Catfishing Novice Goes To Spain

The idea of travelling to far off places for different fish and new fishing experiences has really captured my imagination.

Through reading angling articles, the internet and watching fishing programmes I identified three or four angling challenges I would like to pursue. I’ve just been lucky enough to fulfil one of those by travelling to the mighty River Ebro at Mequinenza, Spain.

As a total novice to catfishing I decided that I needed a guided trip and after researching the options on the internet and emailing a few people for information I decided to book my trip with Bavarian Guiding Services. It was a good choice as the Bavarian camp was right on the river bank and their set up allowed me a lot of flexibility with my fishing. The flexibility was something I enjoyed and suited me better than going with some of the other more rigid guided services.

I also met up with another angler, Chris Trimmer, who was travelling alone and we fished all week together. You will hear a lot more about my angling companion later on but Chris could talk the hind legs off not one donkey but six! (And then he’d still have breath left for a few more jokes he had stored somewhere in is memory.)

The English guide at the Bavarian Camp was Gary Allen. I phoned him a few weeks before the trip and he advised that if I was hiring tackle that I didn’t really need to bring anything at all along. I didn’t know what to expect so took just a few small items of tackle mainly carp hooklinks etc that I used for a brief spell later in the week. (It would have been handy if I had taken some gloves for handling the catfish and some pliers to help unhook them with)

My fishing diary below tells its own story:

Saturday 30th July 200

I was travelling with my partner, Michelle, for the trip and we arrived in Mequinenza around midday on the Saturday. In the afternoon Gary took us out on his boat for a quick tour of the main spots on the river Ebro/Segre junction and pointed out markers on the bank and in the river that I could use to find the drop offs, features and old river bed. Back in camp, Gary put together my hire tackle and tied up some hooklengths. The hooks went up to 8/0 in size and the hooklink was 180lb Kevlar thread. This is apparently used to make bullet proof vests! Mainline was also 180lb test. The rig was fished as a simple running rig. The rod was a strong cat or boat rod with a large multiplier reel.

There was a presumption that I knew what I was doing so if you are a novice you must ask Gary or whoever your guide is for as much information as possible and also explain that you are a novice. They must see that many anglers that it is hard to keep a check on those that need help and advice especially as the Bavarian camp caters a lot for more experienced anglers who go out alone and do their stuff. Make sure you ask about landing and unhooking the cats, tactics, bait etc etc etc. I found throughout the stay that the camp had gear there that I could utilise but until I asked for it or went looking I was not given all the stuff I needed (Again probably because many anglers bring a lot of their own gear) My best advice is that you hire a guide until you have caught plenty and learnt even more because they bring you their knowledge and gear!

The going bait at the moment is large Halibut pellets and I purchased my first 25kg sack on the first day. I went through 4 sacks in the week and at 59 euros a sack it was one of the hidden expenses of the holiday. However, without bait you won’t catch the cats. During the week I fished with either 8 large pellets on a necklace on 10lb mono twisted directly onto the hook or a hair with 5 pellets on. The size of the lead, end tackle and bait was beyond my comprehension until I got used to using it.

On the first night I fished down near the new bridge in Mequinenza on the River Segre. The weather was warm and sunny. In fact I fished in shorts and t shirts all week even into darkness.

It is impossible to cast the tackle and so I boated the baits out while Michelle fed the line off the rod from the bank. You need to be able to handle a boat on a big water if you are going to fish alone or as a pair on the Ebro or you need a guide or need to fish with a company that takes out the anglers in groups.

I had no fish on the first evening.

Sunday 31st July 2005

I fished on the Ebro/Segre junction on Sunday morning and again boated the baits out and fished from the bank. Again, I had no joy. In hindsight it was a good thing. I was not equipped or ready to deal with a huge cat but I was soon to learn a few catfishing lessons.

Once I met up with my guide, a german called Tom, and my fishing partner Chris Trimmer, who was sharing my guide, the fish made an appearance. Guiding is normally from 6am to 1pm or 4pm to 11pm and so we made a start at 4pm.

Tom took his van round to the swim on the Ebro as we were to fish from the bank and Chris and I took the boat from the camp up to the swim. The swim we fished was between the new bridge on the Segre and the old bridge that crosses the Ebro. I will call this the snag swim.

The fishing was slow for everyone and so I was just hoping for my first cat and nothing more. Chris had fished the Ebro seven times before and he was after BIG cats. He had caught 38 cats one week but expected a much smaller number this week. Chris was an accomplished angler and I learnt a lot from him. He has fished big waters before including Cassein and Salagou and he taught me some good boat skills to take onto Windermere once back home.

Tom went out in the boat and using an echo sounder found the bed of the old river course and put out markers. (The Ebro has been dammed in several places, flooding the valley and meaning the old river bed and the shelves created are good spots to fish to). The large baits where then boated out by Tom to varying distances and depths. He expertly dropped a kilo of pellets over each rod after the end tackle had been lowered into position. The rods where then placed in large metal beachcasting rod rests and tightened to the heavy leads used to hold bottom and prick the large hook into the cats hard mouth. There is no need for Delkims or such like as bells are attached to the rod tops. These bells rattle like mad when a catfish takes and wrenches the rod tip round.

We agreed that we would share the rods and take turns with the fish. Chris kindly let me have the first take as I was waiting for my first cat.

We did not need to wait long as in the murky water the cats feed all day. The rod tip slammed round and I struggled to lift the rod out of the rest with
the force of the cat as it tore off. The reel screamed and the fish took metres of line against a very tight clutch. Several times I was pulled forward and the rod flattened out as the fish fought fiercely in the deep channel. As it slowed I would pump the rod and wind down to gain line only for the fish to power off again and again. The battle was a fierce and landing one of these large catfish is a real achievement. Several times I tired and had to pause for breath. Every time I relented the fish took control and more line. Despite lots of guidance and moral support from Tom and Chris the fish managed to find a snag. I jumped in the boat with Tom and we made our way over to the fish. Once above it and with brute force and some of Tom’s muscle helping to lever the rod up we brought the beast finally to the surface.

Once on the surface Tom tapped the catfish on the head and it powered off again. Only when a cat is beaten should you bring it into the boat and if you tap it on the head and it lies beaten you know it is safe to lift it in. With the cat finally beaten Tom tapped it on the head and then, with two gloved hands, hauled it into the boat and we set off back to shore. It was massive and the biggest fish I have ever seen.

On the shore it took all three of us to lift it out of the boat in a special cat unhooking mat and drag it up the steep bank for weighing and photographing. On the bank we jammed a boat oar into a tree and all three of us lifted the fish onto the scales and recorded a weight of 155lb. It was 2m 15cms long and both heavier and longer than I was. A magnificent fish for my first cat and one that I may never beat!

This was just the start of a fantastic session and soon after Chris landed a cat of over 100lb. Michelle turned up just in time to see this fish and just thinks these awesome fish are ugly.

I was soon into my next cat and Michelle saw me land one of approximately 120lb. At one point I was nearly pulled into the water and Tom had to grab hold of my waist to stop me as the clutch grudgingly gave line. It was 1m 85cms long but we did not weigh it as we had landed it in the boat and so just returned it to the water after taking a picture. This fought just as hard as the first and I was relieved when the battle was over.

The next capture by Chris (and Michelle) was an unusual one. One of the rods rung a few times and Chris was poised to strike. Then the rod next to it just ripped off. Chris leaned into the fish and a few minutes into the fight the first rod registered a take. Tom, the guide, picked up this rod and eventually decided that it was snagged and the other fish had swum into the line. It was decided that Chris would take to the boat and Tom would drive. Michelle was ‘volunteered’ to also take to the boat and wind in the snagged rod until it was freed or cut away. Michelle said that half way across the river her rod tightened up and as Chris’ fish took line the reel on her rod gave line off the clutch at roughly the same rate. Michelle was convinced she was in direct contact with the fish and kept telling the guys this but they just insisted she was snagged and Chris’ fish was on the line. The fish kept taking line and Michelle and Chris battled with the fish. Once the fish neared the boat Michelle’s line was cut to free the danger and then the fish was pulled on board. When they attempted to unhook the fish they found it hooked fairly twice by both sets of tackle! The fish must have picked up the first bait and hooked itself and dropped back and then picked up the bait on the second rod signalling a take. The fish was again over the 100lb mark but was immediately returned to the water as it had a bleeding mouth and the water would clot the flow of blood.

I then hooked into a brutal fish that soon snagged me up and after taking to the boat we retrieved the end tackle from a tree branch on the bottom as the fish had slipped the hook.

Chris then had a flying take and he could not stop the fish and it kept going and going and going at a phenomenal rate. Chris really leaned into the fish to stop it and the line cut clean through. He cursed and cursed knowing he had pulled too hard to stop the fish.

It got worse before it got better and I pulled out of another fish on the strike. Chris then lost another good fish to a snag.

Our luck changed with the last fish of the day. It had gone dark and even though next strike was mine I told Chris it was his as I didn’t fancy playing the fish in the dark and taking all the other lines out. He was glad I did as the last fish matched the first weighing in at 155lb. Again the fight had been a scrap from start to finish. Chris had gone out into the darkness on the boat with Tom and I couldn’t even see them in the inky blackness. Twice their voices indicated the fish was lost but when I heard the splashing and thrashing and a thud as the fish was pulled into the boat I knew it was landed and then their excited voices told me it was another whacker.

It was a great end to the session and we packed up straight after as Tom our guide was now on unpaid overtime. The total tally of fish was 5 cats all over 100lb with another 4 lost. A great result considering everyone else was struggling. The fish we lost are an occupational hazard of fishing for these powerful fish. Sometimes we are lucky enough to win the battle. I ended up with two large bruises on my upper leg were the cat had wrenched the rod down forcing the rod butt to smack into my leg.

Monday 1st August 2005

We opted to take our next guided trip first thing in the morning and we met Tom back at the snag swim at 6am.

The baits were boated out and first take was to be mine. Again the cats were kind and then cruel. A cat obligingly picked up a bait and then fought hard before finding a snag. Once out on the boat and above the fish the hook pulled.

Chris then lost another fish soon after the strike and I suffered a similar fate later. My fish shook its head several times before it dropped off. It was like a carp I managed to land later and may not have been a cat take at all. Still two definite cat takes and maybe three on a quiet morning was good.

In the afternoon we returned to the swim again and Chris and I fished together. He boated the baits out and I tightened up the tackle on the bank. I lost a large cat to
a cut off and Chris had suffered the same fate earlier. Most of the early evening saw rain and thunderstorms but the fish were still feeding.

I changed one rod to carp end tackle and fished a 25lb kryston snake bite gold hooklength and a size 2 hook. I fished one pellet on a hair topped by a scopex boilie. Minutes later the rod arched over and a 31lb common carp was landed. Michelle turned up just in time to see it on the bank. The carp rig accounted for another 20lb plus carp later in the evening.

Chris then landed a catfish of around 40lb to 50lb and I gloved and unhooked the fish for useful experience.

Tuesday 2nd August

We once again headed for the snag swim first thing in the morning. Following the rain the night before the weather was cooler and quite a breeze was blowing. This made it difficult to drop the rigs on the spots.

The action was slower. Chris lost a cat and I landed a common of about 18lb on the carp rig. Although no cats made it to the bank we were still getting some cats interested in our baits.

The afternoon saw us meeting up with Tom. He was going to show me how to buoy fish with live carp. We fished two rods with live carp under a large bung float and this was then attached to a fixed buoy that was dropped in the water. The bung float was attached to the buoy by a weak link. This would snap if a cat took the bait. Two other rods had carp ledgered on the bottom. The final two rods were on the pellet. We had no bites and another group next to us with 8 rods between them had nothing all day. Although the weather was starting to warm the fish still hadn’t switched back on again.

Wednesday 3rd August 2005

This was our worst day of fishing. We shouldn’t have bothered even going out on the water and even though the weather was warming up, the fishing wasn’t. Chris and I took our boats out and met up on the Ebro downstream of the junction. It was a beautiful place to fish with the castle in the background.

Chris used the echo sounder to locate the shelf and then dropped a marker. He then backed off the spot and anchored his boat up. I attached my boat to his. I would then boat out the baits before returning to the anchor spot. I learnt plenty of boat skills but we ended up fishless. Fishing next to us was Joe Taylor of J & K Tackle and his friend Steve. Joe and Steve where also staying in the wooden cabin next to us at the camp. Steve banked a cat of over a 100lb that morning. They were after big fish and managed to land a 160lb plus fish during the week.

In the afternoon we again fished from the boats this time with Tom, our guide. We anchored up in the junction of the Segre and Ebro but failed to catch using live carp and pellets. Tom brought his inflatable boat and rowed out the baits.

Every night of my stay the bleak had come to the surface after dark. They made a sound like running water and there must have been millions of them. Each night you would hear the cats attacking the bleak on the surface with splashes, crashes and tail slaps. One cat hit the surface so close to the boat it got us wet. We tried dappling bleak on the surface but we had no takers. You could also see the zander chasing the bleak along the surface. There are some huge zander in the Ebro.

Thursday 4th August 2005

I was tired from getting up at 5.30am every morning to go fishing and then staying out on the water until nearly midnight. Chris also had some sunstroke from the warmth of the day before so we both had the morning off fishing.

In the afternoon we met up with Tom. We went to fish the point swim upstream of the camp on the Segre. I wanted to try and catch another carp so we rigged up two rods for carp. The remaining rods went out into the main channel for the catfish. There was plenty of weed coming down the Segre and we had to back lead using heavy stones picked up from the bank attached to the line by a weak link. The session was very very hot and it remained uneventful until right at the death when one of Chris’ rods arched right over. The line was going straight down to the back lead and this pulled the rod right over on the take. I was in the boat packing up and Chris was asleep. Tom struck the rod and got a serious friction burn across his hand as the braid cut across his hand at great speed as the fish tore off. Chris took the rod as Tom jumped around in agony and cursing in unknown expletives in German.

Chris thought he had lost the fish as the rod just went solid and then was no kicking from the fish. It looked like the fish was gone and had left the hook in a tree branch. Chris wound a considerable amount of line in with no resistance other than the heavy current and snag. Suddenly the battle recommenced. The fish must have had a head covered in weed and led still until this was dislodged and then it awoke. After a protracted fight in the deep margins a 100lb plus cat at 2m 3cms long was hauled onto the bank.

Friday 5th August 2005

The final day of my trip was probably my most successful although I didn’t manage to break my personal best catfish! It was another scorcher and our afternoon session started at 6.30pm instead of 4pm due to the heat.

In the morning Chris went off with Tom as his guide and I fished a little further downstream. We had fished the area on Wednesday morning and I had seen several cats turning on the surface near a snag tree. I fished one of my baits close to this tree. I had also switched my hooklength and was using one tied by Gary. It was a smaller hook and had a hair that held 5 pellets. It was this more delicate presentation that produced three runs and two cats and the even more delicate carp rig also produced a catfish. On my final day I had three cats in the boat but the day had started off poorly. I had a flying run on the snag tree rod. The ratchet of the multiplier screamed out in agony as the fish tore off like an express train but when I pulled into the fish there was nothing. A close inspection of the hook revealed that it was blunt. Chris had been telling me all week to keep checking the sharpness of my hook. Now I had learnt his lesson the hard way.

Only 45 minutes later the same rod, with a much sharper hook, connected with a 55lb cat that only made it to the boat after a few scary moments tangled round a snag. Soon after I was back at base camp settling my bill and preparing for the final evening session.

The weather was so warm that Chris didn’t want to venture out until it had cooled. We were fishing one of Chris’ favourite swims and he reset his markers on the favoured drop off before anchoring to a tree. We were again fishing the junction area of the two rivers. I used my boat to drop our baits on the marked spot before tying up alongside Chris to fish.

Because the baits where situated close together one rod was backleaded to try and keep the lines from tangling. I was sat in my boat when I suddenly saw the backlead at eye level. It took me awhile to realise what had happened but a catfish had picked up the bait and lifted the backlead 3m from the bottom of the river and clear out of the water! There had been no indication from the rod tip or the reel but I immediately tightened up and struck.

The fish fought hard and after much pumping of the rod I drew the fish to the boat. There was sweat dripping down my face. The catfish managed to tangle my other line on the way in. Twice I was nearly pulled out of the boat and was only saved by the slipping clutch on the second occasion. I made sure I planted my feet firmly in the boat from then on.

The drama wasn’t over because as I drew the fish to the boat I knocked the reel into freespool and it dived straight to the bottom sending up a cloud of bubbles. I had fought hard to keep the fish up in the water and away from the tree we were anchored to and now I had let it dive straight to the bottom unhindered. I pumped the fish back up and fortunately the catfish gods smiled on me as it broke surface once again. Five times Chris tapped the fish on the head and everytime it dived off. This was a very lively fish. On the final dive we could sense it was tired and then Chris boated the fish perfectly the next go.

With the fish in a sling we lifted it onto the scales using an oar and the needle swung round to 105lb. It was a beautiful catfish and my third that week over a hundred pounds.

It wasn’t to be my last fish though as just before 11pm when we were about to pack up I had a take on a carp rig I had put out. For most of the battle I thought I was into a nice carp but when the fish came to the boat it was a catfish of about 25lbs. Chris unhooked the fish in the water and I waved my final cat of the trip and my holiday goodbye.

We motored back to the camp and said our goodbyes and I departed early the following morning before the anglers set off for their days fishing.

My special thanks go to Chris Trimmer, my fishing companion for the week, and Tom, my guide. Thanks also to Gary Allen and the rest of the Bavarian crew. Not to mention those who gave me information before I booked the trip.

Should I Go Then?

If you fancy a try for the catfish and are a total novice then you would be foolish not to go on a guided or package catfish holiday.

You need to be realistic about what you are going to catch. I was on the Ebro on what I understand was a slow week but like anywhere in the world fish just don’t jump on your hook and you have to work at it. My aim was to catch a catfish and build on from there. If you go with high expectation of loads of big fish you may end up disappointed. If you do catch loads then that’s a bonus. There will always be good spells and bad spells, just don’t pick the bad spell!

Mequinenza is the place to go for the big fish and there are some serious anglers fishing the area attempting to catch the real monsters that are there.

I had a great trip with the Bavarian Guiding Services and can recommend them highly. You can check out their website www.bavarian-guiding-service.de to gain more information. Don’t be afraid to give Gary a ring to obtain as much information as possible before going on your trip. He is a really helpful guy.

You need a licence to fish the Ebro and Bavarian will sort out all your permits in advance as long as you supply a copy of your passport. You are only permitted to use 2 rods. Another advantage of having a guide is they will also ‘fish’ with their 2 permitted rods maximising your chances. You are only allowed on the water to fish between 6am and midnight.

The most successful bait at the moment is pellet. I used 100kg in the week and it can be bought from your guiding service or one of the tackle shops.

There is very little to do in Mequinenza. Fishing is the number one attraction and with the 3 tackle shops as my main tourist attractions you soon realise there is little else for the family to do. Next to the main Bavarian camp is a public pool for swimming and sunbathing. The castle overlooks the town but is not currently open for tourists. There is a small market on a Wednesday morning. There are also two supermarkets. There are a small number of bars/restaurants and the food is cheap. I was fishing from 6am to midnight most days and so the lack of things to do was not a problem for me but non fishing guests could become very bored. There were some tennis courts attached to the local school but I am not sure if these could be used by the public.

Catmaster tours also operate in the area www.catmastertours.com I have no personal experience of their service but several people speak of them highly and they do produce the fish. I believe their days are more structured and you don’t have the same flexibility and freedom that you can get at Bavarian. I’m a wandering angler and I liked the freedom of having my own boat.

If you are after larger numbers of catfish then you should consider fishing the upper lake. I understand that the action is fast and furious but the average weight is not as high as at Mequinenza. A company that is recommended by many is Catfish Capers www.catfishcapers.co.uk

How Do I Get There?

I am based in the north west and so flew from with Ryanair from Liverpool to Reus airport. If you can get off peak flights the cost can be very cheap. You can also fly to Barcelona or Zaragoza.

I hired a car for the week from the airport for around £100 and the drive from R
eus to Mequinenza was about 1 hour 30 mins using the toll road that costs 6 euros. Having a hire car means it is easier to get around once in Mequinenza especially for any non fishing guests. There is also the option of being collected from the airport.

If you need any more advice from a novice cat fisherman you can email me martinsalisbury@blueyonder.co.uk I can pass on my novice tips and also pass on the information I gathered from anglers there and before I went on the trip.

Martin Salisbury
August 2005