My Passion for Cats - Part 1
One man's love of catfish.
My name is Steve Burgess but I'm known to everyone but my mother as Budgie! Don't ask me why - it's a long story! I have been fishing for Wels catfish since 1989 and traveling abroad in search of them for some eight years. During this time my hunt for big cats has taken me to many countries, including Czechoslovakia, France and Italy. However, Spain and its Rio Ebro (River Ebro) still remain my favorite venue. It was whilst fishing in Spain that I first met Luke Moffat, who was on his first trip down there. We became good friends and have remained so to this day. So much so that recent years have seen me lifting my self-imposed veil of secrecy and working with him for European Catfish Trips as a professional angling guide.
My first 20lb catfish. My second ever cat! Claydon Lake 1989
How it all began
First, a bit about myself. I am 39 years old and have been angling since the age of five. I would class myself as an all-round angler, enjoying all of angling's many disciplines. During this time I would like to think that I have become proficient in most of these areas. I have been lucky to have fished many of the top venues in this country and, thanks to a 12 year career in the Army, some exotic foreign waters too. Recent years have seen my fishing year taking on a regular pattern, the winter being predominantly spent pike fishing and the summer fishing abroad for Wels catfish. In between foreign trips I waste hundreds of hours trying to catch mullet on my local river Rother. Despite having being fortunate enough to have landed some very large fish I still enjoy catching small fish on traditional float gear when time permits. The lack of time, however, (yes even a full-time angler still can't fit it all in) tends to limit these trips to the more mercenary role of bait snatching.
So how did I get into fishing for Wels? From the mid seventies I developed a passion for carp angling and other than a short career in match angling during a tour in Germany with the Army this remained my main interest until the late eighties. On my return to this country in 1986 I was amazed and somewhat disturbed by the boom in carp angling.
Unable to put up with sharing 'my waters' with hundreds of these new anglers I found myself a water of my own, which I eventually syndicated out to a group of carefully chosen, like-minded anglers. I hid myself away, literally living on the bank in a bivvy for the summer months. All was well until, much to my horror, the owner of the complex sold a lease to a jet ski company giving shared usage of the water. Despite trying to come to terms with this, after two weeks of the new season I realized that I couldn't put up with the goings on, litter and constant noise that came with these new people. Sadly it was time to move on. Whilst looking for a new water I realized how spoilt I had been having my own water, namely that the only rules and regulations were the ones that you had wrote yourself.
Whilst looking for a replacement water it dawned on me how much other good fishing my obsession with carp had caused me to miss out on. Over the years I had had many offers to fish with people for different species but had always declined due to the carp fishing. People only ask so many times and the offers stopped coming. I had also started to worry that people might think me rude or ungrateful, never taking them up on their invitations. So the plan was formed. I would continue to look for the new super carp water and meanwhile follow up some of these offers and do a bit of casual fun fishing.
Kev Smalley with a 30lb+ cat from Rackley Hills Pit 1990
By sheer coincidence, when I returned home that evening I had three visitors waiting for me, one of whom was Brian Smalley. At the time Brian was the secretary of Leighton Buzzard Angling Club and the leader of the Rackley Hills syndicate. Brian is both an extremely keen and successful catfish angler and was soon talking about his favorite subject. This time when he invited me to fish with him and his brother Kevin I didn't refuse.
On my first trip to Claydon with the Smalleys I bumped into an old pike fishing friend of mine, Rob Dixon. With Rob living relatively close to me we decided to travel to Claydon on future trips together. This casual trip was to start both Rob and myself on the path that we have followed to date. All spare time was then devoted over the following years to fishing the various Leighton Buzzard AC waters that contained Catfish.
Rob Dixon with the "Brown One" at 35lb+ Claydon Lake 1990
I knew that my love affair with carp was over when, whilst out on a piking trip, my old mate Stuart Gillham, who had just taken over the running of Harefield, offered me a place on the syndicate at 'mate's rates', ie, nothing - and I declined! A new mistress had been found. Claydon was good to me and much was learnt about fishing for catfish. I was in my element, it was just like my early days in carp fishing. Lots to be learnt, tackle to develop and make, all new, but as in all cases the urge to catch different and bigger fish gradually became stronger.
Between Rob and myself we had caught most of the fish in Claydon. I was never fortunate enough to catch the 'Brown One', Claydon's biggest resident, but after having netted it for Rob several times I felt fairly well acquainted with him! Despite the big one never gracing my photo album (other than in Rob's arms) I was in full agreement when it was suggested that it was time to move on. Rackley Hills and its legendary occupant 'The Beast' were to be our next target. Unfortunately after a short time it became quite clear to us that this fish only lived in the imaginations of a small group of people who perpetuated the myth. We would have to look elsewhere for a monster.
Coming soon in MY PASSION FOR CATS - PART 2 Budgie tells us how he found and caught his monster cats in foreign locations.
Two of Budgie's clients with cats of over 100lb each
Budgie currently organizes and guides one fourteen-day trip to the Ebro every month from March until October. November sees the whole firm moving down to the River Po in Italy for the month. Over this season Budgie will send FISHINGmagic.com a series of reports from each trip with full details of the tackle and methods used to land these truly amazing fish.
Places on these trips this year are now extremely limited but if you are interested please feel free to contact Budgie for information on Spain or contact Luke for information on France and Italy.
Budgie Burgess Tel: 01797 321618 or Email: BUDGIE@burgess23.fsnet.co.uk
Luke Moffatt Tel: 01895 835745 or Fax: 01895 835265.