By Chester Moore, Jr.
Mequinenza, Spain - It was hard to believe what I was experiencing. With my rod doubled over, muscles aching and sweat pouring from every pore in my body, I found myself battling a wels catfish on the beautiful banks of the Segra River in Spain. As the water churned and boiled 50 yards from the bank, a fish I had dreamed about catching since I was a youngster surfaced. And it was a monster. Experienced anglers know there is a moment when the strain of battle breaks the will of a fish and victory is a matter of reeling in dead weight. This was not such a moment. The drag on my reel peeled as if my quarry caught a second wind and ran out toward the main channel. I had to brace myself on the rocky bank so that the force of this whiskered brute would not pull me in with it. In what seemed like an hour but was probably more like 15 minutes, my biceps were in the cramping stage and the fish finally heading toward shore. Anticipations ran high as my guide Ade Melbourne of Catfish Concepts entered the water to land it.
The dream of catching a wels was born when my father called me into the living room to see a report on the evening news about giant catfish in Europe. I will never forget seeing seven and eight feet long wells swimming in a tank as a reporter interviewed a European fishing expert. For years, they would swim in my dreams as I read everything I could get my hands on about them and one day planned to seek them out. Now the decisive moment was here as Melbourne grabbed the big fish and we carefully pulled it to the bank. I was ecstatic. Although not quite attractive in the standard definition of the word, the fish was beautiful to me. Its skin was a mixture of brown, yellow, black and white and its body, which would measure, more than seven feet in length looked like some strange hybrid of a flathead (opelousa) catfish and an eel. After a quick photo session, we weighed the hulking fish, which turned out to be 156 pounds. That is more than 30 pounds larger than the rod and reel record for any North American catfish species and on this stretch of rivers fish in excess of 150 pounds are non uncommon.
The author caught this 156-pound wels catfish that measured more than seven feet in length
The author's wife, Lisa, caught this 165-pounder
After releasing the fish, it was my wife Lisa’s turn to fish and as she has done on several occasions with other species, as any wife would like to do, she caught a bigger one. After a 30-minute battle that left her sore (even as I write this story three days later on a flight back across the Atlantic) she landed a 165-pounder. Lisa never dreamed of wels as I did but by the smile on her face, you would be hard pressed to convince anyone differently. That night I caught a 105-pounder that put up a better fight than my previous catch, making half a dozen runs toward bank and back toward the deep. This was a dark-colored specimen that measured six feet one inches, which is exactly my height. Catching catfish as long as a man is tall is a rarity in North America and has only been achieved by a few, but in Spain it will happen if you have the time to fish. “This is an amazing fishery,” Melbourne said. “Started with the release of only thirty wels about the same number of years ago and now we have fishing that is rightfully considered world-class. If the anglers keep practicing catch and release here as our operation does we could see some truly giant fish in the next few years,” he added.
When booking the trip with Dean Kennedy, owner of Catfish Concepts, a few months ago, I told him I hoped to catch a fish weighing more than 100 pounds. “Fish of that size are common here. You have a good chance of catching something weighing more than 150 pounds,” he said. And he was right. Live bait is a common practice in this area with angler using large live carp up to 10 pounds on floating rigs for bait. However, Kennedy prefers that his anglers use special catfish pellets rigged up on a string for bait. “The pellets are highly effective and are the way more and more anglers are going. We catch lots of big fish on them, so it’s hard to argue with success,” he said. If you have ever dreamed of catching a wels catfish you should start planning a trip now. Moreover, if you are simply looking for something exciting and different in the angling world, give a trip to Spain for wels fishing strong consideration. Most importantly, this is a place anglers label 100-pound catfish as “unimpressive” and fish exceeding 200 pounds are present. The current record there is 212 pounds but those who fish this scenic stretch of river know there are larger ones out there. How big they might get is anyone’s guess and adds an air of mystery to this fishing destination. This is indeed a place where angling dreams come true and fish of epic proportions thrill the anglers who dare to tread there.
Large surf rods set out from the bank were the ticket for catching the big wels
Chester Moore, Jr. - 2005
For more information on fishing for the giant catfish of Spain, go to www.catfish-spain.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at email@example.com.)