A Whiskery Week
By Phil Buckingham
When I first mentioned to my wife that I wanted to take my son Nathan on a holiday to Spain for the Whitsun half term chasing pussies I think she misunderstood me. But when I explained that Nathan was too young and I was too old for club 18 – 30 in Ibiza she calmed down and realised we meant Catfish!
So with approval granted we booked our week with Catmaster tours, in my opinion the best all in package if you want to fish for the giant catfish of the Ebro. The package includes a nice apartment near the river in the town of Mequinenza, pick-up to and from the Airport, all fishing licenses and tackle plus a fishing guide at your disposal for up to 18 hours a day from Monday to Saturday. All you need do is get a cheap flight to Barcelona, or if you have others to share the journey drive through France into Spain ,a fourteen hour drive. Spending money for food, drink and bait is all you need in addition.
So Whitsun holidays came and after an uneventful flight with Easyjet we arrived in Barcelona and went to the meeting point where some other anglers were already waiting. They had been the previous year, caught plenty of fish and were keen to get back at it again. The Catmaster guides duly arrived and we set off for the 2 hour drive to Mequinenza.
On arrival we were given a quick tour of what is a small rural town dominated by the huge river Ebro at its confluence with the Rio Rega and Cinca rivers and a huge Hydro electric Dam which creates the 40 mile long lake Caspe. The area is home to huge numbers of Catfish exceeding 200 lbs, common carp to over 70lbs plus large black bass and zander. A mecca for anglers from all over Europe.
After the quick tour we were shown our apartment, clean, air conditioned well equipped and a short walk from the river, shops, restaurants and bars. Our instructions were to meet at Bar Ebro at 7pm to meet our guides and plan our week.
We duly turned up and met the guides who reasoned that our best plan was to fish in the town for the first two days in the hope of catching a few of the big fish exceeding 150lbs as although the area had been quiet of late the fish were starting to move down river from the spawning grounds on the Rio Rega and Cinca. If they were about they would be hungry.
Monday morning came with a 7.30 am pick-up from the apartment and we made the short trip to the river with Gareth our guide who talked us through the tackle and techniques used to catch Ebro Cats.
One of the other guides Danny and his group of anglers had decided to start in the town and set up about a 100yds up river from us. This was to prove helpful as things turned out. Gareth talked us through the tackle which has to be seen to be believed, 7lb test curve beachcasters ,a large Penn Multiplyer reel loaded with 150lbs test braid ,a 6 ounce lead and a hook length of 200lbs test braid finished off with a huge sea fishing hook to which a long hair is attached for 8, 20mm halibut pellets to be loaded onto.
When the rigs on all four rods had been baited Gareth would jump into his dinghy and row them out 200yds to the deep channel on the far side where the depth was over 15 feet.
Two rods at a time went out and as each rig was dropped over the side it was followed by several large handfuls of pellets as groundbait.
All the rods out and their specially adapted rodrest, we were fishing. We sat back and waited, and waited and four hours went past. Gareth was loudly snoring in his bedchair out of the sun and we were getting concerned at the lack of activity.
Gareth eventually woke and muttered an apology in his Brummie accent, he had been unwell of late, damaged his liver from too much boozing, and was still struggling, not want we wanted to hear at the start of our holiday.
In any event he managed to struggle on and every 4 hours or so we would re-bait our rods, he would row them back out, dump some more pellets on top and make encouraging comments that’s that fresh baits often bought a swift response, failing which the onset of darkness around 10 pm would see some action.
As the afternoon wore on Danny’s group decided to retire for an afternoon siesta, planning to return around 9 pm for last 3 hours fishing, you have to stop fishing at midnight under Spanish fishing byelaws. We decided to stick with through to midnight, having our dinner brought down to the riverbank as part of the service the guides provide. 9 pm arrived and no sign of the other group or any fish, they eventually arrived and began fishing at 10pm which meant their guide Danny had to row the baits out in the dark.
At 11 pm one of Danny’s group struck into a screaming run and after a 15 minute tug of war had a Cat of 124lbs on the bank..
All went quiet again and we all packed up for the night, Nathan and I fishless but encouraged by the sight of a large cat on the bank and ready to start all over again the next day.
Tuesday came and went without a fish for anyone, our guide Gareth became more sick as the day had wore on, Danny’s group quit after a few hours. It was not looking good at this point ,but Danny relieved of his other group came and chatted with us and new plan was devised. We would join Danny’s group for the rest of the week allowing Gareth to retire to his sick bed. On Wednesday our combined group would head up river above the Hydro dam to lake Caspe. The fish are not so large in the lake but according to Danny we were all guaranteed to catch!. His reputation was on the line plus the tour companies guarantee, no fish caught during your stay and you get a free return holiday.
On Wednesday we arrived a Lake Caspe, not really a lake but large expanse of water created by the damming of the Ebro. We were to fish in a very narrow section where the original river bed ran in a deep gorge. This provided deep water a short row out and the narrowing created a bottle neck for cats moving through the lake system, it also flowed a bit. Wild looking country with Black Kites, Vultures and Eagles soaring overhead.
The first session of rowing baits out took a while with 12 rods going out in total, between 7 anglers. Danny ever confident told us to keep an eye on our rods as soon as they were in the water, he reckoned a bite would happen before all the rods were in the water. We were collectively sceptical of this claim, but Danny was resolute . Not only would we have a Cat by the end of the week we would all have one over a ton, confidence indeed.
The 8 rods of the other group had their rigs rowed out and they were fishing, they were to take each bite in rotation. Nathan and I were to do the same with our 4 rods, Nathan was up first. Danny began rowing our second two rods out having already set the other two.
Suddenly one of the other group’s rod bucked violently and the line screamed off the reel. Paul who was first up grabbed the rod tightened the clutch as hard as it would go and set the hook, only to be dragged down the bank as a very angry Catfish felt the hook go in. His balance recovered, a butt pad was fixed around his waist and he stuck his shoulders into it. Meantime Danny had set our rods out in the channel, Nathan and I were fishing.
Danny prepared the fish landing gear, a huge man sized weighing sling was ready at the waters edge a huge unhooking mast laid out and thoroughly wetted, the large scales with a lifting bar were to hand.
The large cat was near the bank, it would be chin lift into the weigh sling. This manoeuvre which we were to all practice during the week requires getting in the water and with a Kevlar glove on the hand, grabbing the fish by its bottom jaw and dragging it into the sling.
Danny dragged the cat into the sling, it then required 3 of us to grab the handles and lift it onto the unhooking mat. The fish weighed-in at 111lbs, what a start to the day. Photos were taken, Paul received the traditional soaking for breaking the ton and the fish was carefully returned and sent on its way. Congratulations all round and quietness resumed briefly. A few moments later and one of our rods took on a violent lurch forward and the reel screamed. Nathan grabbed the rod, set the clutch and struck only to be dragged down the bank before he gained his balance. After a brief tussle a 50 lbs Cat was landed, not bad for your first ever cat, he was grinning from ear to ear.
Another of our rods screamed off and my turn, same procedure as the others, clutch set tight ,strike and wait for the lunge forward. A cat of 56lbs duly landed.
This sequence of events continued through the day, a burst of activity after each re-baiting session, a quiet spell, row the fresh baits out and the activity would be almost immediate.
A total of 12 fish were landed, Nathan joined the ton-up club with a fish of 105lbs and a received a 3 bucket soaking for only being 14 ,a lame excuse but he didn’t mind being soaked in the 90 degree heat of the Spanish afternoon.
Several 80’s were landed and the other group had a fish of 120.
What a difference to the first two days, everyone had a least one fish most had two. We could not wait to return to fish both Thursday and Friday. Well both days were just as good as the first, with over 40 fish between our combined group, everyone joined the ton-up club with the biggest fish of 124lbs falling to the other group.
Nathan’s tally by Friday evening was an impressive 7 cats as follows:--
108, 105, 105 (different fish),84,54,50,30 .
I was on 6 as follows:-- 102,99,89,74,62,56
All that remained of our holiday was Saturday, Gareth had returned from his sick bed and would take Nathan and I to a new swim near the town of Mequinenza just down from the area were the Cats would be returning from their spring spawning grounds, Danny for his efforts was giving the day off by the other group who had caught enough.
Nathan and I were in bad need of a lay in so with the benefit of Gareth being able to go the swim early Saturday morning and get everything set up we could catch up on some much needed sleep and meet him at midday.
The fishing chat on Friday evening at Bar Ebro revealed a number of large cats to over 150 had been landed in the area we were to fish on Saturday, including one of 202, with 40 plus common carp thrown in for good measure.
Our confidence was high as we headed to the river midday Saturday, the swim looked the part heavily reed fringed .carp leaping out all over the place, the river was over 200 yards wide, only 3 foot deep most of the way across but 15 feet deep in the main channel on the far side, it was to be a long row across with the baited rigs and groundbait.
The baits were set, all 4 rods were in position and now the waiting game probably until the evening we reasoned.
A couple of carp anglers joined us for social chat they had caught numerous carp over 20 lbs that morning and had heard about a least two cats being caught along the bank from them that morning, both very large fish and encouraging news.
The afternoon wore on, our guide snored loudly in his bed chair and Nathan tried to catch some carp on a spare rod, as it was my turn up on the cat rods should we get a take. Around 3 pm one of the cat rods bucked violently bent right over, stayed bent over and line screamed from the reel.
Grabbing the rod, I tightened the drag and struck only to have my arms almost wrenched from their sockets and be dragged down the bank.
Gareth stirred into life and strapped the butt pad around my waist, the dragged was now clamped tight to its limit and still the fish took line, only thing left was to apply thumb pressure to the turning spool. Slowly the fish slowed, I turned it and a massive swirl appeared on the surface across the other side of the rive, prompting the sociable carp anglers to return.
Now the fish would first swim towards me needing rapid winding in of line to prevent it shaking the hook loose, then it would bury itself in weed and refuse to budge. Gradually I was winning it was now in the shallower water sending up huge clouds of silt as it rolled against the pressure of the rod. The fish is now nearing the bank and Gareth has the chinning glove on and is waiting in the water for the first chance to grab the fish and haul it into the waiting weigh sling.
He grabs the fish, and declares its probably the biggest one of his guest have caught and definitely over 150. In the weigh sling it takes 4 of us to lift it up the bank onto the unhooking mat. Weighed and measured its 7 foot 5 inches long and 156 lbs, a true monster. Photos are taken everyone gets a good soaking one way or the other and the fish is carefully returned.
We return to our fishing, but by 11 pm decide to call it a day with no further cats.
The next morning we head to the airport, vowing to return again next year.
If this has whetted your appetite I recommend you look at the Catmaster website. Not only do they do the Catfishing package, but have a very successful winter carp fishing deal if commons to 70 lbs interest you.