Fishing: Fair weather lets the catfish out of the bag
Sunday 09 May 1999
He (or maybe she: I haven't checked) is a catfish. He lives in my pond. Oh, it's easy to be fooled by those false harbingers of better weather, such as slugs starting to chew on the hostas, the honeysuckle coming into bloom or the starlings reclaiming their old nest site in the thatch. But Lurch never gets it wrong. When his whiskery head comes to compete for the food I throw daily into the pond, I know it's time to put away the thermal socks.
Lurch used to live in a fish tank. He was about an inch long and though he stole the goldfishes' food, he never grew much bigger. But since he switched habitat (caused by a serious leak that is still a sensitive issue in the Elliott household), he has turned from a kitten into quite a big cat. He is now at least 9in long and has a mouth like Chris Evans.
The pondwater is, to put it politely, murky. Unlike the goldfish, carp, orfe, tench, koi and rudd, Lurch never besports near the surface - except when it's feeding time. Then he rises like a submarine from the depths, that stubby black head with its dangling whiskers coming right out of the water in a bid to get the grub before it hits the water.
With tiny eyes and dressed in matt black, Lurch is certainly no beauty. He eats many of my newborn goldfish, and probably a froglet or three. Through winter and spring, he never shows. He's probably lurking on the bottom, thinking dark catfish thoughts. Then the isobars nudge up, the barometer does its thing, and wham. Lurch may be hard to love, but he's one heck of a weatherman. I've even noticed that he's alert to micro changes rather than just the big picture. If there's a storm brewing or a cold front passing through, Lurch skulks rather than gobbles.
This all ties in with a new-found status for catfish. The Catfish Conservation Society is one of the fastest-growing specialist groups in Britain. Apart from carp, more catfish are smuggled into this country than any other fish. The European catfish, or wels, was introduced to several lakes, mostly in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, in the late 1800s. Its maximum weight, given English weather, is probably 60lb. But one tiny Essex lake alone boasts two 100lb immigrants.
The wels (the name comes from the German walzen, to wallow) grows to huge sizes in its native rivers, especially the Danube, where 200-pounders are not uncommon. Hundreds of English anglers now travel to the river Ebro in Spain, lured by catfish that often top 100lb. In Russia, it's said that cats up to 600lb and more and 16ft have been recorded. The appeal is not just their size but their strength. Pull on a catfish, and he pulls right back. There are several yarns of catfishers tying line to their hands or feet, falling asleep and being drowned by big catfish.
My interest has been buoyed during the past week by reading The Catfish as Metaphor, a strange book by M H Salmon. It is the story of a guy who wanders around the United States, mostly fishing in places that proclaim themselves as the "Catfish Capital of America". He catches channel catfish, blue catfish and yellow catfish; eats some, puts some back. He's slightly embarrassed by his obsession with catfish, which are still trailer-park fish in the US, and several laps behind trout or bass.
But he predicts: "The catfish is going to get more popular. The fish is entering a new socio-economic status." Well, it's not doing so badly. One US fishery survey puts the number of bass fishermen at 16-18 million, the number pursuing catfish at 12-15 million. As Salmon says: "The catfish is the one that everybody recognises, many fish for but nobody writes about. This is a significant critter."
Best of all, he too finds a relationship between catfish and the weather, which he largely attributes to the fish being "negatively phototropic". I have now started to monitor Lurch's behaviour much more closely. I may own the catfish equivalent of the gopher in Dog Day Afternoon.
Latest in Sport
Robin van Persie to Fenerbahce: Manchester United striker 'agrees to personal terms' with Turkish side
Arsenal defender Kieran Gibbs posts bizarre video of his Miami holiday being invaded by an iguana
Women's World Cup 2015: England secure third place as they beat Germany in extra time with penalty by Fara Williams
Why is it that there’s no women’s team at Manchester United? - Michael Calvin
Chelsea transfer news: Diego Costa wants a reunion with £25m Manchester United target Arda Turan... because he loves his kebabs
- 1 Isis propaganda video shows 25 Syrian soldiers executed by teenage militants in Palmyra
- 2 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 3 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
- 4 The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
- 5 German man found living with 300 rats in tiny apartment
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...
£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...