Think of a river synonymous with catfish and the mighty Ebro in Spain will most likely be the first that springs to mind.
But Angling Times can this week reveal that a growing number of anglers are now targeting, and doing battle with, one of the world’s hardest fighting freshwater species on the River Trent.
The growing population of the predators throughout the Nottinghamshire waterway has for a long time been a closely guarded secret among local anglers, but catches are now being increasingly reported from Newark, Long Higgin and many of the tidal reaches.
In the last few weeks both tackle shops and venue regulars have seen an upsurge in the number of catch pictures, videos and posts on social network sites proving the capture of fish up to 40lb.
But many believe that there are much bigger predators lurking in the depths and the recent reports of huge catfish being washed up on the banks of the River Thames prove that this isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to the Trent.
Alan Dudhill, general secretary of the Pike Angling Club of Great Britain, is one of the dedicated few that has set his stall out for catching the UK’s running water catfish.
“There are people out there that are saying that we are mad, but I have customers who have caught fish over 30lb from the tidal reaches. The sheer numbers that are now being reported make them a viable target if you know where to find them,” Alan told Angling Times.
Stories of catfish being caught from the iconic river go back more than 30 years, however, Tim Aplin, owner of Matchman Supplies tackle shop in Nottingham, has seen the whispers and rumours develop turn into cold, hard evidence.
“The cats have always been talked about in the shop, but I’ve now had pictures and video footage brought in of guys that have landed them from the Trent,” said Tim.
“I know that anglers have been fishing for them at Long Higgin and someone lost a very big fish there earlier this month. I’ve also seen the pictures of a 30lb-plus fish that was caught from the boat moorings at Newark,” he added.
Trent legend Bob Roberts has done battle with a huge specimen while float fishing for barbel on the tidal reaches of the river and is adamant that the catfish are breeding successfully.
He said: “I had a massive catfish on for three hours. It took me almost a mile upstream and I’d almost got it to the net everything went slack and I reeled in a 4lb barbel that it had obviously grabbed hold of.
“There are also small cats being caught in the river, which shows they are breeding. I’m confident that most of the larger river systems in the UK now hold a population of the species.”
Leading fisheries management consultant Dr Bruno Broughton believes that catfish are more widespread in British rivers than most anglers would acknowledge:
"It’s only in the last few years that the extent of catfish colonisation of rivers has become apparent. This is mainly a consequence of severe flooding of adjacent lakes holding the species and, I suspect, some illegal introductions as well.
"The largest rod-caught, river catfish of which I am aware is in excess of 120lbs from the Thames, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if much larger fish are, or soon will be, present elsewhere.
"Their numbers are likely to increase by natural means because catfish are good parents - they guard their eggs and protect the newly-hatched fry - and they appear to have no problem spawning successfully in many British waters.”
**UK river catfish**
- In 2001, junior angler Oliver Parker-Grater banked a 40lb catfish from Kent’s River Darent.
- Reports of a dead body in the River Thames were dismissed earlier this year after officials attended the scene to find it was actually a huge catfish of over 50lb.
- The Great Ouse received a stocking of catfish several decades ago and specimens to over 40lb have been landed since the move.
- Catfish up to 20lb have also been landed and even bigger fish lost in recent years by match anglers fishing the Yorkshire Ouse.