Slough House Revisited
I first fished Slough House Farm Fishery at Bulphan Essex in the early 90’s when I attended a Corporate Fishing day organised by a client. It was typical of the small farm reservoirs of the time, a hole in the ground with few carp thrown in it to gain a bit of extra revenue. Horseshoe shaped with a central peninsula it was roughly 12 feet deep but contained at the time about two feet of water. The client had booked it in the winter having seen it almost full of water but hadn’t considered the consequences of fishing in late June after the farmer had watered his potato crop. To add insult to injury it rained hard the day we fished and the exposed slopes became a mud bath, however most people caught a few naive carp. It was not at the time a fishery which appeared to have much of a future. How wrong can you be! In 1992 another client organised a Corporate day at Slough House, I went along fearing the worse, and telling myself it would at least be better than working. How the place had changed! Tree lined grassy banks , early signs of reed beds and brimful of water, I later found out the farmer had stopped pumping water because he had moved onto a cereal crop and had leased the lake to a local tackle dealer who subsequently brought the freehold to it. On this occasion I came second in the match with a weight of 44lbs of carp to low doubles and almost everyone had a good days sport.
Another 2 years passed until in July 1994when I attended another corporate day at the venue. On this occasion as we all assembled for the walk off the bailiff greeted us all with the news the lake had very recently, a matter of days before, been stocked with 40 or so Catfish in the 2 to 4lbs range. The match took place and at the weigh –in catfish were appearing in every keep net, in fact over 30, nearly the entire stocking, were caught that day.
I had always been a little intrigued by catfish having kept a couple in an aquarium as a small boy but before Slough House I had only caught a small one at Woburn Abbey and a few equally small ones a Jimmy’s Lake in Corringham .
Our next corporate day ay Slough House didn’t come around again until June 1998 , 4 years since the original stocking , and I arrived full of anticipation were the cats still in there had they got much bigger?. As it turned out it wasn’t much of a day, the carp were spawning and most anglers scratched for a few silver fish, I stuck it out fishing with heavy float tackle and a large lump of meat for bait. My stubbornness paid off eventually with a 12lbs 12oz match winning catfish. This suggested a growth rate of around 2lbs a year.
After this the Corporate fishing days ceased , the financial sector was tightening its’ belt and all expenses had to be triple justified and with all my fishing time already devoted to Barbel I forgot about catfish and Slough House .
Over the next decade a couple of trips to the Ebro saw me catch many big Catfish with several over the ton and a best of 156lbs. A trip to Paradise lakes meant trying again for UK Catfish and I had a few low doubles but nothing really big.
Every so often Slough House Farm Fishery would hit my radar with reports of Catfish of over 50lbs and even some as big as 90lbs. I finally decided to pay it a visit in June 2015 and on arrival was surprised how much it had changed but not changed. Surrounded by large mature trees, some of which had grown far out into the water and large reed beds.It looked very mature and yet felt just as it did when I last fished it 17 years ago. The bailiff came around to collect the day ticket money and was very chatty and helpful, and yes there were Catfish in there to over 90lbs, he had photos to prove it. I decided to fish a tree lined bay which gave me some seclusion from all the other anglers who arrived, it’s a very popular venue particularly for the hordes of mid- double carp.
I decided to try a legered string of large halibut pellets on one rod with a method feeder loaded with a grounbait mix of Vitalin, scalded pellets and ground pellets. A second rod would be used to floatfish the drop off from the margin at around 8 foot deep. The rod I floatfished with is a Bruce & Walker 12 foot hexgraph specimen float rod , which paired with an Aeriel Centrepin loaded with 15lbs line is a formidable piece of kit. The end rig was very simple, a piece of quill for the float ,a lump of plasticine for a weight and a size 2 carp tied straight to the mono. The idea being if I hook a good fish and it gets in a snag or under a tree both the float and weight will easily fall from the rig and reduce the chances of snagging solid. I baited the margin swim heavily with the same groundbait mix as on the feeder rod, but fished a large lump of luncheon meat on the hook .I had constant stop start bites on the leger rod which subsequently turned out to be bream , there are hordes of them in the fishery and the baited area in the margin fizzed and bubbled constantly . At around 10 o’clock the float slid away and my strike was met with solid resistance and a huge cloud of mud came up. Then all hell let loose with my centrepin screaming at every run from what was clearly a Catfish.
After 5 or so minutes of tug of war the Cat was in the net and when landed hit the scales a 31lbs I had smashed my U.K. personal best by a large margin.
What happened next really piqued my interest though, a guy opposite fishing for carp was clearly into something big and when it was eventually weighed it turned out to a 70lbs catfish. No sooner had this fish been landed an angler a few swims along was into a good fish which subsequently turned out to be a Catfish of 69lbs. I would have to return to catch a bigger one! The remainder of that June day basically fizzled out after the Catfish action, the Bailiff reckoned the carp were getting ready to spawn and very little had been seen of them in the past few days.
I returned a week later and tried a different corner of the lake which had more bank side tree cover. The approach would be the same as the previous trip. What I had not reckoned was that the Carp had finished spawning and would not leave my legered pellet rig alone. 5 mid-doubles were landed during the morning session despite my efforts to try not to catch them. Strangely they left the float fished meat rig completely unmolested. Every so often in the baited margin near my float there would be a massive sheet of very large bubbles, mud and debris wafted to the surface, this was surely a catfish on the prowl. Eventually my float did slide away and on striking I was met with momentary resistance and the hook pinged out. A large cloud of mud came up in the swim followed by a huge bow wave across the lake. I struggled on for the rest of the day, but clearly my chance of a Cat had passed.
A week later I was back in the same swim and same tactics. It soon became apparent there were Cats in the swim with large clouds of bubbles and mud, also the occasional scattering of small bream on the surface. Within 2 hours of starting my pellet rig (5 large halibut pellets on a hair) screamed off and a large catfish was clearly the culprit. It took off across the lake in a cloud of mud. I played this fish for close on 20 minutes according the audience that quickly gathered but whilst I had stopped its more powerful runs I could not get it near the bank. It eventually kited to my right near some overhanging bushes which prevented me from keeping my rod tip up and required side strain. It plodded around a bit, but then the sickening feeling of a rapid change in the line tension told me I had a problem, everything went solid. Only option now was to slacken right off, put the rod down and wait. Thirty minutes passed and not a flicker on the line, I would have pull for a break which on doing so ended up with me pulling in a small twig with my entire rig intact. I can only assume the fish was lightly foul hooked and the change in rod angle resulted in the hook pulling out .All very frustrating but I was happy not have left the rig in a fish. That was it for the day, but undaunted I returned a week late. This next visit was the slowest of all, not even the carp gave me any hassle.
I returned again on the 9th July and again it was very slow and by the afternoon it was blisteringly hot. Around 4pm two Anglers appeared on the opposite ban on the fishery to take advantage of the reduced day ticket for the last four hours before closing time. They proceeded to catapult several kilos of pellet and boilie over a large area in the middle of the lake and cast two leger rigs each into the area. They continued to constantly catapult baits into the area. Within an hour one of these anglers was into a good fish which turned out, when landed, to be a 76lbs Catfish. A little while later the other angler in the duo landed a 50lbd Catfish. The bailiff told me later they were using whole squid. There was no doubt I would have to try squid next visit.
My next trip on the 16th saw me back in the swim where I had caught the 31lbs fish in early June.
I decided to fish the middle of the lake with popped-up squid and fire a barrage of pellet around it , whilst also float fishing the margin with a large piece of luncheon meat . I had interest on the squid rig right from the start, but the first two proper runs resulted in the fish dropping the bait before I struck. The third run hung on and kept going, a quick strike and a Catfish was on and soon landed. At 26lbs a nice fish but not one of the big one. A lack of bites on the float fished meat prompted me to try squid on the float rig during the afternoon. This resulted in tear away bites almost immediately, only problem was the carp had developed a liking for squid. I spent the rest of the day catching carp.
Three more trips over the following weeks produced very little to my rods save a 15lbs Grass carp and a few mid double carp all caught on squid. I was getting a little despondent at this stage and would probably moved onto some other venture ,however I kept on seeing signs of Catfish in my baited areas ,even seeing two large fish porpoise in my swim and another striking the surface for silver fish.
It was now getting into late August and I was starting to think about my autumn Chub and Barbel fishing but with the rivers so low through lack of rain I decided to give Slough House one final try, at least for the summer of 2015.
It was the 20th of August and I arrived at the lake at opening time, expecting it to be busy as the School Holidays were still in full swing. Much to my surprise there were less than half a dozen anglers on the water which meant I had a whole tree lined bay to myself. Fishing my usual leger rig to the centre baited with squid and luncheon meat on the float rod I settled down in my swim. The bailiff appeared around 10 am and was equally bemused by the lack of anglers, but did tell me of a 82lbs Catfish caught a few days previous.
No sooner had the Bailiff departed and my float slid away and a Catfish was on which duly landed weighed in at 23.5 pounds. A promising start however despite the obvious catfish activity in the bay nothing else happened until I switched to a squid bait on the float rig. Within very little time the float slid away and I struck expecting it to probably be a carp based on previous experience, but no it was definitely a Catfish and clearly a big one. By now one or two more anglers had turned up and a small audience soon gathered to watch and after 15 minutes help me lift the netted fish from the water and assist with weighing it. At 85lbs it smashed my UK personal best and I was more than happy to head for home, except leaving at the start of the evening rush in Mid-Essex didn’t seem like a good idea I re-baited the float rig with squid and recast. I was getting on for around 6 o’clock when the Bailiff did his evening round and he was delighted to hear of my catch and continued on his was .He hardly got to the next angler along the bank when my float slid away and another big Catfish was on and battle commenced . The crowd gathered again and after a short but dogged fight another large Cat was in the net and I required help to lift it onto the un-hooking mat, it was obviously a similar size to the one caught earlier but was it bigger? , well yes it was! At 90lbs it broke my UK personal best by another 5lbs.
I have now packed my catting gear away for the rest of this year but I will definitely be back at Slough House next year. Speculation has it that the fishery will soon breach the hundred pounds mark based on the number of big fish coming through .That possibility came a little closer in October 2015 when one of the bailiffs landed a 98lbs Catfish, looking forward to next summer.