Boat Pool Catfish – Tony’s Specialist Scene
This month Tony Gibson finds himself connected to something large, something VERY large...
For this month’s ‘Specimen Scene’ entry I’m covering a slightly shorter timescale than normal as I’m off on a fishing trip to the River Ebro, so I need to get this particular piece completed and sent off rather earlier than normal.
Fortunately there’s been plenty going on… and I’ve even managed to catch something, so there’s exciting events to write about!
I mentioned in last month’s piece that I was just about to set off on a trip to the CEMEX controlled Boat Pool on the Horton Complex. There are a few nice fish of various species in this particular pit but the water is best known for its head of large catfish, and it was these I was going to target.
A quick check of the rules indicated that pellets were not allowed on the Boat Pool, possibly in an attempt to encourage more traditional livebait/deadbait type tactics. However I was unsure about how easily a supply of livebaits could be obtained and I’ve found that deadbaits: squid, liver etc. can be slow going on other venues and that a large bed of bait can be more effective (and produce better fish), so it wasn’t difficult to decide that a large boilie approach would be my primary tactic.
With the bait-related decision made, and only a couple of days to go before I was due to travel down, I quickly went about preparing the boilies for the session. I did this by tipping several kilos of shelf life 20mm Dynamite Source boilies into a large bucket and pouring a bottle each of: Source Hookbait Dip, Halibut oil and Dynamite XL Worm Extract over the top, before securing the lid and giving the whole lot a really good shake to ensure that all the boilies got a good coating of the various liquids.
When carp are the target species I’ve often found that a more subtle approach to any additional attractants is usually the best way. However with catfish I’ve noticed that it’s pretty much impossible to overload the attractants and I always try to ensure that my boilies and/or pellets are well glugged for several days to soak in as much of the liquid as possible.
With the size of the catfish possible in the Boat Pool I wasn’t about to compromise on tackle either, with a pair of Nash Deliverance spod rods as my weapons of choice, teamed up with robust big pit reels loaded up with the new Nash 18lb NXT D-cam mono.
You can never be too sure about a journey that involves both the M1 and M25, but on the day everything went remarkably smoothly and I arrived at Horton without mishap and relatively stress free. A good start was to get even better as, after a quick catch up with Del Smith the legendary Horton bailiff, a good look round the pit revealed there was only one other angler present, meaning I had virtually the pick of anywhere I wanted to fish.
If there’s one problem with a venue that’s as well looked after and as enticing as the Boat Pool, it’s that every swim looks totally ‘fishy’ and you can be almost spoilt for choice. However with this being the first time that I was actually going to be fishing the venue (and possibly my last due to the selling of CEMEX Angling) I was careful to take my time and think about where I wanted to set up.
As it happened the fish pretty much made my mind up for me anyway. A gentle N/NE breeze was pushing into the general area of the southern-most corner and the odd decent carp could be seen patrolling the margins under the temporary canopy of willow fluff and assorted floating debris, whilst a couple of others showed a little further out as they lazily flopped out on their sides in the ripple. With this carp related activity going on and the fact that this particular corner contains one of the most attractive swims you can imagine, I was soon barrowing my gear round.
With it being obvious that there were a few decent carp about and plenty of time still left in the day it seemed a little churlish to try and ignore the chances of the carp and to just go about setting things up for the catfish. So before I even thought about putting up the bivvy or spodding out a bed of bait for the catfish I decided to go about getting a bait in the margins, just in case I could fool one of the carp that were still mooching about.
Normally whenever I’m margin fishing for carp I like to try and get things as inconspicuous as possible. The fish tend to be a lot easier to spook when they’re really close in, so relatively small hooks and complementary end-tackle is the general approach so long as there’s no nearby snags to worry about. For this trip though, subtle wasn’t really an option. I’d only gone with catfish gear and the smallest hook I had with me was a heavy-duty size 4 and the lightest hooklink was a coated braid with a breaking strain of 25lb!
Undaunted, I went about constructing a blowback-type rig that I baited with half a 20mm bottom bait and half a 20mm pop-up placed on the hair together and trimmed so that everything sank really slowly, leaving the hook lying flat on the bottom and the bait sitting just a couple of mm off the deck. The hardest part was actually getting the bait into the water without either scaring the fish or getting everything covered in the willow fluff that has a dreadful habit of sticking to line and any other item of tackle like shit to a blanket. Getting the bait in without scaring the carp meant being very careful and quiet and looking to be sure there weren’t any fish around as I manoeuvred the end tackle into position.
Getting the bait in nicely meant creeping along the margin and carefully lowering the gear in off the rod tip just past the outside edge of all the floating gunk in the margins. Then I had to dip the rod tip through the surface layer of fluff etc. and slowly bring the tip back to the bank while paying out line. This prevented the main line getting all bunged up with the sticky mess and I could fish a slack line and keep everything relatively clean and inconspicuous by setting up the rod in the rests almost parallel to the bank so that the tip was positioned right by where the water (and floating goo on the surface) met the bank. A few bits of broken boilie flicked in around the general area of the hookbait completed the trap as best I could.
With a margin trap in place I went about setting up camp as quietly as possible, then it was a case of patently waiting to see if anything would make a mistake with the hookbait. Unfortunately the day drifted on without any cause for excitement from the margin rod and eventually it was time to start thinking about getting the session started in earnest and getting a rod out for the catfish.
There was still the odd carp showing in the general area in front of my swim, so I set about mapping out the contours of the swim and spodding out a large bed of the glugged boilies at a reasonably modest range as quickly and as quietly as possible, though in reality these aren’t tasks that can be accomplished without a fair bit of disturbance. I also had a decision to make about the size of the hookbait on this rod, as I still figured that there was a chance of a decent carp as well as the catfish on a bait fished over the bed of glugged boilies if I played my cards right.
Normally I’d be uncompromising in my approach to the catfish and wouldn’t have let the idea of catching a carp influence the choice of end-tackle and bait. However on this occasion I’d seen a particularly impressive looking common show amongst the others in ‘my’ corner of the lake and I decided that for the first night of my session I’d try and hedge my bets a little bit and ended up flicking out a ‘snowman’ style arrangement of a 20mm glugged Source bottom bait and 15mm pop-up attached via a blow-back arrangement to a Fang-X in size 4 and 25lb Missing Link hooklength (stripped back for about an inch or so from the hook) on a running rig over the top of the bed of free offerings.
I’d also decided to leave the margin rod in place for the night, as it had taken a fair effort to get it nicely positioned in the first place and I felt there were still possible chances of a fish or two coming along under the cover of darkness to feed in the margins.
Not surprisingly, following the commotion caused by the marking of the swim, spodding and casting out of the hookbait, the swim was now showing far fewer signs of fish movement, so it came as a bit of a surprise when only an hour or so after casting out, the alarm on the rod fishing out to the bed of glugged boilies signalled a take as something made off with the bait. It was still fairly early in the evening and I wasn’t sure whether to expect a catfish or a decent carp, so I was a little disappointed at first to encounter a relatively feeble resistance… and I had to laugh to myself as a minute or so later a double figure grass carp popped up by the reeds ready for netting.
It may not have been quite was I was expecting to catch but I was still well pleased to be off the mark so early on in the session… and after all it was the first fish I’d caught all spring! A quick weigh (17.04) and a photo on the mat and the grassie was soon back in the water to eat some more boilies. I normally think of grass carp as having a preference for smaller particle sized baits, especially as they have very small mouths when compared to the regular carp and I was surprised that it had picked up such a large mouthful. With this in mind, and no real desire to continue catching modest grass carp when big catfish were the primary target, I decided to stick with the end-tackle arrangement, but to increase the size of the bait and to increase the length of the hair in proportion.
After a little experimentation I was happy with a snowman set-up that used two 20mm bottom baits with about a third sliced off each one and mounted on the hair with the flat sides pressed together to form the body of the snowman, with a 20mm pop-up forming the head. This was held down with tungsten putty mounted on the hooklink about 2cm from the eye of the hook, so the bait and the hook were sitting well proud of the bottom.
With the new hookbait cast out into position the rest of the evening and the following night were disappointingly quiet. In fact the entire lake seemed somehow quieter over the next day or two and apart from a couple of little groups of tench that were starting to get a bit flirty with each other the fish activity in general was clearly a lot less than when I’d first arrived.
During the days I always made sure to reel in and have a good look round the pool and there was always a few carp somewhere to be seen, but nothing that really grabbed my attention until the afternoon before my last night when I found a group of larger fish in a quiet corner that looked to include the big common that I’d seen on the first day. It was enough to stir me into a serious stalking attempt, but unfortunately after an hour or so they gradually melted away and the chance was gone.
I’d been topping up the heavily baited area each day with a good hit of the glugged boilies and for the last top-up I included a tin of diced luncheon meat and a tin of scopex flavoured corn in the hope that they might help to attract a few smaller fish, which might in turn attract the catfish. I certainly didn’t think it would be detrimental to my chances and could possibly be of benefit, so for the final night as I made myself comfortable I was still quite hopeful of some action before I needed to be packed away the following morning.
Suddenly I was woken up by the alarm on the rod fishing over the heavily baited area signalling that something was moving off with the hookbait. As I stood in the darkness I had that feeling you sometimes get about the length of time that passed while you’ve been asleep and as I bent into what was obviously a decent catfish judging by the weight that I could feel through the rod, I thought to myself that it must be getting towards first light. I stole a quick glance at my watch and surprised myself that it wasn’t long passed midnight and I’d not been asleep for half the time that I’d originally thought.
I’d been playing the catfish for about ten minutes or so and it seemed that I was gradually gaining the upper hand and would have an opportunity to bring the landing net into play before long. Then things suddenly got a lot more interesting, as after getting the fish really close to the reeds lining the margins of my own bank, it turned away and went on a bit of a run close in to my right hand margin.
This gave me an opportunity to move the landing net into position for a netting attempt but as I did so there was a really heavy ‘thump’ that I felt down the rod, as if it had just been whacked by a sandbag, and the fish slowly trundled off with irresistible power back out into the lake.
This was the start of the most amazing fight with a fish that I’ve ever experienced, as it seemed that the fish that I’d hooked had now gained a hell of a lot more weight and an incredible amount of power! Whatever it was that I was attached to, it never really went off on any long searing runs and the vast majority of the fight continued to be contained within a 30m square of water in ‘my’ particular corner of the pool.
However for the next half an hour or so there was a near stalemate scenario between the fish and I as we fought each other in the darkness. Making any sort of impression on whatever it was on the end of my line seemed to take an extraordinary effort and each foot of line was always gained incredibly slowly and only when I was able to apply virtually the maximum amount of force that my tackle and my own strength would allow. I usually backwind when I’m playing a big fish and need to give line, but to keep the maximum pressure on my adversary at all times and to make it fight for every yard of line it took off me I fine tuned the clutch on my reel to only give line at the maximum pressure the tackle could cope with and simply clamped down hard every time it wanted to move away.
Even then it seemed that every time I was able to gradually bring the beast to within a few yards of my own bank there would be a massive boil and the inky black water in the corner of the pool seemed to rock and tilt, which would be followed by a slow ‘click… click… click’ from the clutch, gradually gaining in speed, ‘click...click..click.click,click’ as the fish turned with incredible power and would once again head out away from the bank.
I became determined to at least catch a glimpse of the fish I was attached to, as I was now convinced that I must be playing the biggest catfish in the lake, which has produced cats of well over 80lb in the past. I’d caught my PB catfish of 62lb 5oz from Jones Pit on very similar gear to what I was now using and the fight was over and done with in around 20 minutes. While here I was, having played this unseen fish for well over twice that long, with still no sign of it giving up!
I stuck to the task in hand and continued to do battle with the unseen monster of the Boat Pool, when all of a sudden things changed dramatically! The fish had again turned and had just started to slowly power away out into the lake when, without warning, the weight suddenly fell away! For a brief second I even thought that it had fallen off, but then I could feel that I still had something on. However the massive weight and power was now drastically reduced and I was able to bring the fish quite easily back to the bank, where in the light from my head torch I could see a decent catfish, slowly swimming upside down as it allowed me to reel it towards me.
As I got ready to net it (and I suspect it touched the mesh with its long feelers), it flipped itself back the right way up and started to pull back a bit but nothing to compare with the power from before. A couple of minutes later it was all over and I slipped the net under the catfish at the first attempt.
I took a moment or two to catch my breath before peering into the net. It was obviously a decent catfish, but I was dumbfounded that a fish of that size could have put up such a struggle for such an extended period of time and then simply give up and virtually allow itself to be netted. It didn’t quite seem right somehow.
However as I got the fish on the big padded mat and went through the procedure of unhooking and weighing (40lb 2oz) I discovered the reason behind all the excitement. Across the fishes’ back was a very impressive and very fresh bite mark from another catfish. As I looked closely, I could see that the bite mark was still bleeding and it gradually dawned on me what had actually happened. I’m convinced that another sizeable catfish actually grabbed hold of ‘my’ catfish while I was playing it and continued to keep a firm hold throughout most of the fight; only letting go right towards the end when I felt the sudden release of both weight and power.
Obviously I’ll never know just how big the ‘other’ catfish was that decided to grab hold of the one I was playing, but it certainly made for one of the most memorable catfish related events that I’m ever likely to experience in the UK. It also creates the question of the motivation behind the attack. I’ve discussed the event with a couple of experienced catfish anglers who have told me that the big cats appear to get a lot more aggressive at the time of year when they’re either spawning or looking after their young.
My own favourite theory is that ‘my’ catfish was grabbed by the other as a defensive act. The other catfish attacking mine while it was guarding its nest as ‘my’ catfish simply swam too close to its nest of babies during the early stages of the fight. I’d be very interested to know what others think and a bit of feedback in the associated forum thread will certainly make for some interesting reading.
Ok, it’s only hours before I’m due to be on a plane and heading off to Spain (perhaps to do battle with Ebro catfish even bigger than the monster from the Boat Pool!), so I’d better get this e-mailed off and make the final preparations for my trip.
Whatever happens I’ll let you know about it in my next piece.
Until then, happy fishing!
By the Same Author
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