Angling for Catfish

Many of you reading this will be new to catfishing and may not even have seen one before. Therefore, in this article I will be giving you some basic ideas and a few tips on how, hopefully, to catch your first cat. First of all let us look at the tackle you will require.

The picture on the right shows Andy with one of his cat's (shame about the hair cut!). Click for bigger picture.

My catfish rods are Sportex 12ft 2 1/2lb test curve made to my own specification by Alan Young. Unlike most recommended rods they have a semi-through action, which will allow me to cast a 3oz lead and a substantial live bait without the risk of the rod breaking. But for the beginner a through-action rod is better as they absorb the lunges from the fish, even if you have to play them hard. Most catfishing in the UK is done on small waters and in the margin with relatively small baits. The maximum you will likely to be fishing is about 50 yards so you will not need a very powerful "Casting Machine". A rod of 2lb test is ample for all but the biggest waters.
REELS: Any reel that will hold at least 200 yards of 12-15lb line will be sufficient; it will surprise you how far the catfish will run. A bait-runner facility is handy when setting up, but you will not usually be using the bait-runner during fishing. Open-bale arm is the best as it gives the least resistance to a taking fish. Make sure that the line on your reels does not bed-in, as this will cut down your casting distance and worst still may result in a dropped run as the catfish may feel the resistance. My reels are Shimano U.S.A 4500 bait runners, which I load with 15lb Power Plus and 25lb Big game (For when I'm fishing really snaggy waters!)
Hooks need to be very strong (I once lost an extremely big fish when a 0/2 Z60 Catfish hook straightened out!!), sharp, and have a wide gape. I use the Partridge Z60 Catfish Hooks in sizes 2, 0/1, 0/2, for live and dead baits. For hair-rigged baits I use the Fox series 1 in size 2. Never use Treble hooks or double hook rigs for catfish; the risk of double hooking is too great. As a catfish's mouth is soft it is likely, with these hooking arrangements, to pin both jaws together causing terrible injures Conversely, if the catfish is lost (line breakage) the fish will never be able to rid themselves of the hooks, thus dying of starvation, or suffocating, by not being able to open their mouths.
The material I use is Kryston QuickSilver in 35lb strain for most of my fishing as it has very good abrasion resistance. Inside the top and bottom jaw catfish have a row of sandpaper-like teeth, not sharp, but after a long fight they can wear down some materials. I also use a new material called Spider Wire in 40lb test. It is a braid, but very thin and supple; I use this when I am applying hair-rigged bait in waters where there are very few pike. Wire traces should never be used for catfish. Catfish have a very soft mouth and wire traces cut through them like cheese wire. Even if you have problems with Pike and Zander giving you bite offs never ever be tempted to use one; a catfish with a permanent smile and severed barbels is a horrific site.

When fishing at close range I generally freeline my bait with a chunk of fish or liver. It is important to use something that will hold the bottom well and not drift about in a strong under tow. If you wish to freeline further out you can add disposable weights. I use braided P.V.A. tube filled with dry gravel or stones, which is then tied to the swivel. Free lining is the method most catfish anglers apply because it give the taking cat the least resistance. Legering is a method that I also commonly use, especially on big waters, where you can cover much more area by casting further out. I normally use a lead of about 1 1/2oz which is tied to a run-ring with light line so that it will break off if the fish is snagged, enabling me to still land the fish. Then I use a large bored bead to protect to the knot followed by a swivel and hook link. The only problem with this method is that occasionally when using light or small baits and a flexible hooklink material the hook link can tangle around the bomb thus making the rig not free running, which can put the catfish off. There are a few ways to overcome this.Use bigger baits, or coat the hook link in Kryston Stiffener, but the best way I've found is to incorporate a length of stiff monofilament into the hook length. The hook length is 40lb SpiderWire and the 20lb Amnesia mono is held in place with small sections of shrink tubing; this rig is almost tangle-proof. For live baiting I am happy to use semi-fixed leads up to 4oz. This is not for casting, but to stop the live bait moving the lead around. I tend to use larger live baits then most as they can give false bites. Obviously choose the size of lead for the corresponding size of live bait. I normally rig a live bait with a poly ball and a size 0/2 Z60 hook. The only time I don't use a poly ball is when fishing a group of live baits eg 3 Gudgeon, or small roach. I would always recommend placing a small piece of elastic band or similar over the point of the hook to keep the bait on. You don't want to be fishing all night with bare hooks!

When using hair-rigged baits the hair is formed as an extension of the braided hooklink. I keep the hairs small and tie my bait on to it with dental floss; the hair is used to make sure that the hook is clear from the bait and not masked by it.

Dead baits;
Most of my fishing is done with Dead baits of some description (because I never seem to be able to catch suitable live baits) with dead fresh-water fish my favourite; small roach and perch being the best. I also use sections of small pike with good results. When fishing with dead fish baits I normally hook them in the middle of the body or lip-hook them.

Live baits;
My favourite are Crucian carp and chub (Carp and Tench are meant to be good, but I can't bring myself to use them as bait) from 4-8 inches as they live long on the hook and work strongly. You must use a decent size poly ball to keep the bait working. Most people tend to use ones that are too small. I always lip hook my live baits (through the nostril) as it keeps them alive longer then tail hooking.

I also use lobworms, popped up and used in a bunch. The only downfall with this bait is that you can get problems with nuisance fish, especially in the day, thus I normally only fish this bait at night. Also strike quickly with worms as I have found that catfish tend to wolf them down, sometimes deeply.

Squid and Liver I have used a lot, but not so much now, as they are by far the commonest bait used. I believe on the harder fished venues that the cats are getting used this bait, however, I do rarely use them as hook bait. I very often fish a different bait over them, popped-up worms fished over squid seems irresistible.

Sea fish dead baits;
My favourites are sardines cut into sections and sandeels used whole. I never see people using sand eels, but they are an excellent, differently shaped bait, from what the cats are used to (except, of course, eels).

I would like to thank David Down for allowing me to use this picture, a welcome addtion to the page. It shows David with a 30lb+ wels caught from Shatterford lakes in the West Midlands. This fish was caught on ledgered luncheon meat and was landed at 2:00 am. For more information about catfish and to see the good work David and his colleagues undertake please take a look at his Norton and Kingswinford Catfish appreciation society site.

This varies a lot from water to water, but in general, weed beds sunken trees, reeds, deep water, holes and snags will all hold fish in the day, especially in clear water. Though catching in the day in clear water is especially hard. In coloured water cats can be caught during the day. Although these areas will hold fish they do not necessarily feed there, but a live-bait fished close to a holding area is likely to be snapped up. When a catfish feeds it will travel all over the lake in its search for a particular food source. I believe if a catfish was tagged and its movements recorded it would surprise a lot of people. When a catfish is in feeding mood (not very often) it will generally find you rather then the other way round.

Catfish, not unlike many species of fish, will follow features around (gravel bars, sand bars and weed beds). This is often a good place to present bait. Catfish seem to have a set pattern to their movements too. For example in June and July they might be feeding on live-baits in the shallows and around snags. August might have them eating swan mussels and crayfish in the deeper water. September they could be feeding on snails, shrimps and dead fish in amongst the lily pads. They will follow this routine year after year with the same fish being caught from the same swim, at the same time of year, on the same bait as the year before.

These are just a few of the basic points and advice on Catfishing in the UK with these and a little luck and perseverance you could be photographing your first ever catfish and no doubt a lot more afterwards.

Footnote:- Since this article was written, and more tests have been completed on different waters, I have now come to the conclusion that Spider wire is not an such an ideal hook length as it first appeared. Due to the different strains of fish, and habitat, I have found that catfish from one water might have significantly sharper teeth, then cats from another (I think that this is mainly down to diet though). Therefore I cannot recommend the general use of Spider Wire and suggest that one sticks to QuickbSilver, or mono.

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