Hot Cats

For several years, I’ve been interested in the huge catfish from the Ebro in Spain, but never got round to actually going after them. Then, at the NEC in March this year, I finally arranged with Colin Bunn of Catmasters Tours that Fran and I would make our first visit on the 10th August.
At the appointed hour in Terminal B at Barcelona, we met Colin by the Black Horse statue, along with 5 other anglers, and all piled into his 8 seater mini bus for the two hour drive to Mequinenza. On arrival, we were all shown to our apartments, which are superbly equipped and comfortable, and arrangements were made to meet up later at the Bar Ebro. There we would have a meal, a few drinks, and meet our guides to make arrangements for the fishing the following morning. Fran and I had been allocated John Deakin as our guide, who I didn’t know at the time but who I now consider a great friend. Also with John were another older couple, although not quite as old as us, Phil Jones and Rose Knight. Phil and Rose had been there for several days, although not cat fishing.
On Monday morning, we started our fishing on one of the swims on Mequinenza’s promenade, which had produced some gigantic fish for John over previous weeks, although he did warn us that it had been slowing down because of the pressure. In fact, that first day, there was no action whatever, although we all sat it out until midnight. When John dropped Fran and me off at our apartment, we had decided that I would be up at 6.00am but that Fran would lie in until 8.00am. John would leave me with the fishing rods while he called back to pick Fran up. We already knew that Phil and Rose had other plans for the day and, in the event, it transpired that they did no further cat fishing until the Friday.
On Tuesday morning, John and I set up at a new swim, immediately downstream of the main bridge over the river Segre, a few hundred yards above the confluence with the Ebro.
For five hours, all was peaceful. And then, in late morning, a tremendous bang on the nearest rod was followed by the high pitched rush of braid being torn off the reel against a tightly set drag. After tightening the star drag on the multiplier, I struck hard into the fish. The power of what I’d hooked nearly took my breath away and that first experience of a big Segre catfish was truly awesome. I could soon see why I’d been told to tighten the drag as much as possible. Although I could not physically take line against the drag, the catfish had no such problem. Braid was whistling out! I had to strain every sinew to keep the rod up and avoid being pointed, and after about ten minutes of truly arm wrenching action, with my groin well and truly bruised from the pounding of the rod butt, the fish approached the rocky bank. John carefully made his way to the water’s edge where he grabbed the trace and gently drew the fish to where he could get a firm grip on the jaw with a gloved right hand. While maintaining a firm hold, he told me to keep a tight line as he inserted a soft rope stringer around the strong jawbone and out through the top of the gill cover. Then he popped out the hook and the fish was secure. I’ll never forget John’s words at that moment. “It’s about 150lbs, mate”.

In the event, he was just 1lb out. After zeroing the sling, we confirmed the weight of my first Segre catfish as 149lb. Ten minutes later, photographs taken and the fish safely back in the water, I turned to John, only to get a full bucket of water over me. “It’s traditional for a 150lb cat”, he said, “and 149lb is close enough!” In truth, the water was very welcome. I was hot, sweaty and covered in catfish slime, but couldn’t be happier. The three of us had silly grins on our faces as we broke open celebratory beers from the cool box.
In mid afternoon, I was in action once again and this fish went off as though jet propelled. It was interesting as that was a pattern that was repeated for the week with the smaller fish. I use the word “smaller” in a very relative sense as this second fish was 72lb, a modest cat by Spanish standards but a monster back home. Once again, I was soon covered in slime and grinning like a hyena, with arms full of catfish. That second fish was returned about 4.00pm and there was to be no further action that day, although we fished until midnight.
What was really interesting over the next two days was that the late morning to mid afternoon feeding spell remained consistent. On the Wednesday, I had a fabulous brace in under an hour. At 11.30, my third cat of the trip pulled the scales to 103lbs and then my personal highlight was taking a beautiful buttercup yellow half albino of 128lb at 12.15pm. Again, the evening and after dark fishing proved fruitless.
On the Thursday, two cats again came in the same feeding time zone, with an 87lb fish at 11.30am and a 78lb fish at 2.30pm. After the second, carp moved in on the feed and three were landed between 3.00pm and 6.45pm. One was estimated by John at 18lbs and released, while the other two were brought on to the bank and weighed properly. I was delighted to confirm two gorgeous commons of 25lb and 34lb, although of course they’d had absolutely no chance on the strong catfish tackle.
That evening, the pattern was broken, with our first fish in the dark, a catfish of exactly 40lbs. Although I was pleased to have another one in the bag, John was telling me how unlucky I was to get three fish in a day and not have at least one over 100lbs. I tell you, what I would give to have three such fish in a day at home!

The next day, I was to get another 40 pounder at 3.30pm, but that was the sum total of the action in the daylight hours. We had to wait until 11.00pm, on an uncharacteristically chilly evening, before one of the fishing rods roared off at last. This was another memorable scrap, with the fish hurtling downstream across the other three lines. This was where John’s experience proved so important. With me battling the fish as hard as I dare, John was playing knit one, purl two with the other lines. When I eventually had the fish ready for landing at the lowest part of the bank, John had managed to avoid even a momentary tangle. As we heaved it ashore, I could tell that it was another 100lb plus. So it proved as the needle swung to 107lb, and John and I cracked open two beers before calling it a night.
The next morning, our last, was truly memorable. We had decided that we would only fish until 3.00pm before returning to our apartments for a shower and change, and then meeting up in a good restaurant for a civilised meal and drinks. Up to now, we’d lived on take away meals on the bank, which John had fetched for us while we watched the gear. Phil joined John and me at 8.00am and would be staying until the end. The next run was Phil’s and, at mid morning, one of the rods hooped over and Phil joined battle with a real leviathan. For the first time, he experienced the brutish power of a Spanish cat. This was the first time I’d had the opportunity of being behind the camera for some action shots and through the viewfinder I knew that this was one massive catfish. When its tail broke surface some thirty yards offshore, John and I looked at one another. When it was eventually ready to bring ashore, it took the three of us to drag it to the tarpaulin, and two of us could barely support it for the weighing. Soon, we confirmed 184lb and, a few minutes later, Phil got two buckets over him. “It’s two for a 180”, explained John.
Not long after that monster had been returned, I was soon in action again with another big fish of 121lbs, and then Phil completed an unbelievable brace when we eventually hauled ashore another cracking cat of 175lb. At that moment, I promised that I’d send him some of the special cream I bought years ago, especially formulated for polishing golden appendages. On a serious note, I’d have loved to have caught on of those last morning monsters, of course I would. But I was delighted for Phil. If I wasn’t destined to catch them, I was certainly privileged to be there to witness them. It also proved that you don’t have to be a fanatic like me to catch monster fish. With the expert guidance that Catmaster Tours provides, anyone can enjoy such fabulous fishing. Give Colin Bunn a ring and get yourself on a plane to Spain. I guarantee you won’t regret it.