A 4-man lift Catfish of 212lbs from the Rio Segre.Caugfht by Paul Bowen(Red shirt)

Spanish fishing trip in late October / early November 2011.

I had been meaning to go to Spain to fish the Rio Ebro and Rio Segre for the giant Wels catfish and large river carp for some considerable time. Finally, I accepted an invitation to go and flew out on the short two hour flight from Bristol to Barcelona in late October 2011.

I arranged an overnight stay on the Saturday in Barcelona so that I could also take in the football match between Barcelona v Mallorca. I am glad I did because I witnessed Lionel Messi, the magical, little Argentinian, score a great hat-trick for Barca. After an early breakfast the following day, I was swiftly transferred back to the international airport where I was met by Ashley Scott and Ian ‘Wing Nut’ Mills who are two of the main guides at Catmaster Tours, owned and operated by Colin Bunn. They operate a free airport pick-up service for visiting anglers and we were soon on our way to our final destination for the week, Mequinenza. Our accommodation was a spacious and very comfortable Spanish town house. You are allowed to fish on the Rio Ebro and Rio Segre in the Mequinenza area from 6am – midnight daily. The guides will either bring you food to the riverbank when required or will transfer you to one of the many bars and restaurants in the town. An excellent arrangement.

Baited catfish hook

Carp rig - close up

Catmaster Toursprovided all the quality tackle needed to target the giant catfish and carp. The catfish rods were Conoflex Eurocats, specially built on 6lb.test curve blanks. Reels were Penn 340 Gti multipliers loaded with 70kg Dyneema Braid. Hooklinks were made from 150lb braid to avoid the abrasive mouths of the catfish and large, pre-drilled halibut pellets were used as bait and fished on a very long hair on a KD rig. Hooks were strong, Continental catfish models and the swivels were super-strong as well to cope with the big fish in the deep, fast-flowing rivers. Suitable weights were attached to various free-running set ups. At times nearly 2lb of lead was needed to hold bottom!! Needless to say, these rigs were rowed out to the designated swims or lies by the guides in a rowing boat.

Carp rig - close up

Once the rigs were lowered to the riverbed the guides then threw in an ample supply of free offerings of the halibut pellets around the rigs to attract the fish to the hook-baits. The rivers are hundreds of metres wide in the Mequinenza area. Once the traps had been set the rods were then placed upright in tremor-style bite alarms and the reel clutch set accordingly. And then the waiting began.  You are no longer allowed to fish live-baits for the catfish in this part of Spain.

Carp tackle was 3.5lb test curve rods with large Big Pit or Baitrunner reels loaded with 15lb/18lb mainline together with simple terminal tackle. Rod pods, buzzers and indicators were also supplied. No fancy rigs were needed to tackle the carp and bait was once again either large halibut pellets or a variety of boilies. Top quality chairs, shelters, landing nets, unhooking mats, weigh slings and scales were also provided.

BBQ swim

Catfish tackle - close up

We set up in the famous BBQ swim on the Rio Segre for most of the week but also tried the equally well-known ‘Blue Bin’ swim for a while as well, just to break things up a bit. It proved to be the right choice. At this time of year you usually catch some of the bigger fish in the river systems before they ‘shut down’ for the winter as the water temperatures drop. However, throughout our stay the water temperatures remained much higher than usual for late October / early November and hovered between a high of 16.4C down to a low of 14.2C following a spate towards the end of the week. However, daytime activity was generally fairly limited and most sport resulted each day between approximately 8.30pm-midnight. Our group managed to land two catfish over the magic 200lb mark and the smallest for the week was 80lb. The average weight of the catfish landed by our group for the week was a staggering 161lb!! I was lucky enough to land the heaviest fish of the visit at 212lb and, needless to say, is my biggest Wels catfish to date and also my biggest freshwater fish anywhere to date. To say I was over the moon would be a gross under-statement!! The monster fish was hooked at 11.30pm and landed at midnight on Halloween after a dogged fight. It took five of us to weigh measure and photograph the fish. The fish was 8ft 2in long. As Jeremy Wade would say, a true River Monster!! The carp fishing was also first class and our group managed to land these beautiful, fully scaled commons up to 40.5lb, plus a number over 30lb and many in excess of 20lb.

Rio Ebro

Rio Segre cormorants

On the Thursday, when the river conditions started to deteriorate, Ashley Scott (senior guide) and I went to fish on the Mar del Aragon (‘Top Lake’) at Mas de la Punta. Here we were to try vertical jigging with light tackle for the prolific stocks of large perch, zander and black bass. Again it was mission accomplished. Although we did not connect with any black bass, a procession of good sized perch and zander fell to our small metal jigs and plastic artificials. Next time I visit the area I plan to explore this particular part of the fishery more closely.

Unfortunately, heavy rain in the Pyrenees caused the rivers to flood later in the week and we lost most of the Thursday and all of the Friday to the appalling weather and river conditions. However, by then we had already had a brilliant few days fishing and everyone vowed to return and have another crack at these magnificent rivers and fish in the not too distant future.

Dusk on Rio Segre

Apart from the fishing, the area around Mequinenza is very picturesque and there is a tremendous variety of fauna and flora to look at, especially all the birdlife, and the region is steeped in history and culture and is ripe for exploring.

I have no commercial ties to Colin Bunn and his Catmaster Tours operation whatsoever but I would highly recommend him to any keen anglers wanting to sample fishing for some huge freshwater fish not too far from the UK and at a very competitive price. Like Arnie: ‘I will be back!!’

Paul Bowen.