|My PB Catfish - 25lbs 2oz - taken from the Middle Lake at Claydon - one of the original stock fish from Woburn!|
|My set-up at the Shoulder of Mutton lake at Woburn. Very early in the 1980's - it wasn't a very productive venue.|
|Not a lot of room! A typical Claydon swim consisted of a small gap in the marginal reeds - |
allowing the angler to get two baits into position.
|Playing a fish at the Dam end of the Middle Lake, even at its deepest, the water was little|
more than 4 ft.
|My youngest brother, Simon, with a nice Claydon fish of around 18lbs|
|"Trees" - the most famous cat in Claydon; so named because of the branched feeler.|
It was one of the hardest fighting fish in the lake, although we never caught it at
a weight above 15lbs 8oz.
|Looking down on Tiddenfoot Pit, the extensive shallows and associated weed beds|
clearly visible to the left. The water quickly dropping away just beyond the
edge of the weed growth - providing an obvious feature for us to position our baits.
It was at this venue that we really started to feel like we were learning about the species. The best fish we took, fell to Simon, and weighed just over 23lbs, yet it was the diversity of the features and the influence that weather played in fish location that made the fishery such a great "classroom". Our behaviour hadn't improved, but as fish became less frequent, so Cuddles and The Mitch's spent less time in their pursuit - hence the local off-licence didn't reap the rewards they might have done.
|Simon with one, of many cats, that he took from this fishery.|
Despite our raucous behaviour and associated lunacy, there was a lot of serious effort put into learning about how best to catch these fish. We developed a live-bait rig specifically for fishing tench, which were abundant, around the shallow margins, and weighed little more than a couple of ounces. We also played around with various fish oils and attractors (colour being of no consequence as catfish feed by taste and feel, not sight, as is obvious from their appearance - long feelers and tiny eyes!). Baits were allowed to go rotten, our thinking being that bacterial action would release enzymes that would render our baits more attractive; this was certainly the case with eel sections.
|A selection of flavours, braided hook links, hooks and light weigh monkey climbers. |
We did actually put an awful lot of effort/thought into our angling.
And, on the subject of eel sections, I digress for a short tale of our antics. Within the National Association of Specialist Anglers was a network of regional groups, the London region being one of the best run, and forward thinking. They arranged regional conferences and many other activities which put the rest of the regions to shame. We went to many of these shows with the sole objective of causing havoc - usually in the bar area. However, there were many tackle stands and trade stalls where a few freebies could be had, if your face fitted - mine did! David Hall, the publisher of Coarse Fishing Magazine, ensured that our reputation was enhanced by frequent (almost monthly) mentions in the "Snide Rumours and Dirty Lies" column. I also wrote several articles for him. It was at Reading University where we first saw the National Anguilla Club's superb photo display (Eel anglers). One particularly passionate enthusiast brought to earth with a juddering thump when, on inspecting the photos, Simon Mitchalek (all 25 stone of him) was approached by said disciple who asked "what did he think of the display?" to which Mitch's reply was "so, that's what a whole one looks like!" Priceless - the guy went into rant mode which was signal for our hysterical laughter and subsequent torrent of abuse. Happy, crazy days!
|One of the early Tiddenfoot "doubles" - a fish that Neville Fickling was to capture|
a few years later.
Back to the catfish of Tiddenfoot Pit and those enjoyable night sessions; many of them total blanks. Slowly, however, we began to unravel a few of the mysteries and solve problems of bait presentation and fish location. These fish were much better looking than the anaemic individuals in Claydon, maybe something to do with the water quality/clarity? The Tiddenfoot fish were nicely marked, very dark, individuals which, as with pike, can be recognised by their individual patternation. Sadly, the work that we undertook was fairly quickly surpassed with the advent of fishmeal boilies and the advances in bolt-rig type carp tactics. Whilst we had concentrated on resistance free presentations, the use of fixed (semi-fixed) leads and mass baiting has seen a new generation of catfish anglers who have approached this fantastic fish from a very different perspective. One thing is for sure, once you've stuck a hook in one the conclusion is far from certain - they certainly know how to have a row!
|The late Vic Gillings with his PB - from Claydon. |
Memories of crazy times, great company, loads of beer and some fantastic fish.
I'm not sure I want to try to relive this period, or just allow it to be in my past?
Thirty years on, I still look back on this period as some of the happiest times of my life. There are a few local waters that contain catfish, can I be bothered?
P.S. - apologies for the poor quality of my accompanying photos, they are copied from some very old slides which have not been particularly well cared for!