Martin Bowler

is on quest for a gi­ant cat­fish - read his lat­est ad­ven­ture

Angling Times (UK) - - WELCOME -

LIGHT­NING bounced off leaden clouds in the eastern sky and I knew the storm was near at hand.

Even close to mid­night it was sticky and hu­mid, and any ex­posed flesh was be­ing rav­aged by mos­qui­toes.

Tonight you could have mis­taken this neck of the Bed­ford­shire woods for the trop­ics!

The still lake be­fore me had taken on a dull metal­lic sheen, and in the re­flec­tion of the nearby street­lamps I could wit­ness dev­il­ish shapes ris­ing to the sur­face to strike at their prey.

Tonight it wasn’t safe to be a sil­ver­fish. Sil­hou­et­ted against the night sky, they were easy to spot for the cat­fish that writhed over the lakebed, en­er­gised by the storm and con­stantly look­ing up­wards to launch an at­tack.

On such nights Sil­u­rus gla­nis is no mere scav­enger, de­vour­ing any­thing dead or dy­ing. She is a killer of any­thing that can fit in her cav­ernous mouth – duck, frog or, in this case, roach and perch. Know­ing this I had set my stall out to tar­get the sur­face lay­ers in a bid to tempt a big cat, and my three rods bore iden­ti­cal rigs.

Pow­er­ful Esox 12ft Piker rods they were, with equally tough 60lb Esox braid threaded through the rings. To this, via an FG knot, was at­tached 24ft of 44lb fluoro­car­bon ter­mi­nat­ing in a run ring with a large lead on it, a bead and a swivel.

Strong lead­ers are nec­es­sary to pre­vent tan­gles that can oth­er­wise be a night­mare when us­ing braid and sur­face live­baits. So the hook­length was 45lb sea mono with a size 1/0 Ea­gle Claw hook at­tached via a knot­less knot. Two small foam balls on the hair gave just enough buoy­ancy to keep the live­baits in place.

Once each rig had been dropped on to the lakebed I slowly let out line un­til the poly balls and live­baits reached the sur­face. Here, or just be­neath it, they were left teth­ered for the night, free only to move in a cir­cle left or right. The vi­bra­tions given off by the baits were un­miss­able, and with no chance of tan­gles the cats’ radar would, I hoped, soon pick up on their strug­gles.

It was a per­fect time to fish this way, and in be­tween swat­ting horse­flies and a lit­tle fit­ful sleep I struck three times as the baits were taken.

Two cats I es­ti­mated to be just un­der 20lb found their way into the net but alas, a third and much big­ger fish was lost to a hook-pull af­ter a 30-sec­ond scrap dur­ing which it was in to­tal con­trol.

I cursed my luck to the fish gods above, but tonight they weren’t on my side and re­sponded to my in­grat­i­tude with thun­der! Yes, I had caught, but I should have done bet­ter. As day­light ended the hunt I went to sleep know­ing that I had to im­prove my tech­nique.

I didn’t stir un­til lunchtime, and when I did I sensed a change. The light was bright and brit­tle, hurt­ing my eyes. The tem­per­a­ture was still high but come sun­set there would be no blan­ket­ing cloud over the lake to keep it that way. As a breeze pushed in through my bivvy door I knew the lake’s sur­face would be a frac­tion cooler than be­fore. It was time to change my ap­proach to cover all bases.

One rod would still be fished 2ft be­neath the sur­face, but a sec­ond would now sit 6ft down in mid­wa­ter. I felt it would be fool­ish to ig­nore the bot­tom layer en­tirely, and for the third rod I had at my dis­posal a med­ley of fishy of­fer­ings – mack­erel, squid and krill-soaked boilies. I opted to fish two of th­ese on a hair that, like the hook­length, was now made from 50lb braid.

Tan­gles weren’t an is­sue with this bot­tom rig, which bore a heavy run­ning lead to min­imise re­sis­tance. The other of­fer­ings were chopped into chunks and stirred up with two pints of trout pel­lets. This pun­gent mix would go in over the top, send­ing out an oily slick. Yes, I had let the best con­di­tions slip by but with my new game plan my con­fi­dence had re­turned.

Dusk saw the breeze drop away and the moon rise. For the first part of the night it was the bait clos­est to the sur­face that was the most ag­i­tated. There were two huge strikes in its vicin­ity that sent rip­ples across the pond, but noth­ing came of them.

At about 1am I suc­cumbed to sleep, aware that the chance of a big fish was now slip­ping away. Con­scious­ness re­turned abruptly

at 4am as my alarm screamed out. Still sleep-fud­dled, I was mo­men­tar­ily at a loss as to which rod to run to, but by the time my glasses were in place I knew – it was the live­bait sit­ting 6ft down.

I struck and ap­par­ently missed, cursed, spun the reel han­dle in case of a mir­a­cle and struck again. Yes, the beast had swum to­wards me! This was the first and last time she would give braid so eas­ily, and as she turned tail I was in no doubt who was in con­trol. First she made her way to the far bank, then kited left, wip­ing out another rod and trig­ger­ing a sec­ond alarm.

All I could do was turn off the noise and pray the sec­ond lead didn’t snag.

When the cat’s power failed to snap its tether her tail was used to whip the line in a bid to cat­a­pult the hook free of her mouth. Each time I was con­vinced I had lost, only for the surge of en­ergy to

re­sume. The fight was bru­tal, but 10 min­utes of con­stant pres­sure from a strongly-set drag took its toll. Even­tu­ally a mar­ble-skinned crea­ture rose off the bot­tom and up through the depths.

Dark as the silt which I had stirred up un­der­foot, a set of whiskers hit the spreader block – 52lb of this most primeval of fishes, and at that mo­ment her sin­is­ter beauty was far more than skin deep.

Two of th­ese on a hair kept the live­bait, on a size 1/0 hook, up in the wa­ter. 60lb braided main­line, 44lb flu­oro leader and 45lb mono hook­length. This sits on a run ring and a swivel and is cush­ioned by a bead Krill-soaked boilies for rod No3. Dou­ble boilie rig on a 50lb hair. POLY BALLS LINE AND LEADER HEAVY LEAD

Night watch for prowl­ing cats at Swal­low Pool. She’s mine, 52lb of beau­ti­ful wels cat­fish.

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