By Gareth Purnell

A barbel angler has landed a near-100lb catfish from the River Severn in what may be the UK angling story of the decade.
Neil Bridges was night fishing the Birmingham Anglers Association stretch of the river at Ripple when he hooked into something huge that headed up river.
What ensued was a brutal 75-minute battle in darkness that ended up with Neil ‘chinning’ the huge fish – which went 94lb – out of the water. Pictures have been taken and will be in the angling weeklies this week. Despite initial scepticism, the catch seems to be 100 per cent genuine and if confirmed we are looking at the biggest fish ever landed by an angler from a UK river.
Neil was fishing relatively heavy gear, although he admits he ‘got lucky’ that the fish didn’t take him into or around a snag. His set-up comprised a 2lb X-Flite rod with a 6000 size Baitrunner reel and 12lb Kyrstonite line. At the business end he feeder fished an 18mm Source boilie on a size 10 wide gape hook, four feet of 18lb braid and three feet of 25lb leadcore leader. He had a set of digital 100lb scales with him and the weight of 94lb seems genuine.
The incredible catch confirms what many anglers have believed for some years – that there is a population of big catfish present in the Lower River Severn. Indeed smaller fish have been landed in the past – river regular Jeremy Evans photographed a 17lb catfish caught at Ironbridge ten years ago and river barbel expert Laurence Breakspear is one of a number of anglers to hook and lose huge, unseen fish on the big river in recent years.
Said Laurence: “In 1994, on the banks of the Severn at Beauchamp Court, at about midnight, I was watching the rod top isotopes dance to what I thought were line bites, they suddenly stopped and the left hand rod started to curve over, then the Aerial buzzed in a steady but fastish run. I jumped up and struck into a very solid, immovable, but moving life force. Whatever had taken my three-inch cube of Spam, was heading towards Worcester (upstream) and there was nothing my 12lb Maxima line and 11ft, 1.5lb test curve Armalite rod could do about it. Gradually the fish got to approximately 80 yards upstream of me and I was running out of line, and the rod had become flattened due to the angle that had developed. I was about to be spooled when everything suddenly went slack. I furiously reeled in to find the 30 inches of 15lb braid had become severed just below the swivel.
“I was left shaking and shattered because of what I had hooked. Once I told people of what I had experienced they all said ‘big carp’. ‘No,’ I said…. ‘This was no carp!’. A few weeks later Steve Pope lost another huge fish on the Pixham Ferry Car Park. This time the fish headed downstream, with the same result. Perhaps monster catfish have been in the river for years?”
Big catfish are also thought to be present in other big English rivers like the Thames and the Trent and the Yorkshire Ouse. Indeed there reports of anglers targeting them on the tidal Trent near the M180 bridge and on the Thames between Marlow and Benson and at Kingston. The BAA stretch of the Severn where Neil landed his fish was re-opened to anglers in November 2003.
The capture is likely to re-ignite the call for catfish to be re-introduced to the British Record books. They were removed due to the flood of imported big catfish from the Continent, but this amazing fish would appear to be a true Brit. Whether or not it ever appears on the British record lists, the catch will go down as one of the most amazing in British angling history. Well done Neil!!!

River Severn at Ripple

Fish for 300lb catfish

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