Thrill of the Night
by Dave Mutton
Catfishing UK style
Firstly, hello from the other side of ‘The Pond’. In the interview, I did with CatfishNow back in January, I talked about catfishing in mainland Europe, mainly Spain. This time I want to focus on fishing closer to home, well my home anyway, England.
Catfishing in England essentially means fishing at night. Our catfish, the wels catfish, is primarily a nocturnal feeder, although it will feed in coloured water throughout the day. Fishing throughout night means specialist equipment must be used as it is impractical to spend the entire night staring at a float using a torch!
Electronic bite alarms are used to indicate bites, they operate by giving an audible and visual signal when line is pulled through them. Reels incorporating baitrunner systems are often used to enable the line to be pulled off the spool without any danger of the rod being pulled in.
There are two main ways of presenting the bait, either fished on the bottom using a straightforward ledger approach (fishing a bait on the bottom) or a bait presented on the surface by means of some sort of float. Bottom fished baits are numerous including liver, squid, fish pellets, sausage, boilies and dead fish. Surface fished baits are usually live fish, worms or leeches.
A simple bottom fished ledger set up includes a ledger weight attached to a ceramic run rig, to provide minimal resistance, a rubber bead, a swivel and a hooklink with the hook attached.
Baits such as liver and squid are usually fished directly on the hook, whereas baits such as pellet and boilie are usually fished on a ‘hair’ that is attached to the shank of the hook, thus leaving the hook free of bait.
When fishing throughout the night it is vital that the bait remains intact. Using worms can be problematical due to other fish pecking away at the bait, so use of worms is usually restricted to times when the angler is awake, unless he is prepared to wake frequently to change baits.
Pellets can also be problematical due to their short lifespan in water. Generally, in water temps of 15 Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) 22mm diameter pellets will have a breakdown time of around five hours. Therefore, as per worms, they can be difficult to use overnight, particularly as they lose a lot of their oils and attractants fairly quickly.
Recently there has been an alternative bait to pellet developed called a hybrid. The hybrid has a cooked outer skin like a boilie, but the centre is softer and more paste like, giving a good leak off of attractants.
I have been lucky enough to be involved as a consultant in the development of the hybrid baits and the results so far have been outstanding. They have been successfully used in the UK, France and Spain.
These baits now form the mainstay of my catfishing where I tend to fish a hybrid on the hook, fished over a bed of pellet and broken hybrids. I will use around two pounds of free bait per spot. Usually at night I will be using three rods fished in different likely looking spots.
Constructing a hair rig to hold the hybrid baits is very simple. First tie a simple overhand loop at the end of the hooklink to form a small loop at the end. The hybrid, pellet, or other bait, is then threaded on the hooklink using a baiting needle and held in place by pushing a small stop through the loop. Anglers can use a plastic bait stop, but a small piece of matchstick or toothpick would serve equally well.
A hook is then threaded on to the hooklink and slid down until it is positioned above the bait. The hooklink is then whipped around the shank of the hook a dozen or so times starting at the eye and working down the shank. This process traps the hair and the bait in place. The loose end is then threaded back up though the back of the hook eye, exiting through the front of the eye. This loose end is then tied to the swivel and attached to the mainline.
If you need to replace the bait after a time you simply thread a fresh bait on to the hair and stop in place using the hair stop. (Search YouTube for a video on hair rigs to clarify this baiting method.)
When I am fishing a surface bait I would usually use a live bait on a free running rig with the bait simply hooked through the nose. A long piece of light mono line is tied to the eye of the hook and attached to this is a foam ball of 2-inch diameter. The length of this line can vary between 12 inches and 36 inches.
Once the rig is cast out, line is pulled off the spool until the foam ball is on the surface. The rod is placed in the alarm with the bait runner on. I usually push a chemical snap light in to the foam popper so that in the dark I can see the movement given to the popper by the bait. The light gives me a good visual clue that the rig isn’t tangled in any way and that the bait is still alive and working.
By using bottom baits and surface baits you generally have all bases covered. Sometimes the catfish want to actively hunt and chase live baits other times their preference is to sit on the bottom, leisurely munching on free offerings and hopefully picking up the baited hook.
Fishing at night brings a whole set of challenges that you don’t face in the daylight hours. Because of reduced visibility it is essential to be organised. Know how and where you are going to land and release the fish in advance. Have things like landing net, scales and weigh scale to hand. Make sure that you have a camera with self-take capability and a tripod. Better still, always fish with a partner at night, especially as the simplest of things are more complicated with reduced visibility.
A good, quality head torch is invaluable. If possible opt for one with dual white and red lights as using a red light does not affect your night vision whereas a white light does.
Some people are very nervous about fishing at night. They either have a lack of confidence in playing and landing large fish at night or they are just not comfortable in the dark of night. For some, the prospect of being out in the open air at night with all the sounds of nature going on does not appeal to them. If this is the case then don’t do it. At the end of the day fishing is a hobby and so the most important thing is that you enjoy it and have some fun.
Dave Mutton is an avid wels catfish angler and proprietor of Specimen Fishing UK, a tackle shop in Coventry, England.
UK to USA fishing vocabulary
Boilie – boiled paste fishing baits
Ceramic run rig – sinker slide
Fish pellets – a manufactured bait
Free bait – chum
Hair rig – a device to hold bait free of the hook
Head torch – flashlight
Hooklink – leader line
Ledger weight – sinker