Last month my friends and I travelled to the river Ebro in Spain in search of just such a fish. Here's what happened.
This was about my tenth trip in search of a ton-up catfish. I honestly don't know anyone else who has had to work so hard for one. Last year for instance one chap in our IAC party had his first ever cat at 125lb! There's no justice is there? This years attack party was a much slimmed down group, just three of us. My two companions were Ian Wakeford, on his second trip to the Ebro, looking to beat a PB of 65lb from a French lake and Gordy Howse, also on his second Spanish cat mission with a 90lber already under his belt.
The beauty of fishing Spain is that you can fly out and be at he waters edge within a few hours. So I did. Ian and Gordy chose to drive, which helped us bring the usual 'more tackle than we could ever hope to use'. In fact there was little that we didn't use for some strange reason.
The guys collected me from the airport and we mooched down to the village of Bitem where we met up as arranged with Peter Sales, his wife Ness and son Dan. Peter and Dan are setting up a guiding service for the lower river and were a great help to us whilst we were there.
After a prolonged cuppa we set out for 'Testosterone Beach', the scene of last years success. That's when we hit problem No 1. The river was in flood, three or four foot up. The knock-on effect was that the bank space was reduced by 15 to 20ft - and added to this, about a dozen Mancunian anglers were also fishing there! We mooched around for a few hours before setting up a bivvy to get some sleep. We didn't fish that night as we had caught no bait fish anyway and had resolved to move to another less crowded spot the next morning, which we did. Before leaving the beach area we were fortunate to witness one of the northern anglers land a fish of 107lb from the boat launching area. It was the first catfish that any of them had caught in two weeks - things were not looking good.
Dawn the next day found us setting up camp at a new area, which we christened Machismo Bay. Our next problem then emerged. Both the outboard motors we had access to were stuffed - so it was all down to Cap'n Maynard's rowing skills for the rest of the week.
We had been supplied with a cwt of Whizzo GLM carp groundbait, just the stuff to bring the baitfish on, so we started swim-feedering but with limited success. Even the bait fish were off the feed with all the cold flood water. Fortunately, Dan took some of the Whizzo off to catch us a bunch of crucians from a distant swim. Perfect baits.
That night, things felt right. We all had baits in the water, mostly in productive looking areas. At midnight, a screaming take sounded from Gordy's left hand rod and we rushed from our beds to witness the fight. The tiredness fell away as the fight progressed and eventually a huge catfish wallowed in the margins. I waded in. After a couple of aborted attempts - this was a very lively fish - I eventually gloved it and we strung it up for the night. Come the daylight, next morning we improvised a weigh-sling by cannibalising an airbed. Trying out both the new Reuben Heaton scales and Ian's Avery scales determined that we had a whopper which both sets of scales agreed weighed 102lb. Gordy had joined the ton-up club.
The next night, despite hardly any sleep for days now, things were still feeling right. During the afternoon we had spotted a cat cruising past us only a rod-length out and this had boosted our confidence even higher. I think we all knew that night was going to be a good one. Just as sleep decided to pay me a visit for the first time in what seemed to be a decade, a buzzer sounded. It was Gordy, the same rod again, it looked as if he had found a hot-spot. After another long dogged struggle, again I got wet feet. We put the fish on a stringer after determining that it was just short of the ton at 96lb. Smug congratulations over, we went back to bed.
For about ten minutes. Then it all happened at once. Buzzers were sounding everywhere and confusion was all around. I found myself waking up with a rod in my hand and a catfish bucking on the end of the line. To my left, I could see Ian silhouetted against the sky, his rod hooped into an impossible curve playing a catfish. Now, I know that the Ebro can be prolific but this is the first time I have ever witnessed a double hook-up. Within the blackness there were fears that we might be playing the same fish - it's happened before, but no. We were both in to separate fish. My cat was soon brought to heel. Even with a 5lb TC rod that should not really happen on the Ebro unless Yes. There it was, a kitten for the Ebro at a mere 38lb. Without even bothering to photograph it, Gordy and I turned our attentions to Ian who was still battling with his fish. This was no kitten. Another ten minutes passed before we were hauling the monster up the bank. The catfish looked to be very big indeed and we were all quite surprised when it pulled the scales around to a 'mere' 106lb. I had it pegged at around 120 but appearances can be deceptive when fish are this big and anglers are this tired.
The rest of the week was almost uneventful by comparison. I had a fish rip the rod from the tripod one night, by the time I had found it in the dark, the catfish responsible was long gone. Gordy too had another take the following night. After playing a fish for a couple of minutes, his line came back slack, with a little curley whirly end. I think Gordy has decided put an extra turn in his knots since that night!
Our trip ran out of steam at that time. A few miles upriver, gates on the big weir were opening to allow a six inch flood of cold water to pass downstream every half-hour. It was this continuous flood of cold water which put the cats down. After a few days of that, even local guide Pete Evans was complaining. For the first time ever in 3 or 4 years, he suffered three days of blanking one after the other.
All in all we did quite well considering the conditions. After we had been home a few days, Pete phoned me from Spain. We were lucky that we went when we did, now the river was fifteen foot up!
Peter and Dan made a major difference to our trip, supplying us with copious quantities of perfect livebaits and a lot of helpful assistance. To those of you who used to be looked after by Nick Rowe on the lower river, be aware that Nick has moved away. Peter and Dan should be able to help fill the gap for you though.
Contact Peter and Dan at Fishytales@hotmail.com or tel 0034 977 596782