Angling is supposed to be a peaceful, relaxing pastime, but when Neil Machin winner of both Fishomania and the Parkdean asks you to take him to catch his first catfish, then the pressure is on, writes Dave Smith of Get Hooked On Fishing Staffs.

Neil had told me at this years NEC that he would love to catch a catfish and asked could I organise a date to rectify the shortfall in his record of catches. Catfish can be an elusive prey; you only have to look at how Matt Hayes and Mick Brown struggled in their early attempts to get one for the “Great Rod Race” series. Lakemore Fisheries near Crewe in Cheshire seemed the ideal choice of venue for our attempt, 5 lakes all holding cats with the two largest lakes producing fish of 40 lbs plus on a regular basis.

After a quick telephone call to fishery owner Mark Ashmore a session was booked on the “Long Lake” and we were on our way. We arrived at the venue for 6pm and after setting up the profiles, bedchairs, cooker and pods we set about the rods, reels, unhooking mats and nets. The plan was to fish two rods each and Neil was eager to see how the rigs were made up and what size hooks we would be using so I took him through the entire set up.

Four twelve foot Masterline Normark Nirvana 3.25lb test curve rods, these have plenty of power to punch the baits out and are great for dealing with the surging runs a cat makes. Each rod was fitted with a Baitmaster reel, two loaded with 30lb Storm Thunderline mono and two loaded with 35lb Shimano Antares Silk Shock mono, which I felt was better for the distance work. At the business end we had five 20m halibut boilies backed by a size 2 barbless Nash catfish hook on a hair made from 55lb supratress that attached to the mainline 18 inches away from the hook. The supratress was attached to the mainline with a 50lb American Bear swivel and above that an End Game rubber rig bead to protect the knot from the impact of the 1.5oz running lead on the mono main line. Neil was amazed by the simplicity of the rig and the diameters of the braid and mono which, compared to his mach set up, looked like tow rope. We discussed the swims we were to be fishing and used the depth finder on the bait boat to determine the contours of the lake bottom and run out the distance baits. The traps were set, the rods were on the pods and the wait for the first run began.

Neil was displaying all the typical match angler traits, five minutes had passed and we had not had a bite, he was itching to change something, move a shot, adjust the depth, or change the hook bait, but when your bait is 70 yards out and anchored to the bottom, change is not an easy option. I explained that confidence in the set up is everything, and patients would be rewarded, he simply had to wait it out.

Mandy my wife arrived with the staple diet of the Potteries angler “the bacon and cheese sandwich” on went the kettle and 10 minutes later we were sitting down enjoying a brew and a butty. By now Neil had uneasily resigned himself to the fact that we were going to have to wait for the fish to come to us, and we began as all anglers do at these times recalling our early fishing years and telling stories of our angling exploits.
The scene took on a different aura, no longer was it the top class match angler with the experienced angling coach, it was two local Stoke lads out for a fishing session, telling stories, sharing jokes and having a great time, the fish became incidental.

Mandy suddenly appeared from behind a hedge, Neil and I had been so engrossed in our conversation that neither of us had noticed her wander off onto the next lake with a stalking rod. She was carrying the landing net and in it was a ghost carp of around 5lb, we all started to smile, two professional anglers who make their living from fishing sitting chatting while the sandwich provider went off and did the business of catching fish, we were truly put in our places. In all fairness Mandy is a competent angler, a qualified level 2 coach, so we really should have been expecting it. Having put us in our places on an angling basis and taken care of our dietary need Mandy took her leave of us and returned home wishing Neil all the best of luck and indicating which of the rods she felt would produce Neil his first cat.

Once Mandy had gone Neil returned to his quest for catfish, asking questions about their feeding habits, feeding times and what I felt were our chances. I explained that in the past, the period just before complete darkness proved fruitful and expected that somewhere between 10 pm and 11 pm could produce a fish. Additionally when there was a wind on the water it also stimulated the cats to start moving, unfortunately this evening was dead calm and that could make things hard. Neil looked at his watch, 9.30pm, I could see him willing the hands to move forward to test out my twilight theory.

We again settled into the waiting game and as if on cue at 10pm we got our first run strangely enough on the rod Mandy had indicated, Neil raised the rod engaged the baitrunner and struck, nothing! The look on his face said it all, abject disappointment. As Neil began to retrieve the bait I noticed the rod tip was not bending as it normally does under the weight of the lead and bait, “Neil”, I said “its bringing it back at you wind down really fast”, his face lit up as he caught up with the fish. He was in; round went the rod tip and off went the fish, “can you see it yet he kept asking, is it a cat?  Slowly the fish drew nearer and through the beam of the headtorch I saw the distinctive tail of a small cat, the head came over the edge of the net and Neil had his Cat. We placed the fish on the unhooking mat and I took Neil through the features of the fish, the tiny dorsal fin, the velcro like pads in the mouth and the crushing pads in the throat. The fish tipped the scales to 9lb 8oz not quite a double, but a cat all the same, following a few pictures the fish went safely back to the lake and Neil went back into match mode. He wanted to catch every cat in the lake, and he wanted them now, I had to remind him patients was the key, leave the baits as they lie let the cats find them.

During the night we had a few aborted runs, recast a few of the baits, however I insisted we leave one particular bait in place as I was certain it would produce a fish. Finally at 2.30 am Neil said he was going to try and grab a few hours sleep, he settled onto his bedchair leaving me to do the same. At 4.00am we got another screaming run on the bait I had insisted on leaving in place. I had not fallen asleep and was on my way to the rod as soon as the alarm sounded, I expected to see Neil behind me, but he was still glued to the bedchair. “Neil”, I shouted over the top of the alarm, “Neil wake up”, Neil roused himself and ran out to the rod. He struck into the fish and the rod bent over as the cat reacted, it smoked 30 yards of line in the first run before Neil got it turned and slowly he began to put line back onto the reel. Neil was now standing on the peg side straining the fish away from a marginal bush, “Neil” I asked “would you like your shoes”? He had come out in such a rush his shoes were still neatly by his bed, “please”, he said through gritted teeth as he forced the fish out into the open water of the lake. “This one is pulling back a bit”, he said, I could see from the bend on the rod it was a significantly better fish than his first. Some 15 minutes later Neil was looking at 19lb cat on the unhooking mat. “Well that proved the point about leaving the bait in place”, Neil acknowledged. The bait had been in place for nearly 8 hours on a spot I knew cats visited and had proved that patients is rewarded if you are prepared to wait.

Later as I dropped Neil off at his house we had a laugh at the events of the previous night, and Neil thanked me for his first Catfish.  I watched as the master matchman walked down his drive to prepare for his match at Mavers Larford lakes the following day. Later at home I opened my emails and found one from Neil, it simply said. “Thanks Dave”, and then 
“When can we go again, you need to get me to a 20lb plus cat”.

Dave Smith, Get Hooked On Fishing Staffs