Catfish (Silurus glanis)
The wels catfish is the largest true freshwater fish, under perfect conditions in Europe it can reach unbelievable sizes of up to 5 metres in length and weight over 600 lbs.
In the UK however, Wels catfish do not reach these colossal sizes. Over here, they have an average length of around 80cm and an average weight of around 18 lbs (7.5 kg). With that said, finding one which weighs 40 lbs (18 kg) or more is not beyond the realms of possibility.
LC – Least Concern
A Note On Spawning
Catfish spawn during spring and early summer, once temperatures rise to around 20°C. A ‘nest’ is built in confined areas, such as tree roots or other dense vegetation, here the female lays up 10 100,000 eggs which will then hatch in under five days. The growing juveniles are looked after by the males until they can fend for themselves.
The wels catfish has a long, supple and somewhat flat body which lacks scales and is covered in slime. Its head is short, flat and comes with a remarkably wide mouth which houses lines of small teeth. The dorsal fin is short and set far forward on its body, the anal fin is exceptionally long, as the tail fin is short. It has two long barbules on its upper jaw and four shorter ones on its lower jaw, these gave rise to its name as the ‘catfish’ as they function in a similar way to cat’s whiskers in that they are used to feel and avoid obstacles. The wels catfish is heavily reliant on hearing and smell when hunting for food.
The colour of its skin depends on its environment. Clearwater gives the catfish a black colour, whilst muddy waters produce catfish with a green-brown colour, albino varieties are also caught from time to time, although it is unknown what causes them to be this colour. Its underbelly is always a pale yellow/white in colour.
As this species is so unlike any other British coarse fish in its appearance, if you were to encounter one it’s unlikely that you would not immediately identify it.
So how do we catch one?
Catfish will take a variety of different baits, with lobworms, squid, farmed leeches (they are a protected species and may not be removed from the wild) all working well. Deadbaits such as Rudd, Roach and Lamprey, also provide an alternative option, those with high blood leakage are most effective. Catfish are also known to hoover up beds of halibut pellets and boilies, especially those with strong fish and meat flavours.
A top tip is to pop up whichever bait you are using, as doing so will bring it to the attention of catfish and improve catch rates.
The Wels catfish originates from central and eastern Europe and so is not native to the UK. As such it is rare in the wild, despite multiple attempts to increase its numbers, and is only likely to be encountered in still water fisheries which intentionally stock catfish.
Bigger specimens are generally found in southern England as a pose to the northern regions of the UK. This is because the south benefits from ever so slightly warmer weather, with milder spring and autumn periods, meaning that the feeding year is extended, allowing the fish to grow to larger sizes.
Wels catfish are principally summer feeders and as long as temperatures are reasonably high, will feed at pretty much any time of the day or night.
Favourite Feeding Places
The catfish is a slow and lazy fish, it prefers to feed on deadbaits such as gudgeon or roach as well as freshwater swan mussels. In their natural habitat, catfish tend to hide in sheltered locations such as sunken trees or holes at the bottom of the river. When hunting, they like to stalk deep murky waters for fish but can also feed on the bottom, where they search for annelid worms, gastropods, insects and crustaceans.
Lakemore Fisheries, a great spot for catfish
Strong and balanced tackle is required to land big catfish, lots of angler use tackle that they would use for carp fishing, with great success. Generally, to get started fishing for catfish, you will need a rod with a test curve of 2.5-3.5 lbs, a reel loaded with 200m of 15 lb mainline (as a minimum), hook links that are abrasion resistant, single hooks which are large and strong, a size 2 or 4 heavy gauge hook will work well.
You can use a range of different rigs which involve poly and cork balls to ledger livebaits just under the surface, with rudd and roach being great options for this technique. However, these methods can lead to very violent takes, so make sure you stay by your rods at all times!
Plenty of modern anglers now advocate for the use of large pellets when going after catfish, and this is now the preferred method. A hook which is at least a size 2 paired with a couple of large 25+mm hair rigged pellets is a good way to go.
Start by identifying areas that catfish are likely to inhabit or patrol, areas that they tend to lurk in or areas where they will actively hunt are great places to fish. Catfish rely on their sense of smell for hunting, following scent trails from injured fish. Therefore, as long as your baits are well presented there is a good chance a hungry catfish will find it.
Despite listing the baits that we think work best for catfish, they are known to take many types of bait and will devour beds of halibut pellets and boilies, particularly those with strong fish and meat flavours. Deadbaits which contain high blood leaksage, such as rudd, roach and lamprey are great for catching catfish.