powdered pellets purely due to keeping the cost down. As you can imagine it takes quite a lot of mix to roll up a useable
amount of boillies this big! In the early 90’s a friend of mine, Kevin Smalley, had a couple of exceptional seasons at
Tiddenfoot using normal sized Tutti Frutti boillies on standard carp bolt rigs. He caught plenty of unwanted carp but more
than enough Cats to make it worth persevering with. Giant Halibut pellets have been the most recent “new” bait on the Cat
scene even working on some of the European rivers where until recently the live bait was the only worth while bait. Once
again mounting several together to create a big enough bait to deter other fish is the way ahead. Mass baiting helps greatly
with pellets.

LOB WORMS
 Despite having accidentally caught Cats myself on maggots and seen others do the same on casters and sweet corn the last
bait that I think warrants a mention as a serious Cat bait is the humble Lob worm. All fish find these irresistible and that is
sadly their major let down. Even when used in massive bunches on huge hooks small fish will often nibble the bait away
until all that remains is a bare hook. However on some waters you can get away with it and when you can they are a great
bait. The sand pit at Rackly hills is a prime example, for some reason the only other fish that would bother your bait there
would be the occasional carp and this was so rare it wasn’t an issue. I’ve not bothered to collect my own lobs for many
years now much preferring the convenience of the mail order suppliers like Tommy Topsoil. In my opinion paying £12 or
so beats a night creeping round the local cricket pitch and the subsequent back ache! And believe you me when your
21stone with a skin head hair cut and goatee beard it saves all the explaining to the old Bill as to why you’re creeping
around in carpet slippers with a red filtered miners lamp strapped to your head at three in the morning! ”Collecting worms?
Yeagh right and I’m Dixon of flipping Dock Green!”

TACKLE
 Before I even start talking about this subject I would like to make one thing clear. Other than the fact that I will always be
truly grateful for the team at Bruce&Walker for producing and supplying the blanks for my European catfish rods I have no
allegiances to, sponsorship deals etc with any other tackle company. Any I name or any of their relevant products are
mentioned purely to give an indication to what I use or have found suitable for the job.

 My views on tackle for a lot of specimen fishing are now some what out of step with the modern trend for (in my opinion)
excessively heavy tackle, but like everything I’m writing about here my preferred choice of equipment has and still does
work for me. The tackle I use has caught a lot of fish over the years and has been selected and modified due to practical
experience and not just a slavish desire to follow trends or have the latest equipment. If I’m using something that works I
see no reason to change it and if it doesn’t work I simply don’t use it! In my opinion there has never been a better time than
now to buy good quality equipment at reasonable prices. Also a lot of specialist pieces of Catfishing gear are now far more
easily obtained than ever before. So there is no excuse to not have the correct tackle.

MAIN LINES
 Most people when discussing tackle selection start with their preference for rods etc but I feel that the most important part
of your tackle for any fishing is your line. After all these years it still utterly amazes me how many still insist on top quality
rods and reels etc (even ancillary items such as chairs and cookers etc!) but scrimp on the one thing that puts them in
contact with the fish! I could bore you silly with anecdotes regarding lost fish and crap line but let it suffice to say that
scrimping on your line is extremely false economy and displays a sad disregard for fish welfare
.
  For most UK Catting I’ve found a mainline of between 12lb and 15lb more than adequate. 12lb line has the beating of any
Cat that swims in the UK in open water and as Cats very rarely seem to try and get into snags on purpose when hooked the
upper strength of 15lb has proved more than ample. Even in the weediest conditions I’ve encountered at Tiddenfoot and
fishing relatively tight to the snags in Rackly Hills. To further illustrate my point I have seen several ton plus Cats landed at
Schnackensee in Germany caught accidentally by carp anglers using normal carp rods and 15lb line. I’m sure most of you
will have a brand of monofilament that you have confidence in. This in itself is a prime concern as to use any item of tackle
to its full limits you need to have unerring faith in it. But if not I would have no quibble in recommending either Maxima
Chameleon or Sylcast. As mono deteriorates quite quickly when exposed to the ultra violet rays in sunlight I would always
change it at least once every season. By season I mean Cat season don’t use your line all winter for Piking then expect it to
be up for a seasons hard Catting as well! Also if you buy your line in bulk spools then once you’ve loaded the required
amount on your reels wrap the remainder on the spool up in tin baking foil and keep in a dark cupboard. Just carrying your
rods made up let alone fishing with it leaves the line open to damage so check your line regularly and if in any doubt at all
change it.

 For many years now I’ve tended to use braided mainline for most of my fishing and I’m a great fan of it. Braid offers
several advantages over mono, lack of stretch and a lower susceptibility to UV light deterioration being two of the most
relevant ones here. The lack of stretch certainly helps set the larger than normal hooks often used when Catting and gives
far better control in general. Its one disadvantage i.e. relatively poor abrasion resistance is to a degree brought about due to
its much lower (than mono) diameter to breaking strain ratio. For example most brands of 20lb BS braid have a diameter
similar to 6lb BS mono. This is easily overcome by changing the way you select the “size” of braid used. Instead of
choosing it by breaking strain start selecting it by diameter. Most mono of between 12lb and 15lb BS has a diameter of
around 0.32mm to 0.35mm use this as a guide to choosing a braid of a similar diameter for the job. The other thing that
puts a lot of people of braid is its cost. When considering cost you must remember that a reel spooled with even the best
mono will need changing several times a year where a reel loaded with braid can last many years due to its much greater
resistance to UV light deterioration and far higher initial breaking strain. Initially more expensive yes but in the long term
can work out the same if not cheaper. Same as mono there are plenty of different brands of braid confidence in a particular
brand being once again of great importance. I’ve tried many and most are fine, if pushed to recommend one though I would
have to say my personal favourite is the original Spiderwire. Also with braided lines (in fact like a lot of tackle) look to the
US mail order companies like Bass Pro or Cabelas for the best prices. Another way to keep the cost of braid down is to
only load on the amount you will need and back this out to the correct level with mono. There is no point at all in loading
up with hundreds of yards of braid that the majority of which will never see day light!

HOOKLENGTH MATERIALS
 Despite not having razor sharp cutting teeth like a Pike, Cats do have very abrasive “pads” situated just inside both the
upper and lower jaws as well as in the throat at the stomach entrance. These are for gripping and then passing their prey
down their cavernous gobs! For those who haven’t ever seen a Cats mouth it’s huge! The best way of describing the pads is
to liken them to the male side of a strip of Velcro. Continual rubbing over the pads during the fight soon makes short work
of mono or carp type braided hook lengths. A lot of people will suggest some of the carp angling braided hook length
materials, experience would cause me to disagree. When I first started fishing for cats the choice of hook length was the
one thing that the cat world hadn’t got sorted. A bit like Pike anything could be used as long as it didn’t come into contact
with the teeth! A lot of times the hook length simply doesn’t, the hook being in the scissors or just in a position that
prevents it. The issue of course is that you can’t guarantee this (even with bolt rigs) so you need to use a material which
will resist the abrasive qualities of the pads should it come into contact with them. After trying most of the available
materials none proved suitable. Some of the flat profile braids (like 25lb Silkworm) not only wore through but would also
cut the fish to. Many tried covering the first few inches above the hook of their hook length with rig tube. Many had
forgotten the initial reason for trying the carp braids i.e. not for a better presentation but purely to stop bite offs. Wire
seemed the only option but due to the fleshy nature of a cat’s mouth (being unlike the hard bony nature of a Pikes) wire
proved totally unsuitable. Wire just damages Cats simple as that. I have landed Cats that have been caught at one time on
wire and seen some horrific injuries such as pectoral fins nearly amputated, cut mouths and severed whiskers. Some went
to using heavy mono (30lb) hook lengths and in most cases this was fine. Having spent a lot of time carp fishing in the
Colne valley prior to my Catting days I had come across a material which due to its high abrasion resistance we had been
using for snag leaders to avoid cut offs on the numerous under water gravel bars. This material was Kevlar Bow String
(which is used on modern high power competition bows). These days you can easily get hold of a similar version of it
aimed at anglers called Kryston Quick Silver. For Cats I have found (and to be fair it is now pretty much accepted as
standard amongst Cat anglers) that this high abrasion resistance leader material makes very good hook lengths. I use this in
the 35lb and 45lb BS sizes. More than enough for anything you will encounter here in the UK as I’ve landed several fish
over 150lb abroad on the 45lb version. Never had a problem with it breaking/ wearing and just as importantly never seen
any damage to the fish.

Whilst on the subject of hook length materials. Due to wires total unsuitability for Cats when fishing waters with Pike in a
bit of thought has to be given to bait selection so avoiding the chance of a Pike picking the bait up and subsequently biting
through the hook length. Sadly although there are materials that will resist a cats pads none of them will cope with a Pikes
teeth. To my knowledge a material that enables you too safely fish for both Cats and pike at the same time sadly doesn’t
exist.
.
HOOKS
  Large, strong and of course ultra sharp hooks are the order of the day here. Don’t be afraid of using big hooks. As for the
exact size of hook it’s the same as all fishing; the type and size of bait being used dictating this. As a general guide the
smallest hook I use is a size 1 for small boillies baits or worms and up to a size 3/0 for normal size live baits. I prefer
barbed hooks in the bigger sizes as I believe these cause less damage during the fight and don’t penetrate as deep as
barbless versions. In these sizes I’ve always found the Up Tide Extra hooks from Cox&Rawle superb. No need to pay the
extra money or hunt around for Maruto’s and the likes for UK fishing. Only time I would bother with a different pattern of
hook would be to use a Maruto Eagle Wave hook if I was using a live Eel for bait. The shape of this pattern of hook
certainly works well with them. All though the Uptide Extras come out of the packet quite sharp, like all hooks (chemically
sharpened included) they benefit from a quick touch up from a sharpener. A couple of seconds work definitely hooks you
more fish. I also re check the hook after each fish or before a new cast. Remember the sharper a hook is the easier it is to
blunt!

 The hooks I have recommended are singles. I mention this as some advocate the use of trebles. Until a few years ago I
would have decried the use of trebles as unnecessary and damaging. These days even though I still prefer singles in most
Catting situations (in fact for all here in the UK) I am now not so sure that in some situations a treble is not only required
but can even be more fish friendly! Best explain that one. When using a large bait or sometimes a specific presentation (e.g.
tail mounting a live bait) this will necessitate the use of a large hook to stop the hook being masked by the bait and assist in
good hook ups. Due to their overall size a large single can penetrate a long way. I caught several fish over 20lb and my
regular Catting companion of the time Rob Dixon caught Claydon's “Brown One” at over 35lb on 3/0 hook where the hook
had penetrated all the way through the roof of the mouth. With the right approach (which I will cover later) removing hooks
in this position can be done without causing any further damage. But I say further as I have often been worried that one day
a small fish could be taken and the single penetrate through the roof and out through the eye. I’ve never had this happen or
seen it but have seen it close enough to believe it would certainly be possible. A treble hook of a large enough size to do the
same job would be a lot smaller and therefore penetrate a lot shallower avoiding this risk. Maybe just needless worry but
food for thought all the same. I have no experience of using trebles for Cats in the UK but after a lot of persuasion by my
then boss Luke Moffat (and it did take a lot but you were right mate!) used them at certain times of the season whilst
guiding on the Saone. I won’t go into all the reasons around their use suffice it to say that they were fished de-barbed and
neither I nor the Catfish had any problems with them.

RODS
 Using one hand to hold the rod and the other to wind the reel handle it is very hard for most people to be able to pull much
over 11-12lbs for any period of time with any rod! Don’t take my word for it set up some gear, tie the line to a set of scales
secured to something solid and try it! The forces involved in casting are far greater than any used whilst playing a fish, no
matter how big! Without a shock leader you can easily snap a 15lb mainline casting but no matter how powerful a rod or
big the fish you shouldn’t break it whilst using it to land one. Try breaking 15lb line using the rod (rather than a direct pull)
no mater what test curve (TC) it is. I certainly can’t even with any of my powerful beach casting rods!

I mention all of the above to try and keep the selection of rods in perspective.

 For close range work (up to around 35m or so) I have found an 11 or 12’ rod of 2lb TC more than adequate. The action I
prefer is a through action which I find plays out Catfish a lot quicker and safer. This will cast out a 5-6” live bait and rig
(the heaviest combined casting weight you will normally use) no problem. For slightly further i.e. up to 50m I switch to a 2
1/2lb rod, once again with a through action. Most modern carp rods in these higher test curves tend to have fast taper
actions. Not only is a fast taper not so good for playing the fish it also makes casting soft baits (including live baits )
difficult. Having a tendency to cast or rip them off. Due to this when choosing higher TC rods I tend to look towards rods
intended for Pike rather than Carp as these tend towards a slower taper. The only time I choose a fast taper high TC Carp
rod is when I wish to fish a Carp type bait (i.e. boillie or pellet) at extreme range ie100m+. Despite cats being both big and
powerful too may people get carried away with the tackle they use. Believe it or not I’ve even seen Uptide boat rods and
multiplier reels both recommended and used here! If they are loosing fish it is normally down to the poor quality/condition
or bad use of the equipment. To put it further into perspective I only use 4lb TC 12’ through actioned rods to land massive
European Cats in around 7-8 minutes. Heavy tackle doesn’t’ necessarily land big fish quicker, the correct use of balanced
tackle does.


REELS
 Any good quality modern Carp fishing sized reel is fine. I tend to choose one with a “free spool” facility as this is very
useful when live baiting or using bolt rigs. A good drag is also required as even though I still prefer to “back wind” when
playing most fish I believe a good drag is the best way of applying maximum pressure at all times to a fast moving Cat. As
I said the quality is important as a lot of pressure is put on a reel (especially the rotor shaft) when playing a big Cat. In all
fairness you have got to go a long way to beat the Shimano Baitrunner. No need for the massive sized or “Big Pit” ones
either (unless you are fishing extreme ranges of course). I’m that out of it I don’t even know the latest model numbers but
the older 6010 size is the one I mean and this is more than adequate.

BITE INDICATION
 Due to the often slow nature of fishing for Cats a bite alarm is very useful. For audible indication any one of the modern
buzzers will suffice reliability being the main issue here. Plenty of choice these days and you don’t need to pay a fortune
either! Despite having used both Optonics and Delkim converted Optonics for many years I now use the basic Fox Micron
M with no complaints. Its simple volume control being the only “gadget” I require. Remember the volume is so you can
hear it, not everyone else! When fishing close in with live bait or bolt rigs I tend to just use the buzzer and fish directly off
the baitrunner set as light as practical. However for any long range work or when fishing other baits on free lined or free
running rigs with an open bail arm I use an indicator as well. This provides both drop back indication and a form of line
management.

 For open bail arm work I use the old fashioned Ricky Gibbinson style monkey climber mounted on a short, slanting
needle. This is set up just behind the spool as shown in the diagram to prevent the line falling off the reel spool. For longer
range work with live bait and bolt rtgs I use a heavy hanger at the top on a tight line in conjunction with the baitrunner.

 As you can see I only use the baitrunner if I’m using live baits or bolt rigs. All other work is done with an open bail arm.
This is because I believe that Cats like all predators do not tolerate resistance (or possibly I should say a change of
resistance) so do my best to avoid it. With bolt rigs being self hooking/pricking and live baits being hit so hard it doesn’t
seem to matter.

Some more specialised presentations require a slightly modified approach to bite indication but I will describe this when
talking about these methods.

LANDING, UNHOOKING, WEIGHING AND RETAINING EQUIPMENT AND TECHNIQUES.
 The one thing that makes all of these standard angling procedures different to our other big fish like Carp or Pike is the
cats sheer size or rather length! A decent fish will be longer than a standard carp net and hang over the ends of even large
unhooking mats. One good thing about cats is that in general (despite their size) they do tend to behave on the bank. Once
on an unhooking mat they do tend to lie still and not thrash around….thank God! Being quite robust they are in general not
too worried about a trip to land and other than trying to keep the time spent out of the water to the minimum the only other
thing I do is ensure that I keep them well wet. This is mainly because they are often caught in warm weather and a good
dousing with water stops their slime drying out, becoming sticky and being more easily removed. One thing though is don’t
over do the amount of water on the actual mat otherwise the daft creatures think they are back in the water and try to swim
off! Despite the fact that Cats can be out of water (breathing wise) for some time without seemingly suffering I like to keep
this time as short as possible for fear of internal damage. I feel that a large fish when in its natural habitat has its weight
supported by the water it lives in. Once on the bank it no longer has this support and its own weight can crush internal
organs and put a lot of strain on its body. I have no practical or scientific proof that this is so other than the fact that Cats
quite often empty their bladder over you whilst posing with them. But even if it is just conjecture keeping the fish out of the
water for the shortest amount of time must be the best thing. Another potential problem is the Cats pectoral fins. These can
lock out at 90 degrees to the body and due to this be damaged if the cat is laid down on the mat or in a weigh sling on them.
I couldn’t even hope to explain through words how you fold them! But a bit of careful manipulation will see them safely
laid back against the body. I find the securest way to handle a cat is by using the “Waller grip” this entails gripping it by the
lower jaw, the pads giving you a good grip. A glove is not only good for the squeamish but also offers a better grip. The
orange gardening gloves with the rubberised meshing on them are best. I have landed many 100lb+ Cats whilst guiding
abroad by unceremoniously hauling them over the side of a boat using the Waller grip and glove method and never seen
any harm done to them. With our generally smaller fish you can use your other hand to support the fish’s body .Although
that said it is debatable as to whether this is more helpful or harmful as a hand in the wrong place can apply pressure to the
internal organs

 Holding them for the camera can be very difficult. It is hard to get a good position for the camera and still keep the fish
safely supported. A couple of reasons for this, the sheer weight of the fish, the fact that most of the fish’s weight is
concentrated at the head end making them difficult to balance. The fact that they are extremely slippy doesn’t help either! If
you use both hands to support the body the tail just hangs down giving the fish a laid over “L” shape. This doesn’t really
show the fishes length very well. Two poses I use which I consider are both safe for the fish and give a reasonable shot are
as follows. Kneel down on your unhooking mat behind the fish with your right leg extended to the side. Slide your left
hand under the Cats head and place your fingers either side of the far pectoral fin (doing this will stop the fish sliding
either forward or backward).Place your right hand under the fish just where the tail and belly meet (you will have to
experiment a bit with the exact placing to get the fish balanced. Lift the fish slightly off the ground. The tail can be laid
along your out stretched leg to support it. The other safe way is to grip the Cats lower jaw through the gill cover (Pike
style) ands whilst kneeling at the head end just raise the head slightly keeping the body and tail on the mat. If you want a
more conventional shot then the safest way with a big fish is for you to adopt the knelt down position, hold your arms out
ready and get two others to lift the fish in to your arms. Using your fingers either side of the pectoral fin will once again
give you a better grip. Of course if you are really lucky you might get one big enough for two of you to hold it….or three! I
won’t bother going into how you set up for taking a self portrait as there is much all ready wrote on this.

Let us now look at some of the specific items of equipment required and how best to use them.

LANDING NET
 Despite using the Waller grip/glove method to land Cats whilst boat fishing abroad I still rate a good landing net as the
best method for both the UK and from the bank abroad. Getting a “good landing net” being the problem! As said earlier
Catfish are very long. So much so that often there isn’t enough room between the cord and spreader block on a standard
42” style specimen net to easily accommodate them. Obviously you can get away with using a standard net by exercising a
bit more care and “bending” the fish into the net but even with a larger 50” carp style net you can struggle in the dark.
There are a couple of solutions the best being to make your own net.

If you chose this one don’t be tempted to make too big a one as these just prove to un-weildley. As a guide my European
net has arms of 67” long. The way to increase the distance between cord and block is to change the angle of the arms. You
can some times modify existing spreader blocks if they are of the metal spigot type but the best way is to make a new one.
Below are some simple guide lines to making your own Catfish landing net.

Most heavy duty handles will suffice. For the arms I use hollow fibreglass boat rod tips of around 30-50lb class. These are
quite cheap to buy and easy to obtain. They come in several different lengths but can be cut to the required length. The
actual length you cut the arms to will be governed by the size of the netting you are going to use. It is very hard to get
larger than 50” unless you make your own but for most UK fish though this will do the job. Due to the different spreader
block angle you will be able to use standard 50” netting on arms of up to around 60”. The spreader block is the hardest part
to make and unless you are in a relevant trade its best to go to a small engineering works to have it made. Mine were cast
out of alloy by a friend who made a simple foundry sand mould from a wooden pattern. I would have no problem in
loaning anyone one of my blocks so they could use it as a pattern to cast/make their own. As an alternative to casting one
I’m sure any metal worker worth his salt could weld one up. The diagram below shows the angles and dimensions. A hole
is then drilled into the spreader block as shown and a Stainless steel 3/8” BSF bolt inserted and secured. These are best
sourced from custom motorcycle parts suppliers. The spreader block is now complete. Ensure the arms fit snugly over the
spreader blocks spigots and trim them if required to achieve this. Once you are happy with the length of the arms and the
fit, the butt end of the arms needs to be whipped with strong thread for a good 5” (or as a bear minimum just over the
length of the spreader blocks spigots) to reinforce them. Seal the whipping with either a good resin finish or you can just
use Araldite. Use the standard (I believe this is now called “Precision”?) as opposed to the rapid though. Keep it warmed up
with a hair dryer and it will flow nicely and give just as good a finish. Same as the proprietary resin finishes you will need
to keep turning the arm until the Araldite has started to set to avoid runs. To attach the nylon spreader cord I use clear
plastic tubing available from aquatic shops (it is used as air lines for oxygen pumps) some ironmongers/garden centres/DIY
stores also stock it. Make sure the size you get fits snugly over the tips of the arms so you won’t have to use glue. Cut two
matching lengths of around 4” and into one end of each araldite a strong stainless swivel. The net cord can then be attached
to this. For the cord I buy the white braided nylon cord available at most DIY type outlets. To get the length of this right
first push the tubes on to the end of your arms and then put these on to the spreader block. Tie one end of the cord to the
swivel on one of the arms and put the other end through the swivel on the other one. Pull the cord through until the arms are
bowed to the correct angle, note the length and cut accordingly. Remember to allow enough spare to knot the end to the
swivel. You can now take the arms off and thread the net onto them and the cord, pop them back on, screw on the handle
and the jobs done.

If this is all too much trouble then get your self a 50” landing net that has a spreader block you will be able to adjust. The
metal spigot type as opposed to the plastic type that you push the arms in to obviously being the one. Get the block bent to
the required shape (best to get this done by some one who knows what they are doing so you don’t snap it!) and tighten up
the net cord accordingly.

Both of these methods give you a much better shaped net which has a greater distance from cord to block without having
monstrously long arms. Having a much narrower net though means that you can’t net a fish side ways. This doesn’t present
a problem as the most efficient way I’ve found to land them is to simply walk the fish backwards over the net on a tight line
once beaten. This stops any of the last minute lunges that pumping causes and puts the fish in the correct position to be
netted. Need a mate on the net though!

UNHOOKING MAT
Although cats don’t tend to thrash around on the bank I still like to lay them on a mat. Doesn’t have to have loads of
padding but I like a nice surface which will stay wet and not scratch the fish or remove its slime. Some of the real huge carp
mats can be used at a push but a simple piece of carpet underlay (the green knobbly stuff is best) will be better. It can be
covered if you wish but I’ve never found this necessary. Normal foam tends to be both rough and absorbent so if using this
always cover it with a suitable material. Both can be cut to the required size (5’6” long and 3’ wide is more than enough). A
good, quick and cheap alternative is one of the foam sleeping mats sold in camping shops. These are near enough the
correct size and the surface is relatively fish friendly so doesn’t really need to be covered.

WEIGHING SLINGS
 Once again it is the catfish’s often huge length that causes the problem. They must also be strong enough to take the
weight and prevent the fish from sliding out of either end! Fortunately these days a couple of manufacturers do produce and
market Cat sized slings. The biggest of Pike weigh slings can be used for smaller fish as Cats will curl up in a ball in a
sling. The “half moon” shaped ET ones are a good size and design.

 All though I have mentioned slings separately to mats what I tend to use now is a combined mat/sling this cuts down on
the amount of handling. I make my own but the rigid arm type slings such as the Fox Safety Weigh Sling fit the bill.
Simply lay them open on the ground, put the fish on it in the landing net to unhook, pop the net arms out of the block, then
zip up to weigh. Don’t forget to subtract the weight of the net head though! I then carry the lot back to the water for the
release, this prevents any accidents.

 On the subject of weighing. As we are dealing with heavy weights here it can be very difficult to get an accurate weight if
by yourself unless you are very strong. A good dodge (providing your landing net handle is strong enough!) is to attach a
clip a foot below the top of your handle that the scales can be hung off. You can then use the handle to lever the fish off the
ground.

UNHOOKING GEAR AND TECHNIQUES
 Due to the size of the hooks used a pair of forceps is pretty redundant! You can normally get a good enough grip with your
fingers although carrying a strong set of long nosed pliers is advised. Another important piece of equipment is a pair of
cutters that are capable of cutting through the strong hooks you are using (try these at home first rather than finding out
they aren’t man enough on the first fish you need them on!). I prefer the mini bolt cropper type but carry a smaller set of
very strong and sharp side cutters for tight places. Carrying these is a must as often it is best to cut the hook in half and
retrieve it in two pieces to prevent damage. Situations like I mentioned in the Hook section where the hook has penetrated
the roof of the mouth near the eye are a prime example. Also deep hooked fish, on the subject of which, it is quite an easy
procedure on big fish but much harder on smaller ones due to a lack of room to work. The best way I’ve found is to get
some one to hold the Cats mouth open and keep it still by gripping the top and bottom jaw with their hand(s). This is easiest
done by standing above the fish facing the same way. Place yourself in front of the fish and slide your hand down the line
and into the stomach until you feel the hook. Don’t be scared the only thing down there that can hurt you is your hook! I
prefer an un-gloved hand for four reasons, it takes up less room, doesn’t irritate the stomach, gives you a better feel for
what you are doing and above all doesn’t snag on the pads, gill rakers or hook. Don’t try to invert the stomach as you
would a Pikes. If the hook point is exposed cut it off and retrieve the hook in two pieces. If not the depth it has penetrated
will dictate whether you try to work it out or pull it in more to expose the point. Fortunately you don’t get many deep
hooked Cats. In fact to put it in perspective I’ve had to unhook one deep hooked Cat here in the UK (and that was because
the idiot whose rod it was on was drunk and slept through the run) and two abroad. The bigger the fish the bigger the mouth
and the easier it is. Smaller fish are very difficult to work on as I found with Rip van Winkles fish. Although completely
pants with trebles the Drennan Pike Disgorger is handy for getting singles out of smaller fish that you can’t fit your hand
and tools in.



RETAINING EQUIPMENT
The only times I have ever had the need to retain a Cat for any length of time is whilst guiding abroad. This has been
because I have wanted to take good pictures in daylight. For most of my customers a good picture of their first big Cat was
one of the most important parts of the trip. To retain them until the light conditions are right I’ve always used a stringer.
Even though at first this looks a very crude method it is undoubtedly the safest for the fish. Done correctly and providing
the water in close is cool and well oxygenated there are no problems or harm done to the fish. If I needed to retain a fish
here I would have no hesitation in using one although I’m sure most other anglers and the fishery owners would freak! In
my opinion it is the only safe way. Although stringers can be brought in most countries abroad you will have to make your
own here. They can be as simple or fancy as you want. You will need at least 20’ of soft, smooth cord which must be thick
enough to prevent any harm to the fish or being worn through. At its most basic all you need to do is push the end of the
cord into the Cats mouth and out of its gill cover. Ensure you don’t trap or damage any of the delicate gill rakers. Tie the
cord making a lose loop that can’t slip and tighten. I like to keep this as tight to the fish as possible but without it actually
touching or cutting in. The fish can now be returned allowing it to go down to the bottom and rest (ensure you have a long
enough cord to do this) the other end can then be secured to the bank. On a stringer the Cat can reach a comfortable depth
of water and has no netting or sacking around it to remove slime or interfere with its oxygen intake. When you wish to
retrieve the fish to release it just gently pull it in and re net it! As I said stringers can be as simple as the one I’ve
mentioned or more fancy. On my own I use a couple of miniature shackles to attach the loop to the main cord. This simply
speeds things up rather than having to tie (and more awkwardly untie) knots! Once again the aim here is to minimise the
handling time.

 Like I said I have never felt the need to retain a Cat caught at home for any length of time. If the fish has been caught at
night then I like the picture to be at night! It kind of tells the story. Won’t go into how to take good pictures at night as there
must be much better stuff on it by far more qualified people than me. All my unhooking, weighing and photography gear is
already set up ready to deal with a fish as soon as it is landed. If I do need to keep a fish in the water for it to recover a bit
or any other reason I merely leave it in the landing net, barbel style. If you do feel the need to retain a fish what ever you do
DON’T use a carp sack. The oxygen exchange in these is bad enough at the best of times but the main danger to Cats is
that they inhale the soft material and it gets stuck in the pads stopping them from being able to breathe. I’ve seen several
killed this way. I have no experience of tubes for Cats so can’t really comment either way.

 One last thing to consider in this section. Before you keep a fish out of the water for that bit longer to weigh or photograph
it just ask your self if you really need to do either. Nothing wrong with weighing or photographing fish as after all this is a
major element of specimen hunting but we don’t really need to weigh and photo every fish we catch do we?

RIGS AND TACTICS
 These days there are many fancy rigs and complicated tactics suggested for Catfish. Some of the rigs contain more items of
tackle than my tackle box! I think a lot of Carp fishing mentality has crept in here and most of these rigs have come about
due to too much time sat bored in a bivvy or the desire to look the part! As with a lot of my angling keeping things simple
and paying attention to detail is my approach. All I ask from my rigs is that they don’t tangle, present the bait how I want
and allow me to cleanly hook the fish. I’ve said it before Cats aren’t that clever! Not that I think that carp are as clever as
some of their aficionados would have us believe! (Mind you neither am I so maybe that’s why I like things kept simple!?)
All I’m going to mention here are the rigs that are most commonly used in the UK and have proved the most effective for
myself and other Cat anglers I know.

LIVE BAIT RIGS.
 As well as the normal criteria already mentioned live bait rigs need to perform another important task. They need to
“work” the bait to keep it moving, thus making it more attractive. This is because no matter how thick carp are, when
they've got a 3/0 hook stuck in their arse they know they’re in trouble! They instinctively realise that they are an easy prey
for any passing predators. Their instinctive defence is to try and swim to the bottom and lie still hoping to be undetected.
Lying undetected is the last thing an angler wants from his bait!
 One of my favourite live bait rigs is the “Poly ball rig”. This can be fixed on either a running or a semi fixed lead. I’ve
never found it to matter. The size of the poly balls are determined by the baits strength rather than just its size. I prefer to
use two smaller ones than one larger one as this keeps the diameter down there bye reducing the risk of the poly ball
masking the hook point. Their job is purely to keep the bait working. As the fish dives to the bottom the poly balls must be
of the correct buoyancy to allow it to reach the bottom but not let it rest there. Too buoyant will obviously tire the bait out
quicker (or even stop it from being able to reach the bottom) whilst not enough will not force the bait back up. The
continuous up and down action is highly attractive to Cats. Due to the fact that they are being constantly worked strong
baits like Carp and Tench are best. I like to hook them in the root of the tail as I feel this allows them to work best. This
does mean that you require a large hook to prevent the point being masked. Around a size 3/0 is suitable for a 5-6” bait.
You can hook them through the top lip and out of the nose if you prefer. A good tip when using single hooks and live baits
is to stick a short piece of rubber on to the hook either side of the bait. This helps keep the bait on. The length of the hook
link is decided by the maximum depth you wish the bait to fish above the bottom. You can actually “over poly ball” the bait
to keep it on the surface but I don’t think this gives as good a presentation as the next rig.

My other all time favourite and one I would always chose for surface fishing (if the situation allows) is the “Far bank” rig.
As you can see from the diagram below it is really a horizontal paternoster rig. The bait is once again kept working, this
time by the tension in the rod and line. When a fish takes the weak link breaks allowing the fish to be played
conventionally. Some people dispense with the tether and just use a longer weak link direct to the anchor point. I don’t like
this as it means there is more stretch to be taken up before the link breaks and long lengths of nylon are left behind. Only
draw back is that to set this rig up you can be a bit limited without the use of a boat. You can get around this to a certain
extent by using the version shown in the second diagram. A long carbon Carp pole with a hook whipped on the end is
handy for setting up and placing and retrieving the tether. Bite indication for this method is best achieved with a heavy
bobbin set to drop back when the weak link breaks and the tip springs back. Often you will see/hear the fish actually taking
and get several blips on the buzzer as the fish first strikes. Due to the need to keep tension on the rig the baitrunner
mechanism has to be set quite tight so make sure your rod is well secured as the takes can be very violent. Live eels hooked
in the extreme of the tail work extremely well on this set up. This is a great presentation to use over the top of weed. If
using this rig over deep water and you want the bait to stay down a bit then simply add weight to the hook length. I like to
use the giant (but possibly illegal?) spilt shot that you can buy abroad as they are easily adjusted/added/removed. I should
imagine the Quick change sinkers sold by Fox for Piking would do the same job just as well (but legally!)


LEECH RIGS
Despite having sung their praises in the Bait section there are some slight problems with them that have to be taken into
consideration when rigging up. The same property of being highly active that makes them so effective can also be a
potential problem. On a standard ledger rig they would burrow into any silt if present and get into a monster, monster
tangle with the hook link! The following rigs generally help avoid these problems. Don’t worry that the cats take the
tubing, poly ball etc in with the bait as it doesn’t bother them! These rigs are both best fished on semi fixed bolt rigs. I
don’t honestly think Cats actually like the taste/feel of the leeches and try to spit them out once taken. Only reason they
take them are the amazing vibrations they give out which some believe are mistaken for a fish in distress. For this reason I
chose the self hooking type of rig and don’t delay the strike. Leeches are best hooked as lightly as possible through the
edge of their thick mouths.

FREELINING
Undoubtedly the most simple rig and method going. Resistance free (well as free as you most likely can get) but due to its
poor bite indication not suited for fishing much over 30m and that’s at a push! Or in rough conditions where you need a
lead to pin your gear to the bottom. At close range it is however very effective and a very high percentage of the non live
bait or boillie caught cats taken at Claydon over the many years have fallen to it. I wont even bother to insult your
intelligence or waste my time by drawing a hook tied to some Quick Silver tied to the main line!

FREE RUNNING LEDGER
As I mentioned earlier I believe that resistance can cause a cat to drop certain baits. Despite the free lined set up avoiding
this there are many times when the distance fished or conditions dictate you have to use a lead. The rig I use is the same
other than trace that I use for my pike fishing. The poly ball not only acts as a stop but keeps the curtain ring (even though
the polythene ones are quite buoyant) supported above any bottom rubbish. This just helps keep the resistance down a bit.
As you can tighten down to the lead you immediately improve your bite detection, especially in rougher weather or at
distance.
BOLT RIGS
As I said with the Carp type baits such as Boillies and Pellets the standard carp bolt rigs have proved more than adequate.
Great for situations that require you to fish at long range. Every one has their own safe semi fixed lead bolt rig that they are
happy with and the exact details don’t really matter. As the hooks in general are bigger than in most carping situations I
tend to use a slightly heavier lead. 3-4ozs being my minimum size. I believe this helps with the pricking/self hooking affect
with these larger hooks. As for the business end I just use a simple hair rig, Knotless knot style. No concerns over anti eject
etc with cats and I tend to match the hair length to the bait size. The hairs only function here is to help give clean hooking
rather than any form of deceiving the fish. I tend to use longer hook lengths on a bolt rig for cats than I would carp, very
rarely going below 10” with my normal Tangerine sized baits. Despite being a great believer in popped up or critically
balanced boillies for Carp I have never bothered for Cats. Even though I have only used bottom baits I have no reason to
believe pop ups wouldn’t work.

POPPED UP BAIT RIGS
 Despite not having bothered with popped up boillies I have had a lot of success using other baits popped up off the bottom.
Even though the main reason I have used this has been when fishing over weed covered bottoms it does provide a very
useful alternative presentation. You can pop up absolutely anything from whole dead baits Pike style to lumps of Liver with
foam inserted! One of the most unusual looking is a fish section! but it does work. I use foam or cork for making most baits
buoyant. These are always secured to the hook to prevent them being swallowed. Don’t like polystyrene as it can break
away from the anchor or injecting air. There are two reasons for my not liking this, firstly hypodermic needles can be
potentially dangerous and secondly I like the more positive buoyancy cork and foam give. Air can leak out leaving you in
doubt to what the bait is doing. Cork and foam will stay the much the same no matter how long they are out there.

 A squid stuffed with an oily fish such as tinned sardines or tuna can then be sewn up making a highly attractive and visual
bait. It works just as well over clean gravel bottoms as it does weed. The air trapped in the body cavity will keep the squid
up for some time and it doesn’t leak out as bad as with fish. I’ve even seen this set up take Cats when fished just breaking
the surface.

 Popped up Lobs are also a great bait on waters where the attention of other fish isn’t to bad. Rather than injecting them
with air I rig up a hair rig with a suitable sized poly ball on the hair (mounted just like you would a boillie) I then hook a
bunch of lobs on the hook. They do tend to tangle with the hair if its too long. Might not affect presentation but it does
interfere with hooking if the hook becomes masked by the poly ball. Best way I’ve found to prevent this is to use a hair that
matches the poly balls size and keeps it tight to the bend of the hook. This can be fished directly off the lead or by using a
counter balance weight, carp style.

 Well that’s my very small but effective armoury. All quite simple but attention paid to the small details. I have used these
methods on many different waters of different sizes and depths etc in this country and abroad successfully. I have caught on
other methods abroad including the use of artificial lures and believe it or not flies! But as I’ve never used them in the UK I
can’t really comment.

STRIKING AND PLAYING
 No matter what rig or bait I’m using I always use the same method to set the hook only the timing of the strike varies. Due
to the size of the hooks used I strike with even the so called “self hooking” rigs. I believe these only “prick” the fish at best
and the hook still needs driving home. Best way to achieve this Is “Pike style” i.e. pick up the rod, wind down until the fish
is felt then sweep the rod around nearly parallel to the bank ,pulling rather than striking the hooks in.. I do this whether I’m
fishing closed or open bail arm styles. The actual timing of the strike will depend on the bait/rig used. When using lives on
a poly ball rig I will wait for a few seconds (dependant on bait size/expected fish size) allowing the Cat to take line from
the baitrunner before striking. Much the same when using large whole/half fish dead baits although I will be fishing these
on an open bail arm and will not close it until I am ready to strike. As mentioned I try to hit runs on Leeches as quick as
possible. For all other baits I just pick up the rod and set the hook, no rush but any defined delay. On “far bank” live bait
rigs you really need to determine whether the Cat is running towards or away from you. Away you can let everything
tighten up then set the hook and if towards you wind like crazy until you catch up with it. No point in striking with a slack
line!

 You really need to play a Cat and not let it play you! Right from the initial run you need to be applying heavy but steady
pressure, as much as the tackle will allow. That said Cats very rarely run into snags on purpose (in fact I will stick my neck
out here and say never!) so if you need to you can let them run. Mind you having said that they are so daft that I’ve seen
them run into things by mistake…..like the solid dam end at Claydon! I’m sure I saw it shake its head in surprise before
turning around and running the other way! I like to play them hard and try and keep in control as this ensures the hook goes
all the way in (and stays in) and the sooner you get them in the better it is for them. Also there is to my mind less chance of
losing a fish for many reasons during a shorter fight. Also when you pull on a cat it will pull back and show you its
amazing strength! I covered the best technique to land them earlier. The fight of the Catfish is definitely the main reason I
fish for them. It is also why I can still happily fish for 20lbrs despite having caught near 200lbrs!

CONDITIONS AND TIMES
 Catfish are built to be nocturnal. Despite their very small eye their highly sensitive whiskers allow them to hunt in
darkness just as well as they can during the day. It is believed that their preferred time to feed is during darkness. Even so I
have fished for them on several waters that don’t allow night fishing and it isn’t something to worry about. Although most
fish are caught during the golden time of “last knockings” (the time just as the light fades and darkness sets in) enough fish
do come out during the day to make fishing worthwhile. The extent of this is some what governed by the weather
conditions. To be honest on most of the waters that I have night fished the best time has still been “last knockings” up to
around 11.00. Not took a great many between 11.00 and 05.00. Dawn tends to be better during really hot conditions. I
should imagine this is because after really hot days the water has taken longer to cool down a bit. I’m talking extreme
temperatures here though that we only see for a few days each year here in the UK.

 Cats are certainly more active during the warmer months and although the occasional one is caught on a mild winter’s day
it is more realistic to stick to targeting them during the summer. Despite their like of warmth I don’t think they are very
happy with bright light. Bright conditions will often see them taking cover under overhanging bank side trees etc. Due to
this the best day time conditions are on warm but overcast days. When cold winds are blowing and lowering the water
temperature (especially on shallow waters) they rarely feed. I’ve never really taken that much notice of my barometer in the
summer (unlike for my winter Piking) so haven’t really noticed any trends regards to air pressure. Shame really as it would
have been interesting to compare.

THE FUTURE
 The Wells or European Catfish has now certainly established itself on the UK angling scene. The vast increase in the
distribution of the species and resulting growth in its popularity have caused this to come about. The only downside caused
by this is the fact commercial interests have also picked up on it. This has resulted in many fisheries bringing in large
foreign fish to attract customers. Sadly this has some what eroded the creditability of UK catfishing and caused the species
to be dropped from the UK record list. Strangely bringing in these foreign fish has probably helped improve the “gene
pool” of the species in this country. For many years our Cats had all come from a relatively small group of parent fish and
in general their growth rates and sizes were poor. This undoubtedly came about due to the somewhat poor quality of waters
that they had initially been stocked in as is demonstrated by the difference in sizes attained by the one or two fish taken
form the richer waters such as Tring and the better growth rates seen from some of the imported fish. I would hope that
now no more fish were imported and certainly none of over specimen size. The existing fish regardless of size could then
become “nationalised” (so to speak!) with the view that in a decade or two all the fish in the UK, regardless of their
parentage could be regarded as UK fish. In turn this would hopefully make the best of a bad situation and bring some
semblance of credibility back to the species. It would then and only then be time for one of the UK’s finest sporting fish to
take its rightful place back on the record list.

SUMMARY
Well nothing really new or earth shattering there but as I initially said it is just simple stuff that has always worked for me.
I’m convinced it was the good grounding in Catfishing that I got at the likes of Claydon etc that helped me be successful
with the species abroad. I might not be an expert and this is certainly not the definitive article on the subject but I hope it
has given you some insight into UK Catting. I’m sure that if you follow some of the basics here they will work just as well
for you and as well as being a good starting point help you put your first Cat on the bank.

USEFULL ADDRESS AND CONTACT NUMBERS
Catfish Conservation Group

Catfish Society

Biopharm

Leighton Buzzard Angling Club

								
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