Here's the story about my three-year crusade to catch a 50 catfish.

Four years ago, while talking to two of my friends - who were already members of a local fishery called Willow Bank - I heard about a very big fish. They told me of a catfish that had been caught at Willow Bank that had bottomed out a set of 50lb scales. My first reaction was one of doubt until I heard that someone had videoed the event. The realisation that a fish of this size was swimming around not a twenty minute drive from my own doorstep really started to stimulate my imagination. I decided that I would like to join the fishery and that’s where my interest in the Wels catfish began.

I started fishing for catfish using worms and using pike rigs with live bait & dead bait but it was several weeks before I was rewarded with my first cat of 10lb.The learning curve continued - at a rather shallow angle I might add - but slowly, by talking to other anglers and reading any book I could find on the subject, my catch rate increased. I found that simply popping up worms instead of fishing them flat on the bottom, and fishing live bait close to the surface made a vast difference to my catch rate but still the target catfish eluded me. By this time I was getting a bit despondent. Other anglers were catching 50lb cats on Lake One and my personal best was only 40lb after 2 years fishing on the old lake. I must say I was tempted to start fishing on Lake One and try my luck at catching one of the new stocked fish.

Then Steve Batty, whose passion for fishing matches my own, hooked a cat on the old lake. The fish tore off leaving Steve hanging on, with his 5lb test curve catfish rod’ locked out’ and his reel screaming. The fish broke the surface, having reached the end of the island it looked as though Steve had stopped the run, but then disaster…! The line went slack and Steve fell to the floor. The hook had parted and the fish was gone… and gone with it was any thought of fishing on Lake One! I continued fishing the old lake for the rest of 1999 but now I was using an adaptation of the buoy rig, using the opposite bank instead of a buoy. I find this the best method for catfish as it allows you to play a fish under your other baits without wiping your other rods out, the last thing you want in the middle of the night is a birds nest to unravel.

I started my ‘cat’ fishing this year in late March, as I personally have found that fishing between when we put the clocks forward until they are put back, is a good rule of thumb time for cat-fishing in the UK. I was averaging one fish every weekend, which I considered good for the time of the year and the weather not being very favourable. The water temperature was between 10 and 12deg., which I have found to be adequate (8deg C for small cats).

My latest trip started on Friday 28th April. I had come for a one week stay and I was rewarded with a 44lb cat at 10pm - at last I had a new personal best. The next morning the wind direction had changed to the Northeast, blowing off the sea, cooling the surface of the water, not the best conditions for fishing surface baits. After that everything went quiet, even the carp had stopped showing and nothing happened until the early hours of Wednesday morning when at 2.00 am the alarm sounded, one of my surface baits had been taken.

I ran to the rod and pulled it from its stand. The line was slack and the fish was swimming towards me, away from the ‘break-off ' line. I wound in the slack as quickly as I could until I felt the fish. I put a good bend in the rod. As I did so, the fish felt the pressure and shook its head to try to loose the hook, sending shockwaves down the braided line. At that point I realised that this was no ordinary fish and as the adrenaline started to flow and my heartbeat started to race, I called out to John who was bivvied on the other side of the lake. By this time the fish had turned and was making a run down the island. I adjusted the clutch to exert as much pressure as I dared and just hung on. The fish slowly stopped and turned, swimming across and in front of me, then proceeded to take more line as it ran again. By now John had arrived and saw the situation. We could see the fish on the surface at the point of the island. It was trying to get behind the island and snag me. At this point I knew I had to stop it or I would certainly lose the fish so I locked up the clutch and pulled with all my might. This was it, I knew if I couldn’t stop it now I would loose it. Slowly the fish started to turn away from the island and head back into open water, I had done it ! I knew that now I had the better of it and it was only a matter of time. Sure enough, after about another five minutes I had its head up and was pulling it towards the bank through the gap in the rushes.

The sheer weight of the fish was astounding. As soon as I could, I 'Waller gripped' its bottom jaw and drew it out of the water onto the mat. The cat was then weighed at an amazing 86lb 8 ounces. It was 78"long, what a monster!