However one fact we can't ignore is that they're out there within the grasp of most anglers. Even the River Thames has got catfish, as was demonstrated at the start of a match at Canberry Gardens at Kingston where the match was delayed as the competitors stood round to see a pleasure angler land a twenty pound plus moggy.
My first catfish came out of RMC Angling's Split Lake at Yateley when their assistant angling manager and close friend, Adrian Ellis, took us to fish for catfish. Although a good all rounder, Adrian does like his predator fishing and was at the time well into his moggy fishing.
The rod had to be powerful so I opted for two 12ft 31b test curve Masterline Ecusima carp rods. These would have the power to handle cats and to push the heavy casting weights out.
I used two Ryobi Techno 4000ZF fixed spool reels. These are very large spooled reels that hold plenty of the heavy line required. I was going to fish with an open bail arm so there was no need for bait runners. The main line was 15lb bs Big Game which is a tough and reliable line.
The trace is most important as cats have pads of rather abrasive mini teeth that cut through most braids on the market. The universally accepted line according to most catfish anglers is one of 45lb bs. Yes, no mistake, 45lb breaking strain Kryston Quick-Silver. I was surprised but after catching my first cat I soon realised this was essential.
The hooks were Cox and Rawle uptide extra strong.
We arrived a couple of hours before dark when Adrian produced a wheelbarrow from his estate car and loaded it with all his tackle and camping gear. I followed him to the lake with my rods and some of my tackle. When we arrived at the swim Adrian pointed out the swim to fish.
We left some of our gear in the swim and borrowed Adrian's wheelbarrow to transport our bivvy and remaining gear from our car to the swim. Naturally Virginia had to have a go with the wheelbarrow and had some interesting offers from some of the long stay carpers that we passed. For the record, Virginia is not a haulage contractor nor has a younger sister good with a wheelbarrow!
We then erected our bivvy for the first time in years and soon had everything set up for a comfortable night. I then proceeded to set up my rod pod with two optonic heads. The rods were then set up in the rod pod waiting for Adrian to come along to tie the terminal rigs. Adrian then arrived to help me set up the livebait rigs for the cats.
First I had to put two plastic line stops on the line and thread them up so they were together. This made the stop more effective. This was followed by a 3oz, free running sliding bomb. I then put on a free running bead and a strong swivel followed by a Quick-Silver trace. A largish polystyrene ball was secured on the trace by plastic line stops placed either side of the ball. This was about 14 inches from the swivel. The ball was about 1/2 inch diameter. About four inches from the polystyrene ball was the 0/1 uptide extra strong hook. This completed the rather complex rig designed to allow you to fish the livebait at any depth. All you had to do was to adjust the back stops to alter how far the ball floated up in the water.
The next step was to set up our 9m whips with pole rigs already attached. We fed with pinkies to fish two pinkies on a size 20 hook. It did not take long before we were catching a mixture of small roach, rudd and a few little tench. This took just over an hour and we were then ready to start fishing for moggies as it started to get dark.
By the time I had cast out it was approaching 9.30pm. Time to cook my tea, a lovely large beefburger from my local butcher. Virginia was halfway through cooking it when I saw the first flash of lightning. As it was cooked, the first spots of rain began to fall. I retired to the bivvy listening to the thunder and watching the lightning. It was the worst storm for years. At one stage the noise of the thunder was so loud I was thinking of putting in ear plugs. I'd never have heard the alarms go off if I'd got a run! The rain was terrific - as I looked out from the bivvy and the whole lake was illuminated by flashes of lightning. Certainly a storm not to be forgotten but I was perfectly dry in my bivvy.
At 2 am the rain ceased, leaving me cursing my luck as I was convinced the rain had cooled the water down so much the cats wouldn't feed. They are very much warm water feeders. Then, at just gone 3am the bite alarm went off. It was the fastest run I'd ever seen. I slammed the bail arm over and lent into the fish to hear my clutch scream. By this time Adrian was standing beside me.
"You're in" he said.
"Yes, certainly a cat" I replied
First mistake! Off went Luther, Adrian's dog, searching the banks for a cat.
"Never use the word C.A.T. when Luther is around as he responds immediately" Adrian explained.
The catfish fought exceptionally well and appeared to go equally as fast in reverse as forward. It changed direction with remarkable ease and speed. It was a long hard fight but after a good ten minutes I saw it's shape. Adrian then got hold of the very large landing net and waited until I brought the fish over it. He netted it first attempt to take it over to the very large unhooking mat we had placed out before fishing. As he shone his small light to unhook it for me, I saw it clearly for the first time. It was much smaller than I expected but I was happy - a catfish on my first attempt!
I noticed Adrian kept well away from the gills. He then showed me why, as there are very nasty teeth nearby so I quickly learnt that you can not treat moggies like pike. You must keep well away from the gills.
The fish was then placed in a catfish tube. One end was closed, the fish placed in head first from the other end and the far end then secured. The fish in the tube was then pegged out lengthways in the swim. Adrian explained that sacks were banned as cats can panic in them and die.
The fish was left in the tube until daylight when we could photograph it. When there was sufficient light Adrian took the fish, still in the tube to the unhooking mat. The end nearest the fish's head was released and the catfish removed. He showed me the pads of small teeth in front of the fish's mouth, explaining the reason for the Kryston 45lb bs Quick-Silver trace. It is in his opinion essential for catfish fishing.
He then showed we how to hold and control the fish for the trophy shot before weighing it at 12lb 8oz. The fish was then returned quickly having been out of the water only a few minutes.
Two weeks later, we returned to the venue to try for another catfish and some tench. This time we were going to use swan mussels that we were going to catch from the lake. Adrian cut a small twig from a tree and sharpened one end with a pair of scissors. He then looked around close in at the bottom of the lake where he saw some swan mussels with their shells open. Adrian told me they were a typical clam and as such would close on any foreign object. He put his stick into the gap between the two halves of the complete shell and the swan mussel immediately clamped on to the stick. He pulled the stick up with the mussel. As we were only going to use swan mussel on one rod, we took only eight swan mussels. On the other rod we were going to use frozen Richworth 6mm Tutti Fruiti boilies - two, hair rigged on a size 10 hook. The swan mussels were kept in a bucket of water and only one prepared at a time. This was legered on a running rig but with a 451b Kryston trace.
As it got dark we had plenty of activity on the boilie rod, regularly catching tench between 4 1/21b and 61b. The swan mussel rod was slower but yielding fewer tench with a slightly higher average size. In the early hours I had a terrific run on my swan mussel rod that again ripped off yards of line. I knew it was a cat and after a long fight landed my second catfish. This was heavier than the first weighing a fraction over 15lb.
Since then we have noticed that the catfish have grown every year, often by as much as 6lb. No doubt, given time and plenty of food, Split Lake will see its first forty pounder.