The counties surrounding Woburn Abbey had become a bit of a catfish stronghold and Herts., Beds. and Bucks. were known collectively as 'catfish country'. Most other areas of the UK were devoid of the species. The British record at this time was held by a fish of forty three and a half pounds which had been caught accidentally by Richard Bray, a pike angler at Wilstone Reservoir; part of the Tring complex. In those days there were probably very few waters in the country that could produce a catfish to rival that record and a double figure fish was definitely something to shout about.

What a difference ten years can make, there are now getting on for two hundred waters in Britain that hold cats, many of them in reasonable quantities and of good size. Of course a twenty pounder is still a big catfish by UK standards but the record now stands at more than sixty pounds and there are at least three or four waters that contain fish of similar size. So, what has changed in the last decade to make catfishing the fastest growing branch of specialist angling ? The Catfish Conservation Group have definitely had a major impact on UK catfishing. When they were founded in 1984 they came under attack from some quarters and were accused of putting pressure on some waters by encouraging too much interest in their catfish stocks. Whilst this may have been partially true in the short term and yes, waters such as Claydon Middle Lake in Buckinghamshire were heavily fished for a while (without detriment to the catfish I hasten to add) I think that if we look at the long term picture, it can be readily seen that the existence of the CCG has been the catalyst for today's explosion of interest in the species. The main input from the CCG has been to encourage people to legally stock waters with wels catfish especially in areas that are sparsely populated with them. Clearly the group have also been instrumental in the dissemination of information on catfish and a 'snowball' effect has taken place, with more and more catfish waters being created, there has been an upsurge in anglers demanding catfishing. This demand has lead to the next reason why British catfishing has never been better. Like it or loathe it, we have to accept that a high percentage of wels available to anglers today have been imported, some legally but many, illegally. Now my own view, for what it's worth, is that providing the fish are healthy and 'of a reasonable size' then I have no great problem with imported fish, after all, catfish have never been native in this country and the existing stocks that we have been catching for the past twenty years or so are all descended from those original Woburn fish that were imported in the 1880's by the Duke of Bedford. Don't forget that carp too are not indigenous and we only enjoy today's sport because of fish that were imported in large numbers in the Seventies. I don't hear anglers moaning about that. The crux of the catfish importation debate for me (assuming that we are talking of healthy fish) is the term 'of a reasonable size'. I have no problem with good sized stock fish of up to thirty pounds or so being used to boost the current population of catfish, after all they are good growers and at that size are excellent sport fish. I am not however comfortable with the stocking of 'outsize' catfish and the idea of placing fish of above the British record in a water (that is often totally unsuitable or else artificially maintained), in my opinion devalues catfishing. I am not against anglers catching large catfish; on the contrary, I actively encourage them to do so, it is just that for me these new 'instant' cat waters are not what catting is all about. Obviously plenty of anglers are happy with the situation or they wouldn't be visiting these venues, after all, if they have paid their money to go fishing and then caught a big'un using fair methods, then who I am to decry their captures. It is just that for me catfishing is about being successful on a variety of waters and this generally means utilising a variety of methods to overcome specific problems. Anyway, whatever your stance on this contentious subject, one thing is for sure; catfish are spreading and growing well and there has never been a better time to start catfishing.

Novice cat anglers should choose a water that has good numbers of fish present rather than worry too much about catching 'megamogs', they can come later, once the basics have been learned and a working knowledge of the cat's habits has been built up. A good starting place would be one of the prolific day ticket waters such as Jimmy's Lake in Essex, Shatterford Lakes in Hereford and Worcester or Yew Tree Lake in Suffolk. These waters are run specifically as cat waters and all have a large head of good sized fish present. If you prefer to join a club then you needn't look any further than Leighton Buzzard Angling Club. LBAC control catfishing at three of the country's oldest and most well known cat waters: Claydon Middle Lake, Rackley Hills Pit and Tiddenfoot pit. If you fancy other venues, The Catfish Conservation Group publish a guide to more than 170 catfish waters in the UK and would be a good investment for anyone starting out with cats.

So where will we be in another decade's time ? Who knows, more of the same I would suggest although to be honest I would be quite happy if the spread of catfish waters were to slow down a little, we don't need anymore venues in many of the counties that already have some decent waters. However there are still many parts of the country where catfish are still a rarity, parts of Northern England are very sparsely populated and even the far South isn't exactly overrun. I am certainly in favour of making catfishing more widely available and as long as the stocking is done correctly and sensibly, I see no reason why there shouldn't be lakes and ponds holding wels in every county in England at least. Of course, it is us, the anglers who will largely set the agenda, if the demand is still there then I expect more and more venues to become catfish waters - either as commercially run fisheries that can see the potential of stocking cats or club waters that bow to the requests of their membership. No doubt illegal stocking will continue to play its part too. The thing about catfishing is that it is both contagious and addictive. Once you have experienced the fight from a good cat followed by the opportunity to see at first hand what a magnificent and beautiful beast it really is then it is difficult not to want some more, this situation alone will, I am certain, ensure that wels catfish will still be in demand for years to come.

What I also expect, is to see more and more fish being caught from the rivers. The UK is almost unique amongst the countries in Europe (that have catfish) in that we don't have viable numbers in flowing waters. I am not for one minute suggesting that we should go chucking cats in rivers willy-nilly but merely observing a fact. However a little like the situation regarding illegally imported cats I think that it is inevitable and we shall certainly see an increase in captures (almost certainly accidentally) from some of the country's bigger rivers; probably lowland waterways like The Thames, The Great Ouse, The Nene and The Warwickshire Avon, maybe even The Severn. I don't intend to debate the rights and wrongs of this occurrence and the arguments for and against the introduction of catfish into UK waterways is something for the boffins to decide, not a humble catfisherman such as I . Never-the-less, there are enough escapees and illegal aliens out there to allow a growth in population and I will eat Des Taylor's hat if we aren't river catting within ten years. What I will state here and now is that if and when viable quantities of catfish start appearing in our rivers, then I shall be fishing for them. I have already started chasing rumours (to no avail so far) but the chance to catch cats from a flowing water in England by design, is for me I'm afraid just to good to be sniffed at and is something that I find really exciting. There isn't much left in fishing in this country that is really new but the thought of a moggie from The Thames or Great Ouse caught purposefully is something that will keep me catfishing well into the new Millennium.