Anglers Paradise

Anglers Eldorado’s Carp and Catfish Lake 2 is renowned for its catfish that have been stocked to over 90lb.  It was these powerful and challenging fish that we were targeting on what has become an annual pilgrimage for our group.

         Angling is a wonderful pastime for creating long lasting friendships with bonds formed that can often last a lifetime. I have fished with my good friend Bruce Elston on numerous occasions during recent seasons both of us sharing a lifelong obsession with angling.

         Bruce invited me to join the catfish hunters at Anglers Paradise a couple of years ago. Our group consists of Mitch Andrews, his son Ben Andrews, John Hughes, Tony Ball, Bruce Elston, Alan Palmer, Richard Bull and myself.

         Fishing at the venue runs for twenty four hours from midday. We had booked the lake for two days, forty eight hours to target the big catfish that lurk in the murky waters.

         We met up at Bruce’s house for a brunch of bacon, fried egg and fresh bread washed down with tea and coffee. The banter flowed as we discussed tactics and caught up. Strange how we all reconnected after a twelve month gap almost as if we were reconvening after just a week or so.

         Bruce had used his extensive knowledge of the venue to draw up a map showing all the productive swims and where the hotspots were. We all drew numbers out of the proverbial hat (oven glove) to decide who would fish where ensuring that those who wished to fish together could. This was all very much a case of everyone getting the best chance and making sure the whole lake was covered as this is a team effort with no intended competitive element.

         I ended up fishing the East side of the lake offering a wide choice of known holding spots to cast into.

         The first task upon arriving is to lug the mountain of gear required for a forty eight hour session. This is no easy task with barrows loaded to the maximum with two trips required for most.

         On arrival in the swim my first task was to set up a rod to explore the swim. Casting a lead and marker float around the swim it is possible to check the depth and assess if the bottom is clear or silty etc.

         Where to put the bait is based upon prior knowledge, advice, observation and that all important gut feeling. Two rods are allowed on the lake and I decided to bait up two spots spodding out generous quantities of halibut pellet in various sizes along with a few boilies of the type to be fished as bait. In this case Sticky Baits Krill and Bloodworm.

         To some extent of course hotspots on these lakes are created by anglers. Spots that look good to anglers are baited up and become feeding spots for the fish. The anglers then catch fish from the spots that become popular with more anglers who add more bait ensuring the ongoing productivity of the hotspot.

         We all followed the same basic plan targeting catfish with stepped up carp rigs using boilies and bolt rigs.

This whole branch of fishing is very much a case of setting traps and grabbing the rod when the fish self-hooks itself.

I don’t believe that catfish are particularly rig shy like carp which is a good job as with fish present close to 100lb subtle rigs are not practical.

         There is a certain appeal to a long session a chance to relax and settle into the natural cycle of the natural world.

There is a continual sense of expectation and anticipation. At any moment the alarm could sound its harsh blip alerting the anglers as an unseen fish of unknown size tears off with the bait.

         Conditions seemed close to perfect. A light breeze drifting high white clouds across the deep blue summer sky. Half a dozen buzzards soared high on thermals their mewing cry’s drifting across the lake. A family of Canada geese paraded around the lake and a mallard brood swam across the water. I thought how vulnerable they looked and wondered if the catfish ever enjoyed a duckling snack.

         Late afternoon there came a cry of fish on. Ben had hooked the first cat of the session a pleasing start, 21lb.

         Early evening it was time to stop for a catch up. We all wound in our rods and assembled together to enjoy  fresh pizzas delivered bankside to us by Bruce Elston’s obliging family.

         This was an opportunity to catch up and talk fishing and there was as always a great deal to discuss. I had probably last fished with Richard Bull from the Dam wall at Durleigh Reservoir near Bridgwater for pike. Back then we were both young men starting off on life’s hopefully long journey. Close to forty years later we had both retired from long careers, mine in the water industry and Richard’s with the Environment Agency.

         A lot has changed in those forty years and we soon started to compare notes along with Alan Palmer. It was immediately apparent that we shared a deep concern regarding the dramatic decline we had seen in nature. We talked of the dramatic decline of salmon and noted the lack of swallows around the lake. The estimated insect decline of 70% over the past forty years, a lack of big pike across the Somerset levels and a collapse in the once prolific population of eels.

         As anglers we are of course very aware of what is happening to the natural world. Pesticides, farming practices, climate change and an ever increasing human population all contributing to natures decline.

         The conversation drifted onto the state of angling. We are perhaps creatures of our generation and have views created from our journeys. Angling perhaps reflects society.

We all reflected upon how we had started fishing for small fish serving a sort of apprenticeship before progressing to bigger specimens. It seems that many of todays young anglers arrive at the water’s edge with all the gear setting out to catch twenty pound carp straight away. Instant gratification no slow path to success. I want it all and I want it now!

         We looked back fondly at our days as young specimen hunters. A time when we learned from books and pooling knowledge. No you-tube videos and ready-made rigs.

         Richard reminisced about his fishing for catfish at Claydon Lake in Bedfordshire during the late eighties and early nineties. The catfish that resided in the lakes had been transferred from Woburn Abbey Lakes. Claydon Lake is situated within the grounds of a large country mansion. The large catfish were a target for budding specimen hunters of the day. Richards best catfish from the water was 35lb a fish that was at the time within the top ten catfish caught from UK waters.

         We discussed Claydon Lake and other venues like Redmire Pool. Waters that have a unique status in angling history. There is perhaps a certain nostalgia amongst our generation a longing for the mystery and excitement of  a bygone era.

         Whilst we had discussed the undoubted decline in nature we also had to acknowledge the fact that many fish now grow far bigger. We were fishing in a lake that contains a large number of catfish far in excess of the wildest dreams of anglers back in the 1980’s. Catfish of over fifty pounds now fail to warrant a mention in the national angling press. Several waters in North Devon contain carp equivalent to the stocks that resided within Redmire’s hallowed waters.

         The eel record has just been beaten, as has the roach record. Many of the British freshwater fish records have been eclipsed in recent years. The roach record is now over 4lb. The bream record stands at 22lb 11oz; I doubt many believed bream could grow to that size back in the 1980’s. The carp record is now 68lb 1oz, catfish record 143lb 14oz, perch 6lb 3oz, pike 47lb 5oz, tench 15lb 3oz, barbel 21lb 2oz, chub 9lb 5oz, crucian carp 4lb 12oz, dace 1lb 5oz, rudd 4lb 10oz and  zander 21lb 5oz. All of the above records and several others have all been caught since 2000 proving perhaps that our perception of fishing’s golden era is all within our imagination.

The truth with our perception is perhaps that we have lost much of the mystery and magic? The fish are growing bigger because of an artificially created environment. Whilst truly wild fish like salmon, sea trout and eels are in an alarming spiral of decline other fish dwelling in lakes or rivers enriched by nutrients and anglers baits are growing larger.

         In light of the above facts it is undoubtedly our perception of fishing that has changed. A generation is inclined to look back with rose tinted glasses, the measure of success in angling is to be measured in happiness and contentment not in the size of fish. I often state that anglers go through three main phases. At first wanting to catch fish, any fish. Then aspiring to catch bigger fish or more than other anglers. I suspect that at some point most anglers reach the stage where they are content to just go fishing. It is perhaps difficult to reach the latter stage without experiencing the first two. And as stated earlier a modern society tends to skip the first stage and go straight in to stage two.

         A fact I often note is that when a bunch of anglers get together a schoolboy humour is soon rekindled as farts and bodily functions always abounds. A youthful cheer emerges which is undoubtedly one of the reasons angling is so good for mental health.

         Anyway after a rather long ramble away from our trip I will reconvene on the banks of carp and Catfish 2.

         The evening light descended and expectation climbed. At close to midnight my alarm screamed out and I fumbled my way to the rod. Lifting into a heavy fish for a moment or two before the hook hold gave way.

         Disappointed I recast and tried to get some sleep. A few hours later at just after 3.00am I heard voices and commotion across the water. Assuming that Bruce or John had caught I reeled in my rods and made my way over to the far side of the lake.

         A jubilant John was being congratulated on successfully banking a large catfish. I joined in with the jubilation witnessing the weighing of a personal best cat for John of 49lb. I secured a few images and watched the fish gently lowered back into the lake.

         The rest of the night passed by without interruption except for the invasion of my swim by the geese family shortly after first light.

         The dawn chorus was spectacular with a wide variety of birds contributing to the choir. The Merlin app on my phone recorded sedge warbler, carrion crow, chaffinch, wren, willow warbler, blue tit, chiff chaff,  song thrush and nuthatch.

         The second day drifted past and we settled into life on the lakeside. The sound of cars and farm machinery came from the nearby road reminding us of a world beyond this tranquil lake.

         Knowing the size of fish present within the confines of this small lake ensured that hope of connection was never lost. I brewed regular coffee and ensured that a steady trickle of bait was going into the chosen spots within the swim.

         I noticed the occasional large swirl in my swim, an indication that big fish were on the prowl. But the alarms remained silent.

         As evening descended once again expectation grew surely more catfish would be caught? At around midnight my alarm bleeped frantically and I rushed from my bivvy to grab the rod. As I touched the rod handle the run stopped!

In the early hours I was answering natures call and noticed headlights further along the bank. Rich was elated to have landed a catfish of 39lb a new personal best and I believe his first catfish since the mid- nineties.

During the night light rain had fallen, resulting in droplets glistening as the new day dawned. The calm light of dawn descended upon the lake as the new day unfurled.

         We all hoped for one last chance. Suddenly out of the blue came a call fish on! Ben was in action and after an exciting tussle brought a 24lb catfish to the waiting net.

Tony avoided a blank by tempting a couple of kittens float fishing worms in the margin.

         Then as we started to consider packing away John on the far side of the lake was in action. I watched the drama as John piled on the pressure, trying to prevent what was undoubtedly a big fish finding sanctuary in a tangle of branches and lily’s near the Island.

When the fish was safely netted I wound in my rods and walked around to witness the weighing and get a few images of the fish in daylight. At 39lb it was another fine specimen for John.

         Whilst the fishing had been slower than hoped for the company had been great. Catfish weighing 49lb, 39lb, 39lb, 24lb and 21lb is after all a pretty good result.

We said our farewells after lugging the ridiculous heap of gear up to the cars vowing to do it all again next year.

         Upon reflection it had been a very enjoyable excursion catching up with friends. Some big fish had been caught and discussion had left plenty to contemplate. Izaak Walton author of The Complete Angler  first published in 1653  described angling as the ‘Contemplative Mans Recreation’. Somethings never change.

Anglers Paradise