Ebro Adventure

I don’t really know what’s the attraction of Mequinenza.  It’s hot, dusty, busy and almost desolate, but I just love it.  Mountains surround the river and you get some wicked sunrise and sunsets, and I’s all overlooked by an ominous castle.

 

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Mequinenza castle
 
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Sunrise in front of the apartment we stayed in on our first visit

Perhaps it the huge catfish or the mega hard fighting carp, both of these help, or perhaps it’s the fact that I haven’t really sussed it yet.  I’ve got a lot of unfinished business there.  Whatever the reasons, I can’t wait to go back again.

I’ve been three times now, managing to catch 100lb plus cats every time, which sounds good but it’s been hard work and I feel I should have caught more.  I’ve not done so well on the carp though, having had them to 28lb, but Vic Savage had a 30lb common on the first trip, Chippy Dave had them to near 30 and Pedro, our Spanish friend, had a 38lb.  I did manage a mirror of 21lb, which seemed to impress a few, but I would have preferred a 40lb common.

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My best fish from our first session, I think, they all look similar
 
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Chippy Dave with a typical long fighting machine

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Pedro with his 38 pounder

ebro6_370444759.jpgVic’s best carp was his PB common so it was a personal VICtory for him.  It was so funny, that fish looked 30lb.  He was so exited when it was netted, I just couldn’t resist a little wind up.  Dave and I weighed it and kept the scales facing away from Vic.  Before Dave could say anything I blurted out 27.12.  Dave looked at me and I looked at Vic and could only keep a straight face just long enough to see their silly expressions.  Dave’s look was a big “WHAT!” Vic’s look was “I DON’T BELIEVE IT!”  I can’t remember the weight but it was a 30lb common, a target that Vic had been after for years.  His look of relief was just as good.

In all fairness to our trips we haven’t gone at the best times of year.  Anne loves the sun, so we’ve been in July, August and September, whereas the end of March, May and early June are best for the cats and December, January, February and March sound like the best months for carp.

The first trip was the biggest beginners trip ever.  Six of us went, Dave and Dee, Vic and Carol and Anne and me.  We stayed in a three, bedroom apartment right on what they call the Front, overlooking the River Segra.

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Action in front of the apartment

I had gone out there well under gunned for the catfish.  I actually only own one multiplier and several big pit reels.  These were loaded up with 30lb Fireline, which I’ve caught shark, tarpon and other hard fighting fish on in Florida.  The thing is, in Florida, you can let them go a bit and play them to a standstill, following them across the sea in a boat.  There aren’t many snags in Florida, but the Ebro and Segra is a totally different situation.  Not entirely snag city, but certainly restrictive on how far you can allow a fish to run.

Jason Latham, one of the best guides on the Ebro and now a good friend, gave me some good advice on beefing my gear up, A LOT.  He also poured out loads of other good advice from his considerable head full of knowledge.  Typical me, I only half listened because I like to do it my way.   

So the 30lb Fireline had to come off the cat rods and was replaced with 300mtr. spools of 90lb.  Jason wasn’t all that convinced, although he didn’t say anything.  I knew what was in his mind though; he has a tell tale look about him when he doesn’t approve.

Just me and Anne fished the first night for the cats; Jason was back and forwards between Joe Taylor’s swim and us, keeping an eye on us.  He gave us one or two extra pointers, suggesting fishing just into the deep centre channel, so a rod was boated out there, about 100mtrs out, and the other one was boated out another 50-70mtrs out from that.  By the time we got set up, it was nearly dark.  No one had anything but anticipation; certainly in my mind it was high.

An hour into dark we had one or two sharp pulls on the shortest rod.  I would race up, pick the rod up and feel for some kind of tug, but every time there was nothing.  I’ve caught many big fish off small bites and so I didn’t like to leave things to chance.  On the other hand, I didn’t really want to row another bait out in the dark.  It was such a rush to set up that I didn’t really have a clue as to where the baits were.  I needn’t have worried, though, as suddenly the rod just whacked over and the clutch screamed.  I picked the rod up and thumbed the multiplier spool as long as I could, until my finger burnt, to pull the hook in hard and then passed the rod to Anne.

It was obviously a good fish and Anne really was struggling to hold the rod up.  She had to wedge herself against the car in the end just to remain stable and not slide in.  She would gain a few yards and then have to give line back again.  It was a delight to see her struggle so much, although I don’t think she was so sure.  After a few minutes, I thought I’d better go and get some help from Joe Taylor’s camp.  It wasn’t that we needed it for the tug of war with the hooked fish I just didn’t have a plan for when we got it in!

Obviously it was a good one.  Neither of us mind too much how big they are, but the first big fish of any species is going to be special, so at least we wanted to see it.
I walked down to Joe Taylor’s camp and dragged some of the lads away from their brandy.  They all thought I was mean leaving Anne on her own with a big cat, but I knew she wouldn’t have it anywhere near to the bank just y
et and she has caught big fish before.  To cut a long fight short, we tightened the clutch up on the reel and Anne finally won to the point where Ed, one of the lads, could grab the leader and finally the cats lower jaw.

There isn’t a landing net big enough for such a big fish so the method is to simply put your metal-gloved hand inside the mouth and grasp the lower jaw.  The hard, spiky pad is ideal to get your fingers over and hold the fish securely.   The next step is to get the fish onto a stringer, a length of rope with a loop about 2 1/2 ft from the end.  The loose end is passed through the gill plate, being careful not to go over any gill rakers, and out of the mouth.  Then several overhand knots through the loop and the cat is secure.  That sounds easier than it is, but once done the cat can have a breather as soon as it is unhooked, ready for photos.

We decided to leave the cat on the stringer over night, about 4-6 hours and do the photos in the morning, something I will never do again because even though the stringer is soft thick rope it does rub against the skin a bit.

We’d just got calmed down, Anne was still a bit shaky, and then the second rod was away.  This one was on a big pit bait runner and it was immediately obvious the reel wasn’t up to it.  The 30lb line that was on it is about as heavy as a bait runner can take.  The 90lb line it now had just about killed the reel with the help of another monster cat.

It was just impossible to stop the clutch without holding the spool.  To gain line I had to walk backwards holding the clutch and then rush forward again cranking furiously.  Eventually though, I won and we had two cats on stringers ready for the photos.  Not a bad first evenings work - 2 cats, one on each reel.

In the morning all the crew came down to help with the pictures.  Jason sorted us out for the best shots; it helps if you’ve done it hundreds of times before.  I was a bit upset how they had battered themselves on the stringer, but in the excitement of it all we hadn’t given it a second thought the night before.  Both cats swam off strong though and were extremely lively.  Anne’s was 130lb and mine was 135lb.  Not the hugest fish in there, but we were well happy just the same.

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Anne and Joe have known each other for years, I still think he did well to get away with this though!!!

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We decided on the brace shot - it felt good!!!

That day/evening we fished the same swim, catching I think 4 cats but no real big ones.  I had the last one of the day because I’m quickest on the rods, at an estimated 100lb plus, not my estimate though because they all look huge to me. Jason and Joe can both estimate them extremely accurately, guessing to within a pound or so.  Joe had one, I think at 176lb that day, which was guessed and then weighed accurately
at 176lb, incredible, I couldn’t have been within 50lb no matter 1 or 2 pounds.  Some of the 70-90 pound cats we had that day were a lot easier to hold for the photos.  After struggling to handle the 130lb plus fish the night before, we were actually pleased to have some we could handle on our own. It's all good practice.

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Cats of below100 pound are so much easier to hold
 
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The Spanish team were also fishing and came to say “cheers” before they left

Going it alone, so to speak, un-guided is not as easy as it seems.  For me, someone who has done a lot of placing baits by boat, carp fishing, been around heavy tackle and used on occasion all types of reels and rods, it is still tricky.  It's not just the gear needed to catch them, it’s the experience on the river, handling big fish, the best feeding depths, snags, the flow, drifting weed tricks and an whole lot more.  Without the help of Jason, Joe and the other lads pointing us in the right direction we would have struggled to the point of losing the fish we did catch.  Thanks, boys.

For the rest of that first week we caught one or two more cats and a few carp, moving about here and there.  Dave had a fish we think was 100 plus, but Vic unfortunately never topped the 100lb mark.  We should have caught more, so we went back in September for another go.

When we turned up in September there had been a carp fish kill, which was very distressing.  We’d heard about it in the UK, but still decided to go because rumours are always blown out of proportion.  It turned out there had been a fish kill, carp only, due to some work up river, spraying insecticide against a Moroccan black fly outbreak.  A lot of carp had been collected by the authorities, which impressed me.  Several skip loads in fact, mostly small but with one or two bigger ones up to over 50lb.  In real terms, there wasn’t 1% of the population affected but the fishing was slow, possibly due to the insecticide still being present in the water, but possibly also to the sheer heat.

We started off by having the usual look around and saw carp and cats on the Ebro opposite where the Segra runs into it, so that’s where we started.

After sussing it out a bit more, though, we found sunken buildings in the swim and also great depths to about 35ft.  Still we were seeing fish, so there we stayed for a couple of days, waiting for it to happen!!!

The cats were very active all night and morning, striking at the surface over the deep water.  We couldn’t get a bite from them though except the one and only one we saw show in about 18ft of water.  It rolled over my baits and then ate it, simple as that.

ebro12_306734125.jpgIt gave me the usual heart stopping fight, made worse by the knowledge of the sunken buildings.  I just hung on as hard as I could and finally won.  I didn’t know how big it was because we didn’t have scales big enough. Somewhere about 100-150lbs – vague, I know, but then it doesn’t really matter to me.  If I weigh a fish, I like to think my scales are accurate, properly zeroed and the needle is still enough to be spot on, but when I haven’t got scales it isn’t really important, is it?

We’d only hooked two carp and the one cat in 2 ½ days so we upped-sticks and moved to the Segra on “pellet alley”.  That evening, Vic had his first 100lb cat at 163lb.  It looked huge, if I had to guess I would have said 200lb.  Vic is like me, he doesn’t really mind, it’s catching the fish that matters, the rest is just a personal
record, not a lot to do with anyone else.  We weighed it though, borrowing the scales and some help from the angler’s in the swim next door.  Thanks again to these lads.

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Vic’s 162

 
The next day, the next-door neighbours had a few as well, but we blanked.  I had a carp, but it was painfully slow.  We stayed there a few more days, but caught nothing.  I get restless in one swim, especially if I’m not catching and spent a lot of time moaning, reading and getting very twitchy.

Jason was guiding 4 anglers and catching a few from the top lake, but dropped in one day, a few yards upstream and bagged a 202 pounder.  I would have loved to see that.  He was off again soon after, searching out somewhere to catch the next one.  He’s mentally keen and takes it very personal if he can’t produce the goods for his customers.  Like I said, a very good guide!!!

ebro14_145537354.jpgThat made me even more restless, and so we packed up and had the last night in a fresh swim.  We had a baby cat and the 21lb mirror mentioned earlier.

Hard work, that September trip.  I personally think we would have caught just as many in front of the apartment on the Front that we used as our base, but who knows? We tried.  The whole venue was fishing hard, even Jason was a little bit stumped and he can usually suggest somewhere to put you on fish. That’s fishing, isn’t it?  Still, Vic had a personal best fish, again, and I possibly did as well depending on how big the Ebro fish was, which isn’t something that happens all the time, is it?

The latest trip we’ve done was across the first two weeks of August this year.  Again, possibly not the best time of year but we do go there for a holiday break as well.  Vic couldn’t make it so it was Dave, Dee, Anne and I this time.

Jason had lent us gear before and offered to sort out the proper cat rods for us, so this time we were a bit more prepared.  He has never said anything, but I know he doesn’t approve of our lighter tackle.  He does have a point and really I wouldn’t go again after this trip without the right gear. Rods, reels, braid, and hooks, especially.

I didn’t realise Jason not only fully guides cat and carp trips, but he does part guides, rents the proper tackle out and offers all the services you could ever want.  It does take away the hard work of laying your hands on the serious cat gear and you can be sure Jason’s gear is first class tackle, really up to the job It’s been tried and tested enough times.  Saying that, because he knows me he doesn’t let me have his best stuff, but then I wouldn’t in his situation, his tackle is his livelihood and I’m real unlucky at times with tackle.

Anyway, we started off on the Ebro for the first day, blanked, but heavily baited it with the intention of returning.  Unfortunately, some Spanish anglers moved into the swim and caught a few carp casting short of the baited area.  We could have done with getting back in there, but as one lot left, another lot took their place.  Never mind.
We then moved to a precarious high swim, which I think we fished badly.  On reflection, we should have fished the cat rods short, in the main channel.  We had a few carp takes near the island margins, but for whatever reason pulled out of most of them, so we moved again onto the “point”.

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Anne perched on the top of the high swim

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Anne and I love a dip when the going gets tough

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Anne bullying me again

ebro18_627732196.jpgBy this time both ends of the point were taken, which peeved me a bit. I had clocked the ends of the point as good carp areas.  We were left with the middle of the point and the back- bay.  On the stroke of midnight (you are not permitted to fish after midnight) I had a cat take on the most right hand rod.  It really pulled like mad, semi- snagged me in the edge and felt huge, even on Jason’s mega tough tackle.  In the end, though, we had it under control thanks to Dave’s cat landing skills.  Not wanting to stringer the fish up all night, we phoned Jason who came out to help weigh and photograph a really long 150 pounder.

That was the only take on the first night, but on the second night we had a string of drop backs, 3 or 4 we missed but then I managed to connect with one, a baby 20-odd pounder.  Dave had a long-range carp and Anne missed a carp take, but without the big cat action we decided to have a move again.

The next day we moved into the sanctuary area.  Jason once again helped us move and took us to get the different day tickets we needed.  While everyone was sorting themselves out, at bars and back at where we were staying, I got the gear together and cast a couple of carp rods out.  Just when everyone came back, when my back was turned, Dave nicked a carp on the left hand rod.  That was a good sign, so were the next three takes in the next half hour.

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Anne in action in the new swim, within minutes of coming back from the bar
 
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I still hadn’t caught a carp!!

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Keeping an eye on the tips in the sanctuary swim

Just Anne and I fished the rest of the day in the new swim.  The carp went quiet, but I had a good mid-afternoon cat take.  As soon as I hit it, it kited left, just like Jason said it would, “know all”, and it eventually snagged me round the corner.  Anne turfed every thing out of the boat quick and I went after my fish, disappearing around the corner.  It seemed
that the cat was only through one snag, so after trying dipping the rod tip right under and all the other tricks I could think of, I only had one option left.  That was to play the cat through (or round) the snag until its nose could sort of pluck the line free.

The cat obviously resisted this and at times I was forced to even give line, but very begrudgingly I might add.  We both wanted to win and we both tried as hard as we could, but Jason’s gear started to get the better of it.  Eventually, everything was locked solid and for a few seconds it was stalemate.  Then the cat must have got a bit bored and ever-stronger vortexes started to burst to the surface all around the boat.  I was beginning to think it had got off until then.

Suddenly there was a huge judder and it was free.  It immediately decided to dive, but while we were at the stalemate stage, I’d slipped a glove on, so I locked the spool solid. The rod bent and bent, I leaned back and “crack”, the spigot broke and the tip section disappeared over the side.  It made me jump a bit and I had let go of the spool.  The cat headed for the bottom and possibly the snags again, so I hung on as hard as possible again.  Next thing, I was being pulled, in the boat, sideways, with water lapping over the side like something from “Jaws”!  When the rod snapped, I had lost line to the fish, so now I tried cranking some back.  My re-snag panic was over to a degree, because we were now in mid river, but then I realised I couldn’t gain line under pressure because the rod ring had collapsed.  I had to turn the rod upside down, which meant I had to gain line by winding backwards.  That took a minute to sort out.

Back in a kind of control, over the top of the fish, with a 3ft stick, I just wanted the bloody thing in.  I’ve done a lot of boat work for carp and other species, but this wasn’t going to any kind of plan.  Several times, I got the tip section to the surface only to see it disappear again.  I took a little time off to slip the glove on the other hand and then kept telling myself I’ll hand line it in.  The way it kept powering down to the bottom, though, I don’t think I could have done this, not with the tip section in the way.  I had to tire it out some more.  It had been one hell of a battle so far; I still wanted to win, so I relaxed a bit and pulled some more but trying not to rush it.  After about the tenth time that the tip surfaced, it had took its toll on the fish, so I decided that the next time I dragged it back up I was going to go for it.

The tip came up again, I wound it right up to the butt section, reached over and grabbed the line, held it for a few seconds and then steadily lifted the fish up until I could grab the hook link.  She was well beaten now and she came up to the surface with her mouth open just enough to get my hand inside.  I pushed the broken rod to one side, got the other hand in her mouth and, surprisingly easily, pulled her into the boat.  She filled it; I had to do a bit of shuffling about to get into a rowing position and rowed back to the swim as quickly as possible.

Jason had turned up earlier in the boat battle and thought I had gone off and left Anne on her own, looking after the other 3 rods. I had, but then she informed him that I was last seen being towed round the corner.  He called out to see if I was okay, to which I said I was. Twenty-five or so minutes later, I re-appeared and they were both sat cheerily grinning at me when I rounded the corner.  I informed Jason that I had broken his rod and, to both their surprises, had got the cat in the boat.

We soon had the hook out, stringer on and gave her a breather at the end of the rope while we sorted out the scales etc. 162lb of tough old catfish, a known fish that had been nicknamed Freddy Kruger, a proper war horse character.  She was a new PB and an awesome story to tell.

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Jason lends a hand sorting Freddy out

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Freddy Kruger
 
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Jason’s snapped rod.  Never mind, me and Anne are soon getting the bait back out
 
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Jason’s tough reels and line was essential, it’s what landed me Freddy Kruger
 
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Very smelly 2 day-old squid hook-bait
 
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Equally smelly soaked, glugged pellet ground-bait

It didn’t end there. When it came to the photo’s, Jason persuaded me further into the water than I wanted to go, telling me there was a shelf, which I didn’t believe. Eventually I took the step and found the shelf he’d promised and we got some good water shots, with me stood on tiptoes. Jason forgot he’s a good six inches taller than me!

Later that night I had another big cat.  I wanted Anne to take the rod, but I don’t think she fancied a boat battle in the dark.  This one behaved itself though and didn’t power downstream as far as the snags.  It came back round the corner, into the deep margin, and she was mine with relatively little fuss.

ebro28_233696062.jpgUnhooked, stringered-up and under control, we got ready for some photos.  We’d decided not to bother weighing it. I couldn’t do it on my own and Anne probably couldn’t have held the other end of the weigh bar, anyway.  We managed three not-very-good headshots of the fish and it then went ballistic, clamping my hand, twisting and turning until it spat me out, slithered back into the water and escaped.  We thought it was hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing.  Good luck to it.  That was it for the evening, there’s no fishing after midnight so we reeled in until morning.

Some time after first light we chucked 2 carp rods out and had two takes straight away.  Anne had a little 'un and I lost
a good 20lb carp.  It then went quiet until midday, when we had another cat take. Dave had returned by then and had taken over the cat rods and he had one about 70lb. I really wanted him to have a good one, 100lb plus, so he had the cat rods and I concentrated on the carp.  Unfortunately, he had just one more proper take, another 70 (72lb, to be precise) and that was the last chance.  I don’t think Dave minded, but I would have loved him to catch a good one, especially if it led him a merry dance like Freddie Kruger led me.

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One of Dave’s 70 pounders

The last night, we blanked on the cats. Loads of excuses, but I don’t think the two boats 50 meters down stream helped, petrol engines back and forth all evening as well.
The carp rods had got busier and busier during the day as we put more and more bait in.  The baby cats, between 2-20 pound are a bit of a nuisance, eating pellet and boilies, but still good fun on carp gear.  We had a few 20lb carp to 24 pound, but the big ones were evading everyone. Perhaps they were in the Ebro, hiding in the thousands of acres somewhere.

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One of many “kittens”

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Best carp of the last trip, 24 pound

 
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Dave with another 20. We had a string of 20's that day
 
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Only one carp snagged us, well and truly stuck in the reeds, we lost it!

Wherever the carp are hiding, I’m going to have another crack at them this winter. Just Dave, Jason and me.  It will be too cold to take the sun worshippers, Anne and Dee.

There are good carp to be caught - there have been loads of 30’s - a good amount of 40's, some 50's and two 60's, although there are a lot of smaller fish to wade through.  Except on the last trip, we saw good fish in reasonable numbers each visit, so that’s enough for me.....fingers crossed!      

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I’ll be back!!!!
 
My mate, Jason Latham, runs guided trips and is one of the best guides on that part of the Ebro.  I've seen him in action, he works his nuts of to get his clients fish. Check out his website on  www.fatcatzfinecarp.co.uk