The Bank Tramp
by Ron Presley
Engaging wels catfish, it’s purely for sport
The 47-year-old angler wandered the shoreline in search of simple pleasures. He was looking for a suitable spot in the West Midlands of England to cast his rods in search of giant wels catfish. He often spends a week or more sleeping with nature and enjoying the outdoor life.
“I am usually fishing for catfish, but sometimes other species,” said the angler. “On occasion I have forgotten to take a shelter and end up sleeping rough, and since I’m not the neatest of anglers, some call me the “Bank Tramp.’”
The “Bank Tramp” is Dave Mutton of Coventry, a city in the West Midlands of England. “I fish for catfish all over the UK and beyond,” said Mutton. “My ‘home’ waters are Dog Lane Fishery in Warwickshire and Lakemore Fishery in Cheshire. I love fishing for all predatory fish, but the catfish is the biggest freshwater predator we have here in the UK. It’s also big and ugly – a bit like me, really!”
When Mutton refers to catfish he is talking about wels catfish. His personal best Wels is 149 pounds. “We only have one species of catfish here in the UK,” advised Mutton. “The wels catfish grow to about 150 pounds here, but grow larger in mainland Europe. Spain, France and Italy have fish of over 250 pounds. Even bigger specimens have been recorded in Russia and Eastern Europe.”
Paralleling American tales of catfish as big as Volkswagens, Mutton reports tales of fish in the 600-pound range in the Volga River in Russia and Kazakhstan. “Just how reliable these stories are, I’m not sure,” joked Mutton.
The Bank Tramp reports that catfish are not native to the UK. They were first introduced in the 1860’s. “They are mainly confined to lakes where they have been stocked, but we do now have some small populations of fish established in several of our river systems.”
Mutton sees similarities and differences in UK and US fishing. “Catfish are not the predominately targeted fish in either country. In the U.S bass fishing is huge and here in the UK carp are the most targeted species. The biggest difference, I guess, is that catfishing in the UK is strictly done on a catch and release basis.”
“Catfish are seen purely as a sporting fish,” continued Mutton. “Catfishing is very much a growth area in the sport of fishing over here. Many people are moving away from carp fishing and searching for something a little more challenging.”
Fishing access in the UK is nothing like that in the US. “In the UK there are pretty much no public waters where you can just turn up and fish free of charge,” explained Mutton. Nearly all waters in the UK are owned and managed to some extent. They generally fall into 3 categories.
There is day ticket fishing where anglers can just turn up and pay to fish. “Sometimes day ticket fishing is on a booking system,” explained Mutton. “More often than not it is on a first come first serve basis. I frequent two of these near my home. One is pay on arrival and the other is book in advance.”
The next alternative is fishing clubs. Clubs often have private lakes and ponds or have licensed sections of canals and rivers for fly fishing and coarse fishing. “Club waters are owned by a local fishing club,” explained Mutton. “A club ticket is purchased for the year. Anglers can fish all the waters owned by the club.”
The final option is syndicate waters. “This is where a group of people get together and buy or lease the fishing rights from the landowner,” explained Mutton. “All the people in the syndicate are then entitled to fish it.”
Syndicate waters are the most exclusive fishing because members are usually kept to a low number and prices are high. Mutton gave an example of a carp syndicate where he is a member. “I pay £500 a year for the opportunity to fish in my carp organization.”
The only other option is private fisheries where no access is given to the public. Fishing is restricted to the owner and guests when resources are privately owned.
Techniques and Terminology
Mutton’s favorite UK fishing hole is Split Lake in Yateley, Hampshire. He uses two basic rigs to target the wels catfish in Split Lake. The techniques are similar to those used in the US, but the terminology is different.
Polyball rigs are used when you want to keep the bait stationary, but off the bottom. It is thought by many, that baits up off the bottom are easier to find and attract more fish. Mutton prefers this rig with live bait.
Mutton starts with about 12 inches of fairly stiff leader material. His preference is Hi-Seas Fluorocarbon in 40-pound test, to which he ties an Owner 5180 Cutting Point hook. His hook is either a 4/0 for bigger baits or 2/0 for smaller.
“I push a short length of silicone sleeve over the eye of the hook,” explains Mutton. “A three-foot length of light line, something around five pound breaking strength, is threaded through the silicone and tied to the eye of the hook.”
“The silicone acts as a boom for the hook,” continued Mutton. “I make a loop in the end of the light line and thread it through the polyball (a buoyant Styrofoam ball) using a baiting needle.” The polyball is kept in place with an accessory called a boilie stop.
Next Mutton ties a running ledger. “A running ledger is what you guys refer to as a slip sinker,” clarified Mutton. “Usually the ledger or sinker is attached to a ceramic ring that is free to slide up the line. This rig offers no resistance to a catfish picking up the bait. This rig is usually employed statically fished from the bank.”
“I thread a 4-ounce lead on a large diameter run ring and a 10mm rubber shock bead on my 100-pound test UniCat braid. I add a 180-pound test stainless swivel to the end of the mainline to complete the running ledger. The rig is completed by tying the hooklink, with polyball attached, to the swivel.”
Mutton’s favorite bait is a 4 ounce carp. “I lip hook a carp and cast the rig to the desired spot. Allow the polyball to float to the surface and then tighten down so you have tension on the line. This means that the polyball will be nicely visible on the surface and the bait will be suspended underneath it.”
Straight Running Ledger
“The other method I employ is a straightforward running ledger,” offered Mutton. “I prefer this rig for cut and prepared baits. It is the same running ledger described before, but I replace the polyball hooklink.”
“I start with a 24-inch length of a supple abrasion resistant braid. My personal favorite is UniCat Warlock in 94-pound breaking strength. Attach a 1/0 Big Cat cutting point hook.
The Bank Tramp uses a knotless knot to attach his bait on a hair rig. The hair rig allows the bait to be presented without setting directly on the hook. It works effectively with many different baits.
“I use mackerel chunks, halibut pellets and luncheon meat,” said Mutton. “My favorite bait on this rig is Big Cat Oily Hybrids. These are fished over a bed of pellet using bite alarms with lightweight bobbins and a baitrunner reel.”
Mutton’s choice of fishing spot is governed by many factors. Features that the catfish will lay up in is an obvious starting point. “Undercut banks, deep holes, areas of weed growth and overhanging trees will all hold wels catfish,” advises Mutton. “They offer reduced light intensity during the middle of the day when the cats are often dormant. Since wels catfish are predatory, concentrations of baitfish will obviously be an area where the cats will be hunting and so also offer a clue to where the cats may be.”
“The key to fighting large catfish is to not let them charge off on an uncontrolled run when first hooked,” instructed Mutton. “They are big powerful fish. It is important to fight them hard. A phrase I often use is that you are either the boss or the bitch.”
“Wels catfish generally fight in one of two ways,” continued Mutton. “In deep water they will often hug the bottom and either refuse to move or will swim around in circles. In this instance the fight is all about trying to lift them up off the bottom. This is easier said than done with fish in excess of 100 pounds.”
Skinny water fish behave a little different. “In shallow water, instead of heading down, the cats will run on very powerful runs,” described Mutton. “They often take in excess of 60 or 70 yards of line on the first run. They will tear off and attempt to run into weed beds, tree roots, etc., in a bid for freedom.”
“The only way to fight them in this situation is with the drag on the reel wound in and really try to bully the fish away from the snags,” instructed Mutton. “When wels catfish are close to being landed this can be a particularly dangerous time. They will turn and run again just when the angler thinks they are beaten.”
“They also have the ability to swim backwards,” added Mutton in a final piece of advise. “They will employ this tactic when being netted. The wels catfish gives it’s all during the fight and will often be extremely exhausted at the end, and so will the angler!”