Desperate Measures

We are approaching the end of the summer coaching season and during this time I have met many new people and hopefully been able to share my enthusiasm for our wonderful sport with them. I have also met some old friends and made some new ones too.

Old friend with common carp
Aidan has fished with me before and this is not his biggest fish.

Another student with his first carp
As you can see, this lad really enjoyed catching his first carp but was not quite ready to hold it.

Ryan with his first decent sized carp
The smile says everything about this photo.

At last, after such a busy summer I finally had some time for myself and I decided to try and achieve one of my goals. I have only two common British freshwater fish left to catch, one is a zander and the other is a wels catfish, neither of which is actually an indigenous fish but are widely enough distributed in the UK to be worthwhile targets.

During this summer’s work with the Environment Agency. I met another coach called Nick Watkins who is more of a big fish hunter than I am but an excellent coach for beginners nonetheless. He stayed at my place for a couple of days whilst we were coaching at Staunton Park in Havant to save him commuting between there and Canvey Island where he lives, in between the two day sessions. He used to be the head bailiff on a fishery called Beaver Farm and he was talking about the catfish for which it is famous and this resulted in a planned expedition for which I can’t even blame the drink!

We decided that it would require at least a “two-day session” to be in with a chance of connecting with one of these monsters so late in the year as it would be September before our coaching duties would let us fit it in. Two-day sessions are definitely beyond my usual fishing experience and so Nick arranged to borrow a bed chair and bivvy for me. Any of my readers who know me will be falling about laughing as I have always said that I did enough camping in the army to last me the rest of my life, but desperation requires desperate solutions.

We also discussed tackle and I was surprised to find that very little of the terminal tackle in my vast arsenal of tackle was suitable – the rods and reels I use for pike fishing would suffice but I had to think differently about hook length material and hooks. Catfish have huge mouths equipped with abrasive pads so large baits and abrasion resistant hook lengths would be the order of the day.

Catfish terminal tackle

Have a look at the size and gauge of those hooks,(that’s a pound coin not a one pence piece) you could probably hang a side of beef on one but that was “not quite” one of the baits we considered.

Kevlar is one of those materials born of the space race of which the advertising men are so fond and is, in reality, used to make such diverse thing as racing car cockpits and bullet proof vests but seems to be one of those words which allows the manufacturer to double the price of any article (like “carp” and “specimen”) and so I was in no way surprised to find that catfish require kevlar hook length material.

I also provided myself with various outrageous baits including huge halibut pellets big enough to hide behind, a tub of Moggy Chunks which look like the droppings of a constipated, medium sized, fish eating elephant, along with tins of luncheon meat cut in half to make two baits from each tin, both glugged in salmon oil, halibut oil, or another foul, fishy smelling liquid I found in an unmarked bottle in the bait additive section of my tackle store (the label must have come off years ago and if it smells like this now, God knows what it smelled like when it was fresh?). Add to this copious amounts of various sizes pellets, some boilies and marine pellet groundbait and of course fifty of the largest lobworms I could find. All this was carried in buckets which the local wild life found fascinating.

Ugly duckling stealing bait

This picture proves that not all ugly ducklings grow up to be swans, a fact that many of us have known for years.

The first Monday in September saw me arrive at Beaver Farm Fishery where I met Nick who told me we were to fish Snipe Lake where we would have the chance of some small cats should all else fail (doesn’t it always when someone says that?).

We walked the lake and I was introduced to some of Nick’s friends. I have always said that these session carp fishermen are a strange lot but some of the stories that were swapped would not bear printing here, or most other places, for fear of prosecution for indecency or libel. There was no sign of the bivvy or bed chair that we had been promised and as the skies darkened with rain clouds I looked forward to a grim first night but at the last moment the bailiff arrived with the required items and Nick soon had the bivvy erected, a task that may have taken me days on my own (how tent design has changed since my army days). Any comments about muzzle loading rifles and Zulus will be immediately deleted.

The first night I fished two rods, one near a patch of lillies on my left which had been heavily baited with a mixture of hemp, assorted pellets, dead maggots (that had been in my bait freezer since before some of this Summer’s students were born) and chopped luncheon meat bound together will a couple of kilos of marine pellet ground bait. This rod was baited with half a tin of luncheon meat and sat motionless all night except for a couple of line bites. The second rod was fished tight to the island, baited with six or seven huge popped up lobworms over a bed of two kilos of mixed pellets placed with the aid of Nick’s bait boat. Oh how I would love one of these bait boats but I really cannot justify the expense as I normally don’t do this kind of fishing very often and it would just be something else to carry (that’s never stopped you before I can hear you say!).

We just got set up when the skies opened up and the rain set in for the night and what a restless night it was, most of the time I was kept awake by the torrential rain drumming on the bivvy above my head or blowing in the open door. Oh yes, I forgot to mention how claustrophobic these bivvies are, I could not bear to have the door shut and I was worried about hearing the bite alarms if I had been able to shut it. This last worry was proved baseless with my first line bite and I found that I could and did hear every other bite alarm on the complex as well.

I crept out just after dawn (well, about 9.30 but it felt like first light) to find the rain had stopped but the ground was sodden and one of my bait buckets was half full of water where the lid had not been fitted properly. I reeled in both rods to find the baits untouched and I noticed that there was a lot of fish activity over the ground bait near the lilies on my left, there were bubbles everywhere, some in wide streams that Nick assured me were small cats. I had said all along that all I wanted was a catfish not necessarily a big one, so I decided that these indications would be my target for the day. I replenished the ground bait by the lilies and set up the second rod by the island for carp, without much hope I might add as the temperature had fallen during the previous night’s rain. I am not really comfortable with this long range, boltrig and boilie type of fishing because I have not done enough of it.

I decided to target the smaller cats by the lilies with a method I do know well, so I set up my flood water barbel rod, a twelve foot two pound test curve Harrison Torrix with a centrepin reel loaded with twenty pound braid to fish with a lift float. I have described this method before on this blog.

The main difference was the hook length of ten pound co polymer, the hook a forged size six and the bait, a single large lobworm was popped up by an injection of air into one end. After about an hour during which I sat with the butt of the rod on my lap (proper fishing!) the float lifted and laid flat, my strike was met with about a second of very solid resistance and then all hell broke loose. I had been warned that catfish fought hard but had not been prepared for the next few minutes of manic struggle. Given the swim I had chosen with the patches of lilies and bank side reeds it took all of my skill to keep this fish out of the snags, they really can swim backwards and I was relieved when Nick scooped it up with a landing net large enough to use as a butterfly net for a small airliner.

It only weighed eleven pounds thirteen ounces – thank God it wasn’t any bigger on the tackle I was using.

Atlast a small catfish

Guess who’s going back in May to catch a big one?