Catfish Or Barbel Make For Good Fishing And For Good Eating

They were called Beerhalls.  They were the Town Council’s answer to a Social Gathering point and Entertainment Centre for the poor.  The beer was brewed from ropoko, a type of locally grown millet, and the ‘masese’ (pronounced ma-ses-se) was the left over sediment from the brewing process.  It had a strangely pleasing smell.  Sour and fruity.


Pigs ate it enthusiastically probably because it was intoxicating and it made excellent fish bait.  Two or three handfuls thrown into the water thirty minutes or so before dropping in the fishing line meant that the fish were gathered there, just ready to be hooked.  (That was the fisherman’s wish anyway!)  As an alternative, a few people would get into the water with nets. Great jubilation always followed such occasions.  More commonly though one would hook a type of catfish known locally as barbel. (pronounced barbil)


The sewage ponds which served the village where we lived in Southern Africa were full of barbel. Sewage suited them perfectly and the reason for saying so is that they grew.  Really grew.  Both in size and in numbers.


My father-in-law had a photograph of a barbel – though not from the sewage ponds.  Two men were holding it up, shoulder high.  It’s tail touched the ground.  They can grow very big and when they do they provide the angler with a real challenge.


The unfortunate part of the sewage pond barbels was that local people fished them.  This could hardly have the making of a healthy diet for them.  Some things make one feel helpless and this was one.  Why wasn’t there a better source of food for the poor?  There are plenty of fruit bearing trees, pleasing to the eye, which could be planted rather than those which are primarily for ornamental purposes.  Oh woe to the powers that be!


In most parts of Southern Africa, only the larger rivers flow all the year round.  Even some of these shrink to a series of pools, connected by a meandering thread of slow-flowing water, too shallow for fish to swim in.  The fish are then restricted to the pools.  If, as often happens, the first meaningful downpours of the rainy season are late in arriving, the life-giving trickle between pools dries up, and most of the fish are in big trouble.  The smaller pools dry up completely and fish species like bream and silver are stranded, gasping, at the mercy of birds of prey, carnivores such as jackals and hyena and of course, man.  Only the barbel escape.  They do so by burrowing deep under the mud before it is altogether dry, and there they lie hidden until the rain revives the river and they can wriggle free, ready to continue life as usual.  There have also been reports of their ability to move across dry land looking for water, although they can only survive doing this while their skin stays moist, which would not be for long.


They derive their name from the whiskers, or barbels, growing out sideways from the front of their heads like a spiky moustache, tendrils 6? or more in length, giving them an aggressively fearsome appearance. Those found in Southern Africa have distinctively flat heads with wide mouths, unlike the more fishy-faced types elsewhere.


Remember June 25, 1987?  President Ronald Reagan established National Catfish Day to recognise the value of farm-raised catfish.  Catfish as food were introduced into Southern United States by migrants from Europe and Africa.  Channel catfish and Blue catfish are now mainly consumed and are predominant in both the wild and in fish farms.  They are a popular food choice, rich in vitamin D and with low levels of Omega 3.  Having no scales however, they are not considered ‘kosher’ food.


If you want to do some fishing, there are many different types of fishing crafts to choose from. But before that, there is an excellent website called landbigfish dot com which offers a search for fish species and location, by state in North America.  Just as an example a search turns up the Coosa River in Alabama as having both blue catfish and channel catfish.


The following three boats are a bit unusual and just might pique your interest.


Classic Accessories have the Colorado XT Pontoon Boat.  Pontoon boats are notably stable.


KL Industries have the Square Back Fishing 156 canoe with the built-in benefit of a motor-transom.  The canoe tracks well and has a capacity for 3 people.


Classic Accessories offer the Bighorn Pontoon Float Tube.  It has a raised seat for drier and warmer fishing with improved visibility.


If you think you would find the history of pontoons of interest then read ‘Pontoons are in Favour – Parts One & Two’.  Or you might find ‘Choose An Inflatable Kayak – An Overview of Main Brand Names’ useful.




The author is a retired high school teacher of geography and maths.

Free resources like ‘Quick Compare 35 Brand Name Kayaks’ are available to help you make a choice about which small boat to buy  Free small boat plans and instructions.

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