Of all the places to go fishing in Devon, there is a special sort of madness about Angler’s Paradise. And so, earlier this week, it was a happy sort of coincidence that several friends were converging there at the same time. A real rogues gallery of interesting characters, in fact, from wildife filmmakers Jack Perks and Josh Jaggard, to fishing author and ecologist Dr Mark Everard, as well as angling refugee Amar Kanim (whose remarkable tale and return to fishing you can read on this recent blog post).
You could probably say there were enough subplots already in place long before we met up with the ever eccentric Zyg Gregorek in his “office”. For the uninitiated, this is a secret bunker full of his special homebrewed grog. Besides its strength, the sheer quantity of the stuff is impressive; the place contains more proof than Scotland Yard.
It’s always great fun to be invited -from what I can actually remember. You always get a story or two from Zyg and the wine tends to give people ideas. This time, we got two equally potent brews to sample, a special performance from two dancing dogs (yes, really), Polish drinking songs and even a tale from Zyg’s youth on the roads of America, involving a rent-a wreck-car and the Miami Police Department. At least, that’s what I remember.
But I digress. The real excitement of Anglers Paradise is that, even if you stay sober, there are that many lakes and species that anything can, and quite often does, happen. And after loads of recent coaching and guiding sessions in Devon, I was looking forward to getting back to fishing.
On the surface of it, we all wanted catfish. Knowing my form on the lakes, though, I wondered if I’d even see one. It’s not that I’m unlucky- it’s just that expectations tend to be reversed. Fishing for carp on the main lake a few years back, I had my best cat of thirty-something pounds (above). Fishing for catfish last time out, a ridiculous-sized bait didn’t get a sniff from wels but fooled a 20lb 8oz common carp. These are occurences I can live with, but they teach you to make predictions at your peril.
How to catch catfish… in theory
Now, loads has been written about the best baits and tackle for catfish. I’m by no means the most experienced- but suffice to say it isn’t rocket science. Stepped up carp gear is ideal. Lines of under 15lb are unwise and 18-20lb is probably safer, even with the fish being a modest 10-30lbs typically on the bottom of the two Carp and Catfish Lakes at Angler’s Eldorado, which is just round the corner from the main complex.
At the business end, similarly, coated braid (which avoids the rasping little teeth of the wels) is the way to go, typically with a size 2-4 hook and a big chunk of hair-rigged bait such as luncheon meat, or the biggest boilies or pellets you can find. Some also use dead chicks, liver and all sorts, but Zyg doesn’t allow this sort of mayhem on his lakes so that was ruled out.
And so, with the odd crashing sound, five mildly sozzled gentlemen carted their various rods, reels and bivvies into position, in a sort of drunken caterpillar manouver that was more Mr Bean than Monster Carp.
With loads of features to go at and no fewer than five of us setting up a couple of rods each, we would have no shortage of options. We tried deep and shallow water, but the best feature for me looked like the big snags off the island. Hence my money was on Dr Mark or Amar to get the first run. As is always sensible, each area was well peppered with a few free offerings- and I always like this to fulfill two criteria: add small bits and groundbait to get the prey fish going, but also some big chunks that only a large carp or cat can manage.
Perhaps naively, I positioned myself right in the middle of all our anglers, feeling that that this would give me prime position to snap away and get some nice pictures of the session. I expected a long wait, but we had scarcely finished a 6:30 fry up when, along with the last few sausages, Mark’s island rod went sizzling off.
There is a distinctive look and feel to the way catfish fight- and as soon as we saw a long, lashing pattern on the surface it was obvious this wasn’t a carp. The doc was extra pleased about this- he isn’t a fan of carp. For a photographer it was poetry in motion, too, with the rod bent full, gorgeous evening light and Amar acting as netsman.
What a great start it was too, at 26lbs and a bit. These fish look much bigger than their figures usually, though, due to that monstrous, elongated shape. Few would call them beautiful, but I think they are incredibly cool fish. They’re also creatures best left to lakes like this, it must be said, because they could wreak havoc on rivers and other wild fisheries- as Jack or Mark would tell you, from tales of ruin in Spain and elsewhere!
Night fishing in paradise
Darkness soon set in and everyone was now hopeful after that early fish. Having endured the worst period of disturbed sleep of my entire life for the previous six weeks, I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be a red letter night’s fishing or not. On the positive side, one of two things would happen; it would be exciting or I would finally get a complete night’s shuteye. Win-win?
That unbroken night’s sleep would remain a fanciful dream, as it turned out, because it all started to kick off not long after. The weirdest thing, after previous sessions where carp scoffed everything we cast out, was that every single run seemed to be a catfish.
Mark had another twenty-something. Then a thirty something. Jack and Josh both had a cat before midnight. It was really exciting, but me and Amar in the middle pegs did wonder when it might be our turn.
After perhaps four hours of sleep – a bloody eternity for a new dad- it was Amar who was next into the action just as the sun was coming up. Funny that- peering out at the clear, windstill conditions I had just made a silent bet that would be the last of it. Wrong!
In fact, two came his way in quite quick succession, giving Amar his first taste of success with these impressive brutes. The better of the two was around the 20lb mark. Even less expected, though, was the “free gift” that came with the fish. There, coughed up on the landing mat was a great big chunk of luncheon meat that looked familiar- Jack had used this bait earlier and missed a run on it, and clearly this fish had nabbed it before travelling a good hundred yards plus to pick up Amar’s boilie. It just shows, they really do get about a bit on these lakes!
Meanwhile, my own catfish was absent. Had I made a poor swim choice by setting up in the middle? Who knows. I guess you could say that once again in my career I was the bridesmaid rather than the bride. Well, to be more accurate, I tend to be the wedding photographer. I tend not to be too worried if someone else is the star of the show as long as I get the booking. Actually, this is an attitude that has served me well time and again in my career. Yes, you will sometimes miss out on the glory, but it’s also very satisfying to be able to capture other anglers’ finest moments, especially when they’re your friends. I still want to get my revenge on those catfish, though!
After such a dramatic night for the cats, it was time to head on to the main complex at Angler’s Paradise and try for some variety. Mark Everard was also keen to try out a new prototype rod he’s working on. The perfect tool for river roach is the concept he’s keen on; and given the brutal domination of carp this and power that in float rods, I can see it being a welcome niche!
Needless to say, we had a great time tiddler bashing and species hunting on the other lakes. Our main objective, though, was to catch a couple of unsual species, including the notoriously tricky grass carp. But to see how we got on, as well as learning a classic old school fishing trick or two from Mark, you’ll just have to stay tuned for a special edition of my weekly Angling Times column, “The Far Bank”!
Till next time, please drink in moderation and try to make sure you get some bloody sleep.