I was ecstatic and wanted to try to catch bigger ones. Last year I went with a friend to a lake in France that, while being a prominent carp water, holds a fair head of cats. I decided to fish two rods for the carp and two for cats, while my friend was only after the cats. After two sleepless nights, with a few cats between us, I had to wind in the carp rods. I couldnít devote the time needed to fish them properly, needing to concentrate on the cats, catching live baits, eating and sleeping. Excuse the pun but I was well and truly hooked.
My first couple of cats were only thirty-somethings but the adrenaline rush of the take and subsequent battles was beyond anything that I had ever experienced previously, I knew then that I would have to go back for some more. As luck would have it my companion caught the largest catfish of the season in this week and won the annual prize of a weeks free fishing the following year. Unfortunately (not for me) he had too many other commitments to take a weeks holiday in order to claim this prize and kindly donated it to me. I will repay this favour somehow, some-when. My best fish of this week was a beautiful 50lb 8oz specimen.
I had booked my ferry early in the year, had bought new reels and had some rods specially made, as the high quality carp gear that I used last year were, quite frankly, not up to the task in hand. In the weeks previous to my solo expedition I bought provisions to last the week so that a daily shopping trip would not be necessary. The Friday night came and I unloaded my works gear from my car and loaded up the fishing tackle.
One man and his tackle equals one very full Mondeo estate! Going to bed at elevenish and rising at two a.m. in order to get to Dover for the 04:30 ferry was hard enough but the rest of the day was yet to come. Docking at Calais at seven thirty local time I then drove the 230 miles to the lake, arriving at ten a.m. for the 10:30 drawing of the swim ceremony. The swim that I had fished the year before and ideally wanted again, due to deeper water and easier to catch the live baits, was already taken by a local carp angler who was installed for a long weekend. Of the new anglers in the draw I managed to get last choice of swim, but luckily got what would have been my second choice anyway!
I emptied the car and traipsed all of my gear to the swim, it was the longest walk of all the swims from where you could get the cars, probably why the carp boys and girls left it for me. I set up my stall, erecting the tent and tackling up my cat rods. When I was happy with this I then set up my float rod and, after sweet-talking the guys fishing the deep end of the lake, I endeavoured to catch some live baits. From the deep end you can normally catch small roach and skimmer bream from under the rod tip. As baits go I had learned that a nice bream of about 6 to 8 ounces would always get taken in preference to a smaller roach. I caught enough roach but struggled on the bream front. At about 9:30 p.m. the sun disappeared behind the trees so I decided to go back to my formal swim and put the cat rods out while I still had some natural light.
I had only caught two skimmers, these I boated out on my left and right rods with one of the larger roach in-between. The left hand bream didnít seem as lively as the other and I was worried in case it had keeled over, but left it out anyway. At 10:20 I had a take on the lively bream (no surprise there then) but I missed it. The bream was wound in and to my surprise, although badly munched it was still alive, so I sent it back out.
At 11:20 came the second take on the same rod. I tightened up the clutch and pulled into it. After a tremendous battle with my new rods and reels, with which I was already impressed, I landed a catfish of 40 pounds exactly. I strung it to a nearby tree in order to take its picture in the light of the morning. I didn't put another bait back out on this rod for two reasons. One, I had only roach left in the keepnet, and two, I was knackered. I had been up for 22 hours with only 3 hours kip before that! I needed some sleep and didnít think that the roach or dead bream stood much chance of being taken. I hadnít been on the bedchair for 10 minutes when I had a run on the right hand rod. This goes further to prove my theory, and that is, a dead bream is a better livebait than a live roach!
Unfortunately this run stopped even before I had got to the rods. I decided not to check the bait but to just wind it down tight again. I had just got back onto the bedchair when the middle buzzer screamed, yes something had eaten the roach! This time I was in and after another good scrap landed a 31-pounder. This fish was also stringered for the morning. I then wound in the dead bream to find the rig tangled anyway and went to sleep at about 01:00.
On Sunday morning I woke when ready and went float fishing, again with little luck. I completed my daily duties in the shower and toilet block, had something to eat and tried again for the live baits late afternoon/early evening. I caught a couple more bream and one nice bait-size tench. That night I had a couple of dropped or missed runs, both on the tench, but landed no fish.
On Monday my first choice of swim became vacant late on, so I stayed put but had no takes at all. I think that a change in weather was the main reason. When I had arrived on the Saturday it was sunny and very hot but now it was still very warm, very humid and sticky with no air movement. The carp boys were struggling as well.
On Tuesday I rose at dawn determined to catch more of the better live baits and succeeded. Quite a few decent skimmers mixed in with the roach; I also hooked but was snapped up on a couple of the big carp! Feeling confident that I had enough good baits for a nights catting I also moved camp to the swim I knew from the year before. All three rods were put into prime locations but alas I had an uninterrupted nights sleep.
Wednesday I again rose early to try to get a stock of good baits. I was now getting more bream and even one or two lovely catfish bite size crucians. The evening came and the weather felt better. There had been a breeze all day but now the water was as still as a millpond. All three baits were presented as on the previous night and they were being spooked early, knocking the rod tips and on occasion even pulling line off the spool.
Just before dark the right hand rod gave a half hearted run, small enough that I was unsure whether or not the bream could have had a run up at it. I was tightening up on the bait when the rod tip was pulled around somewhat more than the bait could have managed; I struck and was in. After a pretty good scrap I landed a fish that went 56 pounds exactly. A new personal best, I was well chuffed.
I put a small crucian out. The next turn of events I am still trying to analyse. I put this bait out the same as before, using my bait boat and towing the bait out in the water behind it, which had always worked in the daylight without getting tangled, but this time, in the dark it seemed to be tangled as I was tensioning the line. I pulled on the line a few times (by hand with the rod on the rests) to try and sort things out when I felt the line pull away from me. I tightened down and struck Ė nothing! I wound in, untangled the rig and sent it back out to the same place. Exactly the same scenario followed. The rig felt tangled as I was tensioning it and as I was trying to sort it out again the line pulled back. This time when I struck I did bounce off a catfish - and the cat won because it got its snack. I decided to try again but this time with a roach in case I had unknowingly found a spot holding smaller cats. The rig once again became tangled as it was being boated out or dropped from the boat but this time nothing wanted to play tug of war. I also had no more takes for the rest of the night.
Thursday started really well. I just could not catch any of the pesky roach; only a few bream, two of these being a little on the large side for livoes Ė about two pounds a piece! But I did catch quite a few of the bite-sized crucians at about ten ounces each. The evening came around and it was an angler's nightmare. I was getting take after take but they were either being dropped or I was striking and pulling straight out of them. To top it all, just before midnight I did hit into a catfish and it instantly felt bigger than any of the cats that I had previously caught. It decided it was going for the deeper water and kept bouncing the bottom to try to dislodge the hook-hold. I couldnít control it in the slightest. Iíd had it on for a few minutes when one if its bottom bouncing surges snagged me up good and proper and I knew the fish was off. After wrapping the braid main line around a stick and pulling with all my might I eventually straightened the Owner size 2/0 SSW hook!
The local church bell struck midnight. It chimes on the hour every hour and in my opinion is but one of the charms of this water. Hereís where my luck changed. It was now my birthday and I had been hoping all week that Iíd have a good days fishing. I had already sussed out how to get the baits boated out without tangling and as I was replacing the straightened hook length, the middle rod gave another of those halfhearted runs. These slower, short takes were new to me as all the cat runs that I had previously experienced tore line off the spool and did not stop until you struck into it - even that only slowed them down a little! This was the same as the other night, the run stopped and as I started to re-tension the line, it pulled back, too strongly for even a small carp. I had been mulling over the experiences of the other night and this time I slackened the clutch completely in case the cats were learning and didnít like the resistance. A few times something pulled back and I gave it slack to no avail, the next time it pulled, I pulled back and this had the desired effect, the line poured off the spool. I tightened the clutch and struck Ė in! A little time later I landed a 52 Ė sorted!
I checked the hook length to find it frayed from the struggle so put this rod aside in order to put the other two rods out. At this time I had no baits out at all because of the timing and frequency of the action thus far, also my bait boat had done about fourteen trips out and back again and I was getting concerned as to how long the batteries would last. I put two more crucians out and as I was re-tying the third rod, one of the newly baited rods gave yet another poor run and then stopped. This time I picked up the rod, opened the bail arm and tightened the clutch. I proceeded to manually wind the slack back onto the spool. As I felt some resistance and a pull from the other end, I pulled back. The line was torn from my hands. (Yes, I was being extremely careful not to let it get wrapped around my hands or fingers). I closed the bail arm and leant into it. Wow, this was the best scrap so far.
On it's first two runs it took enough line to make me think that I was going to cross the guy's lines who was fishing from the opposite bank. More by luck than judgement it didnít and eventually I started to get back more than the fish was taking. I was thinking at this stage that I had hooked one of the bigger catfish in the lake and when I landed it the scales pulled round to a staggering 43lb. For anyone reading this that hasnít hooked into a catfish, you would not believe that any type of 43lb fish could give such a good account for itself on 5lb t/c rods and 50lb Fireline as this fish did. Once youíve landed one cat you WILL NEED MORE!
The church bell struck three a.m. and I put another crucian out. I had just got comfy on the bedchair when the right alarm screamed. I was out of the tent and onto the rods in a matter of seconds when the run stopped. Guess what happened next? I opened the bail arm and wound the line back onto the reel until I felt the resistance of the fish, the crucian Ė Doh. I repositioned the rod on the rest and, with head torch taken off, I had just got back into the tent when the same alarm screamed again - but this time it was not going to stop. I struck into it and this time landed a 33 pounder. It was now 04:45. Iíd had no sleep at all so far this night, my boat batteries were now too exhausted to risk another trip and I only had one crucian left out. I retired to the bed chair and fell asleep. At about 06:30 I awoke desperately needing a call of nature. Once taken care of I decided to take off my boots and go to bed properly as it was now light and I didnít expect any more action. I was unzipping my jacket when the remaining rod screamed off.
Yet another brilliant struggle ensued and I landed another lovely fish, this time weighing in at 55lbs. I still canít believe the timing of this fish, letting me wake up and sort myself out before gracing me with its presence. I had a cup of much needed coffee and went to pester the guys fishing opposite to do the honours with the camera and the four fish Iíd had since midnight. I then put the boat onto charge, caught some more crucians, had something to eat and then crashed for the rest of the day, being woken once or twice by the howling wind and thrashing rain.
Friday evening was approaching and it was getting dark early due to the weather. The rain left off just long enough to get all three baits out at about 18:30 and then persisted again. I sat in the porch of the tent and let the time roll by. At 8 oíclock I had a screaming run on the left rod but bounced off Ė bugger, but I got the bait back almost untouched. I was just sorting the boat to take this back out when the middle bait got taken so violently that the rod shot forwards on the rests even though the clutch was set properly! After landing this one in the rain (thank goodness for decent waterproofs and a quality torch) it came in at 58 pounds exactly, another new personal best.
To save stringing her all night I got the photos done in the half-light and rain. Put the two rods back out and by now I was wet and slimy. At about 10 oíclock it stopped raining and I had one more fish of 24lbs. After the others that Iíd had in this week this one came in relatively easy. No more takes that night but after landing six fish within the 24 hours of my birthday, three of those fifties and a new p/b, needless to say, I was extremely happy.
On the Saturday I had to pack up and drive home, but I will be going back. I estimate the lake's biggest catfish will be about 90lbs next year and it won't be long before a ton-up fish gets bank-caught from this lovely water. Hopefully Iíll need a bigger landing net! Manufacturers take note; a slim landing net with quick disconnect, 6-foot arms and a gape of about 30 inches, they will be in demand soon.
As a footnote, of the many things I learned in this week, the one that I feel I should mention is just how disciplined you need to be to. Needing to catch enough good quality live baits can take time. You need to eat, sleep and to keep your mind focussed.
I hope Iíve not bored you with my memories and maybe will be recounting my first hundred-pounder story in the not too distant future.