First of all I got the urge to catch a catfish after a break of nigh on twenty four years! This lead to a frantic search through my tackle museum (the mess of rig stuff I keep in various boxes around the place) looking for suitable hooks and hooklink materials. A search which proved fruitless on the hook front. I'm sure I must still have the original Cox and Rawle Uptide Extras I used to use. Somewhere... At least the Quicksilver doesn't appear to have rotted.
Next I embarked on a period of research. Thanks to the interwebs finding out about catfish waters and catfish tackle is a lot easier than back in the old days. What became obvious is that there are lots more waters available to catfish anglers than there used to be, and the size of catfish in them is much larger. Along with my cyber-searching I looked back through some early Pike and Predator magazines in which my old catting partner, Geoff Parkinson, wrote about venues where a thirty pound cat was a possibility. Nowadays a would-be cat angler wouldn't entertain a water that doesn't hold forties or bigger!!
While there is certainly more readily available catfish tackle there isn't much choice. When it comes to hooks, the things I lacked most, I couldn't find any that I really liked the look of. I ordered some on-line which had been recommended to me on The Pikers Pit, but when they turned up I thought they looked a bit on the small side for what it said on the packet. A rummage around in the remains of my pike-fly tying gear found me some sea hooks I'd bought but which proved to be a bit on the heavy side. They looked bob on as catfish hooks. The barbs were a bit rank though. Checking out current prices I wasn't surprised to find that sea fishing hooks similar to catfishing hooks are considerably cheaper.
Despite the passage of almost a quarter of a century catfish rigs haven't altered much. Mind you pike rigs haven't changed much in even longer. I thought I detected the hand of the carp angler in a lot of them, though. The needless addition of bells and whistles to what should be really simple rigs. I thought I'd stick with what I know and make up a version of my popped up livebait rig which I'd originally developed for perch fishing.
The only change I made to it from the past was to use Amnesia for the hooklink and Mason Hard Type Mono for the polyball link instead of Quicksilver and light mono respectively. This, I hoped, would eliminate tangles. Two other changes I made were to use a tiny swivel instead of a Drennan ring to slide on the hooklink, and to finish the link in a loop to allow the changing of polyballs (to suit varying bait sizes) with a pellet stop to hold them in place. The weight, instead of being attached directly to the run ring, was tied to another hard mono link. This can be altered though if the bait is to be kept closer to the bottom. For safety's sake a paper clip was used as a weak link for the lead.
My deadbait rig is the same leger set up but with a Quicksilver hooklink without a polyball link. A third rig would be used to fish the dreaded halibut pellet. Actually four of them on a hair, 'snake' style like I use with smaller pellets for barbel, also using Quicksilver as the hooklink. The dumbbell rig was new to me as the idea of fishing subsurface baits for cats hadn't really caught on when I last fished for them. It should go without saying that I made my own dumbbell rather than buying one in case I fancy giving it a go.
If I get round to actually fishing for catfish this year rods won't be a problem. I have plenty to choose from, rods which customers have landed cats over 80lb on. So I should be okay on that score! Likewise I have reels which are up to the task. I might need a bigger net and mat though. It'll all depend on where I end up fishing. Then again it might have to wait until next summer. At the moment finding time to get away is the main problem as there are no prolific catfish waters within short session range. And I'd like to ease myself in with a few chances at least. In the meantime I can scale things down and get some eeling done.
Doing more reading up it was apparent that quite a few of the commercial catfish waters don't allow livebaits. The next best, easy, option would be a bunch of worms presented off bottom. The worm rigs I Googled all looked arse about face to me and tangle disasters waiting to happen. A variation on a Dyson or Bellars rig seemed a more sensible option. Eel anglers like these rigs, more than the pike anglers for whom they were developed seem to, and eels share more behaviour traits with cats than do carp or pike to my way of thinking. I can't see a reason catfish anglers haven't taken to these rigs. Or maybe they have. More likely those coming from a carpy background have never heard of them.
Playing about with rigs is always fun but the temptation is to get carried away. The more time you spend fiddling the more bits get added to them. I reckon that's why carp rigs are so complimacated - too much time spent fiddling and not enough spent catching. It's easy to get lured into thinking that the reason you aren't catching is because your rig is rubbish. More likely it simply isn't in the right place at the right time.
All I wanted was a rig that wouldn't tangle which presents a free running bait. Over the last few summers I've tried Dyson/Bellars variations for eels and had trouble with tangles on the cast. The Dyson can also be a pig to cast accurately. Analysing how the rigs worked it seemed to me that the key is making the hooklink dangle away from the lead link. Paternoster booms do that. I use them for paternostering deadbaits and on a long casting rig when pike fishing. After much messing about I thought I'd extend the tube of the boom a little and slip a polyball on the 'leg'. The tail rubber neatens things, holds the polyball in place and slightly extends the leg. Once more I used hard mono for the link. The hard mono terminated in a tiny swivel to allow me to add either a paper clip or a length of weaker standard mono should I want to present a bait further off bottom.
I found a hot, muggy evening irresistible and decided to try the off-bottom worm rig locally for eels. If it catches eels it'll catch catfish. I was also interested to find out if fishing worms off bottom might avoid the attentions of the tiny eels which have plagued me in the past on the water I had in mind.
The baits were out and being ignored by twenty to eight as the sky clouded over keeping the temperature up as the sun set. It felt like it would be a good night for eels - if I didn't have to leave when it got dark. No bad thing in the circumstances as I had to be up early the next morning and being tempted to stop 'one more hour' might have proved irresistible. The lack of twitchy bootlace takes to the worm rod was encouraging. The piece of squid (this time on a hair rig type set-up I'd come across when looking up catfish rigs) on the other rod was also being left alone. Around nine thirty I missed a run to the worm rod. The rig was working. Not quite half an hour later the worm was taken again. This time I connected and the 10ft Torrix stalker I was using was hooped over. Looking down on the eel as I laid the net in the margins it was clearly my biggest from the pit. One of those thickset eels, and pleasingly long.
As this was only a short session I'd taken my Korum Multi-Mat to carry the rods, net and bait bag. With its raised sides it proved useful as a retainer for unhooking the eel which was free to writhe around without being able to escape while I grabbed my camera. The fold in the padding also proved useful for laying the eel on it's back. The scales didn't lie and my biggest eel for a couple or three years was soon returned.
The Multi-Mat, I now discovered, has one fatal flaw. While it is handy to throw a jumper and fleece in when walking to a swim on a hot evening, it's not so good for holding those items after an eel has slimed it up! I kept the fleece on and sweated my way back to the car.
One eel on a rig doesn't prove much, but it has given me the urge to try it some more. So while the weather remains summery I'll be sneaking a few short evening sessions in, I think. There are a couple more eel/catfish tricks I want to try out. And the eels will have to be the guinea pigs for the time being.