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Wels Catfish - The Debate Thread

Clive Kenyon

Senior Member
In order to leave the Barbel Rods for Carp? thread to resume on track I have started a dedicated thread to the Wels Catfish.

It seems that there are an increased number of these fish being caught if not widely reported in English waters. There are quite a few lakes that have specifically stocked them, but they are also turning up in the river systems from at least the Trent southwards. I don't know of any caught in the Yorkshire Ouse system, but it is only a matter of time. These fish will have either escaped from stocked lakes during times of flood water or more likely, like the ghost carp at Redmire, have been stocked illegally by anglers. There is also the possibility of an unauthorised release by aquarists as with the terrapins and other fish species turning up all over the place.

Catfish are now resident in French and Spanish rivers and can be found as far south as Greece and even Cyprus. In France they were confined to the eastern most rivers including the Rhone and have spread from there to the point where there is hardly any lake or river of any size that does not have them.

Catfish can breed in UK waters including some rivers. One of my local rivers, The Vienne is fed from a high plateau and the water is noticibly colder then the other main river of the region, The Charente which is a chalk stream in its lower length and fed by numerous warm springs. Even in the higher reaches of the Vienne river, around Limoges catfish can be found. I regularly see a very large catfish nest guarding in summer when my Deeper sonar shows a surface water temperature of 16C or less in the main river. The area where the catfish can be observed is a large area of weedy shallows off the main flow and as such may well be warmer than the main river temperature. There are lots of areas like this on the Vienne; eddies, backwaters and other places where the relatively stagnant water can be warmed by the higher air temperature. On the Charente, navigation means there are locks and other back waters away from the main flow. These are the places where bream spawn and are likely to be warm enough for catfish to reproduce too.

I have read many studies about catfish in various journals. All are infuriatingly lacking in many aspects. One studies the diet of catfish. But only covers juvenile fish up to a foot or so long. Another collects data from many locations, but only has a few examples from where catfish have been recently stocked. That one shows that the overall biomass of fish species is no different whether catfish are present or not and that in waters where catfish have been recently released there is a drop of around 5% in the biomass of non-catfish species. Surprisingly, it does not comment on these statistics. For me, if catfish reduce the biomass of non catfish species and the overall biomass is the same in established waters then the weight of catfish is equal to the loss of weight of other species. In other words a few larger catfish are replacing the numbers of many other fish.

One of the factors of French barbel is the virtual lack of any large fish. There isn't an official record list. but the three largest barbel recorded that I have been able to discover were all caught over thirty years ago and topped by a 7.3 Kg fish. Nobody has beaten the 5Kg 2nd and 3rd placed fish in over thirty years as far as I can discover. Catfish have been in the Loire for around 40 - 50 years and this, according to some old timers corresponds with the demise of barbel numbers and the absence of the larger specimens. It is strange that in a given stretch of river you can find large numbers of carp to over 50lb along with barbel up to around 8lb, but rarely do the barbel go bigger.

Some people have declared that catfish so not prey on healthy fish, but instead mop up dead and dying fish and eat nasty invasive species like signal crayfish. This is in my opinion total ballcocks. I have seen a large catfish take a mid teens carp from my swim before it got chance to take my bait. Another occasion a catfish surged in on a small group of 7lb - 12lb carp that I was keeping in my swim by regular baiting and I have seen them surging after spawning carp in local lakes. There are videos of catfish in a park lake in France taking bathing pigeons. And those French anglers who take catfish for the pot report taking out ducks and coypu from the gut of the catfish. There is a video on youtube of a French angling guide reaching into the gut of a large catfish and retrieving a coypu.

The numbers of these creatures in French rivers is astonishing. I put a couple of videos on the other thread. If you search on youtube for silure plongees you will discover the many videos showing huge numbers of catfish. If you search on silure seine paris you will see anglers landing catfish to almost 100lb from the city centre of Paris, often using beefed up carp poles and Frolics dog biscuits as bait.

Through the daylight hours catfish tend to lay up close to the bank in overhangs or tree roots, or lay in deep water where the light is less. When laying alongside the bank they will often move over to the other side or find another shady spot when the sun moves and lessens their shade. Even when resting up they can be tempted by a well placed dead bait or a jig type rig fished in the deepest part of the river. They react to noise and a little plastic ball containing ball bearings is often used with spinners to create noise. Also, 'clonking' that is striking the water with a wooden marrow type spoon is used to get the attention of the catfish. As the sun sets they move out to shallow water and can be taken with conventional spinning tackle. A bass rod, ABU 6500C and old Voblex has caught me lots of 20lb+ cats on a summer evening. Most takes occur as the lure splashes down, not on the retrieve. In the summer of 2013 a neighbour of mine caught and ate over 15 catfish around 20lb - 25lb without affecting our catch rate, from a stretch of river no more than 100 metres long.

In England I would expect that there will be breeding populations in at least the Severn, Thames, Gt. Ouse and Trent. If I were to fish for one in those rivers and did not want to spend all night bivvied up, I would fish dead baits in match lengths immediately after the matchmen had gone home. The catfish will have switched onto large numbers of distressed and confused fish being released at regular times and I am sure will concentrate in those areas. Regular baiting with large numbers of sardines or sprats will also attract catfish if they are present.

So, love them or hate them, catish are coming to a water near to you.
 

Richard Isaacs

Senior Member
They certainly ain’t just docile bottom feeders that’s for sure but they do share very much identical feeding habits as a large pike would with one important exception***
A 30lb cat will have no trouble quickly snatching and swallowing a 6-8lb tench or carp as will a 30lb pike. They are both short distance ambush predators with mouths big enough to devour expensive specimen fish 20% or more of their own size.
*** The difference is after a large meal the pike will lay up and probably not feed again for up to a week maybe more. Even in summer a large meal will do a pike happily for a number of days before she wants to feed again. Cats will feed every day in favourable conditions.
obviously there is the element of effort vs reward to consider for all predators. Cats are no different here.
they’ll sooner pick on a dead or dying fish over an active one but if they are feeding most days then picking off healthy specimen fish is going to make up decent % of their diet.
I don’t hate them at all and I plan to hopefully catch one soon Hence the fact I’ve been researching them quite in depth.
I can imagine they are a real pain in the arse in places where people don’t want them.
 

Andrew Burt

Senior Member
I have heard that someone who lived not far from me and is now deceased took up fishing for them and put numbers of juveniles he got from a nearby lake in which they breed, into the W Avon, Severn, Thames and Trent. How true I do not know but all rivers where they are reported. Looking at the programs I have seen on TV they could decimate our smaller rivers that are already under enough pressure. The one program I watched was about the Ebro, such was the damage they had caused they were thinking of poisoning everything then re-stocking with just native fish such was the problem. The pictures of divers in the hydro plant tunnels surrounded by them did not looked shocking.
 

Paul Richardson

Senior Member
I've heard anecdotal reports of Wels in Yorkshire rivers, but never seen any hard evidence. There is something that quite a few of the lads in my club have hooked and there is absolutely no stopping it, even on heavy barbel gear/ 15lb line. Some say a big barbel, personally I suspect a carp but whatever ' Sherman' is , it's a brute and remains elusive.
I'm fortunate to have caught some big Wels on the Ebro and I love fishing for them, but certainly where we go around the Delta according to our guide the Wels have cleaned out the barbel, zander, pike but there are still some big nomadic carp.
The bait of choice last time were chicken carcasses, which look plain bizarre and way too big until you land a decent moggy and it makes sense
IMG_1721.JPG
 

Josh Porteous-Webster

Senior Member
I've heard anecdotal reports of Wels in Yorkshire rivers, but never seen any hard evidence.
Just had a look at the available EA data from from all rivers north of the Humber and it looks like the only wels catfish that has come out on one of their surveys in the last 30yrs was a 50cm wels found up at Wilfholme landing on the Hull, in 2001. Didn't expect that.

Just found this pic of a baby one that came out on a match on the Humber at hessle foreshore in 2009, reports that one of around 50lb was found dead in one of the docks in Hull. Food for thought...

catfish.jpg
 

Clive Kenyon

Senior Member
The interesting thing about the Spanish situation is that there was a secondary problem caused by North European anglers travelling down to the Spanish rivers with a van full of locally caught live baits. Those that didn't get used were dumped in the Spanish rivers and have bred causing a greater number of non-indigenous species to be found there. As has been posted, there is a possibility that in places the authorities will cull everything and start again using species indigenous to the region.

There was a breeding population at a lake in Telford right back as far as the 80's and as the lake is just a few miles from the Severn, although not connected, it is highly likely that fish were transported from lake to river by anglers. My friend was part of a small group who night fished the Severn and Trent specifically for catfish well before the species was thought to be present by many.

They don't show themselves on the surface like carp do, but one sure sign of a catfish is a sudden and temporary patch of small bubbles erupting in a patch of around 2 foot square. Those bubbles are from the swim bladder of a victim being crushed in the catfish's mouth.
 

Clive Kenyon

Senior Member
Wasn’t they native here anyway. If I remember right the biggest freshwater fish caught in uk was a huge sturgeon caught by a woman 100+ years ago. Might be wrong though
That was a salmon of 64lb.
 

Clive Kenyon

Senior Member
Yeah you’re right I’m getting mixed up. There was a 400lb sturgeon caught in the Severn though
You are not alone. The Daily Express is often mixing up Sturgeon and Salmond. The way to remember them is that one used to be the leader of the SNP and the other is soon going to be the former leader of the SNP 😂
 

Cliff Turner

Senior Member
My dad caught a 20lb cat from the Thames at Kingston approx. 30 years ago, the fish was witnessed and weighed by local match anglers and even made it into the Anglers Mail.
 

Joe Winstanley

Senior Member
I can't claim to know anything about catfish. I did consider fishing for them a few years back and went to have a recce around a well known catfish venue not so far away from me. Having seen the turbid stillwater they were supposedly thriving and breeding in, and coping with all the angling pressure they were subjected to, I came to the conclusion they probably would have little problem in becoming established in the some the big rivers in the UK. Not that I would welcome it.

There was a lot of talk about a few big cats having been caught in and around the Winthorpe area on the Trent maybe 5 or 6 years. Never had it confirmed though.
 

Chris Jones

Senior Member
It seems that there are an increased number of these fish being caught if not widely reported in English waters. There are quite a few lakes that have specifically stocked them, but they are also turning up in the river systems from at least the Trent southwards. I don't know of any caught in the Yorkshire Ouse system, but it is only a matter of time.

The first northern river wels I ever heard of came out in a sea match on the Humber between Hessle and Hull. That would have been sometime in the early nineties. I've heard rumours and seen the odd picture of wells that are supposed to have been caught from the Yorkshire Ouse. I've yet to hear of one coming out of the Swale or Ure, but I've heard the odd tale, from trusted and experienced anglers, that seem rather difficult to explain unless there is the odd one or two above York. I very much doubt that I'll ever see one on the higher reaches of the Swale, not unless some looney quite deliberately releases some.
 

Clive Kenyon

Senior Member
The wels can tolerate a degree of salinity and I have caught baby catfish in saline waters in an area of France that resembles East Anglia. They also catch 100lb+ fish in the same waters. I think that there could be a large population in the Humber estuary / tidal Trent. They have been catching catfish in the tidal Trent near to Scunthorpe for well over 20 years, possibly over 30 as well as the ones found in the River Hull and there are large areas of former docks in places like Immingham and Goole that would be perfect habitation for them and rarely if ever get fished.
 

Paul Richardson

Senior Member
The first northern river wels I ever heard of came out in a sea match on the Humber between Hessle and Hull. That would have been sometime in the early nineties. I've heard rumours and seen the odd picture of wells that are supposed to have been caught from the Yorkshire Ouse. I've yet to hear of one coming out of the Swale or Ure, but I've heard the odd tale, from trusted and experienced anglers, that seem rather difficult to explain unless there is the odd one or two above York. I very much doubt that I'll ever see one on the higher reaches of the Swale, not unless some looney quite deliberately releases some.
I heard several reports of something thats been hooked and lost by serious pikers at the Swale/ Ure confluence but just folklore to be honest
I also heard of a 50lber coming out of the Tees in the middle of Stockton under one of the bridges. Alleged pics had been witnessed but again I've seen nothing. But just the rumour was enough for some of us daft lads to anchor up and have a go whilst getting pelted with rocks by local chavs 😁.
 

Paul Richardson

Senior Member
The interesting thing about the Spanish situation is that there was a secondary problem caused by North European anglers travelling down to the Spanish rivers with a van full of locally caught live baits. Those that didn't get used were dumped in the Spanish rivers and have bred causing a greater number of non-indigenous species to be found there. As has been posted, there is a possibility that in places the authorities will cull everything and start again using species indigenous to the region.

There was a breeding population at a lake in Telford right back as far as the 80's and as the lake is just a few miles from the Severn, although not connected, it is highly likely that fish were transported from lake to river by anglers. My friend was part of a small group who night fished the Severn and Trent specifically for catfish well before the species was thought to be present by many.

They don't show themselves on the surface like carp do, but one sure sign of a catfish is a sudden and temporary patch of small bubbles erupting in a patch of around 2 foot square. Those bubbles are from the swim bladder of a victim being crushed in the catfish's mouth.
Last trip on the Ebro was really tough. There had been an invasion of blue crabs which made bottom fishing very difficult. Despite that our guide wouldn't livebait as it's banned in Catalonia and the Wildlife Police would throw the book at him if he got caught and as it's his living that's fair do's.
Seems that no matter where we go, river angling has it's challenges.
On the plus side presumably the Wels are growing very big on an unlimited supply of big crab.
 

Paul Collins

Senior Member
They're in the Thames for sure. There's a guide takes people out to Teddington Weir after predators I've seen a video where a 20lber is caught.
An EE customer of my local tackle shop reported a 35 from Sunbury. Pounds? No kilos!
 

Bill Walford

Senior Member
A couple of years back my local Angling Direct sold a few complete fishing “kits” to some EE lads who we’re going “up the Thames” after Cats. I don’t know exactly where but they were confident of success apparently!
 

Simon Archer

Senior Member
One of my mates has this from a well known Carp fishery a few years ago. Bottomed out their 100lbs scales.

screenshot (2).png
 
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