Ebro Cats – Tony’s Specialist Scene
This month Tony is on Catalunya's famous River Ebro, in very challenging conditions, in search of catfish.
I mentioned towards the end of my last piece that I was due to head off to Spain to fish the famous River Ebro for its catfish and with so much happening during the course of the trip plus, I’m glad to say, plenty of fish being caught, I’ll devote most of this month’s submission to describing what went on.
I’d been invited out to Spain by the management of the venue that I was to fish as they had fairly recently taken over the ownership and wanted me to sample both the venue and, hopefully, some of the fish in order to provide some feedback and pictures they could use on their new website. The venue in question now goes by the name of Ebro Mad Cats and if you click on the link you can take a closer look.
As well as myself I’d also managed to get my good friend Ian Hardman included in the invite as I felt it needed two of us to best explore the venue and to help with photographs etc.
The original invite was back in February and I’d hoped to get out there much earlier in the year. However, as things worked out, we weren’t able to get out there until mid summer and that provided some interesting challenges alongside an eventful session.
The late June / early July period is normally a very hot one in that part of Spain and we managed to time our arrival just as a particularly vicious heatwave was starting to kick in and we were soon experiencing early afternoon temperatures soaring well above 40 degrees and more! This wasn’t the only immediate problem that we faced on our arrival though, as when we first got to have a proper look at the river it was quite obvious that it was in flood and would be impossible to fish straight away.
The reason for the flooding wasn’t totally clear and the most popular local theory was that the authorities controlling the upstream hydro-electric dam scheduled an occasional ‘flush-through’ to either allow a build up of drifting weed to pass through, to exercise the turbines and/or to top up the reserves with additional power. Whatever the reason it seemed as through it was all pretty unexpected, especially for this time of year, so we just had to accept it as one of those things.
The flooding meant that we weren’t really able to get fishing properly until a couple of days after our arrival and to reach my initial choice of swim a certain amount of wading around was required. The good news though was that despite the initial issues there were catfish ready to be caught pretty much from the off and within hours of being able to cast out hookbaits I was doing battle with my first Ebro cats! The very first catfish I caught weighed in at 41lb and the next one, shortly afterwards, 39.5lb, which meant that within a few hours of casting out I’d had a brace of cats averaging over 40lb, which certainly brought a smile to my face!
Some additional challenges that come with fishing that part of the Ebro at that time of year quickly became quite apparent as large amounts of drifting weed would sometimes render the fishing either very difficult, or even impossible. The amount of weed and the position of it coming down the river seemed to vary enormously. Sometimes they’d be no weed at all, while at other times there’d be large clumps of the stuff drifting around at various distances from the bank, making it impossible to keep the lines out of the way even if back leads were employed or the rods tips lifted high off the ground to keep as much line out of the water as possible.
When the weed situation was at its worst we lost a couple of entire days’ fishing. On other days the weed was virtually absent from the river and didn’t impact the fishing at all. Apparently the weed growth has increased enormously in recent years as the river has become much clearer, allowing the light to penetrate more and promote growth.
Quite why on some days the weed situation would be really bad, whilst on others it was virtually non-existent was difficult to fathom. I suspect that happenings upstream at the dam would have a major influence on the amount of weed coming down and wind direction appeared to have some bearing on exactly whereabouts in the river the weed would be at any one time. We soon worked out that the best thing for us to do was to stop fishing for a while if the weed was really bad and to relax, recuperate and re-hydrate back at the caravan accommodation for an hour or two before checking the situation again.
Another challenge was the flies and mosquitoes. Fortunately the mosquitoes were only at their worst in the early morning and much later in the day, but at these times they could be out in numbers and they were pretty vicious. Definitely worth bearing in mind and taking the necessary precautions if you suffer badly from mosquito bites, which were almost impossible to avoid entirely. As for the flies, unless there was a stiff breeze, then they were present all day; which again is something to be aware of if you’re intolerant of these annoying creatures.
However, despite the initial problems and challenges we faced, within a fairly short time both Ian and I were both catching consistently. On only the second day that we could get baits in the water Ian caught the first 60lb plus catfish of the trip and within a few days of proper fishing we were averaging between three and four fish between us, with more over 30lb than under.
The fish may not seem ‘that’ big compared with some of the amazing catches reported from the Ebro, but it must be remembered that the popular big fish areas at Mequinenza and Caspe where the truly big fish are regularly caught are situated above the Riba Roja dam. That’s not to say that there are not big fish present in the stretch of river we fished, as there have been numbers of catfish over 100lb reported from the ten miles or so of river between the dams at Riba Roja and Flix.
However if you are planning to fish this particular stretch of the Ebro for the cats, it’s probably worth remembering that the vast majority of the bigger specimens do get caught from the boats fishing up near the dam and to plan your trip and set expectations accordingly.
Ian and I were happy enough with our initial results during what was obviously a very difficult time of year. In fact information we received from several sources seemed to indicate that the catfish fishing along the entire river was suffering from a particularly poor run of form during the length of our stay. Some of the guides and locals we spoke to were reckoning that the catfish were either going through, or were just recovering from, spawning and many people were suffering from a string of blank returns for their efforts during this period. In fact our consistent results appeared to attract the attention of a number of the catfish fishing related services that operate in that region and we had several visits from interested parties to see how we were getting on as our total of catfish continued to add up.
Another exciting event that helped to make the trip a very memorable one was the forest fire that broke out approximately 20km away from our venue!
Initially we were totally clueless as to what was going on and the first signs that anything unusual was happening was when we noticed a number of sea planes regularly flying overhead and seemingly practising some sort of low level manoeuvring in the river valley just downstream and around the corner of the river from our swims.
What was in fact happening was that these particular aircraft were actually specially adapted fire fighting planes that were setting up for their approach overhead of our position, then dipping down into the river valley just a short distance downstream of us to skim water up from the river and continue to fly off with their cargo of water to dump onto the fire.
I’m glad to say that the fire itself remained both quite a distance away (and on the other side of the river) but the fire fighting planes continued to do their thing for the best part of a day and a half so it was clearly no minor event. Whether this impacted the fishing at all, or whether it was pure coincidence, I don’t know but our results did take a bit of a dip during this particular period.
It didn’t take too long before we were back into catching mode though and Ian especially, after a quick change of swims, was able to add some good fish to our tally as the fishing improved.
We both did a bit of moving swims during our stay as we had intended to fish around a bit and try out the venue properly so that we could provide the owners with some practical feedback and advice on any improvements we felt could be incorporated for the future. We both ended up fishing three different swims and we caught catfish from all of them.
Jumping about from swim to swim probably impacted our results somewhat, as sometimes we moved out from swims that were producing, to ones that were not fishing as well. In fact I was quite surprised to see how differently the swims produced at times, as I’d initially assumed that all of the swims on the venue would fish roughly the same on any given day. I’m guessing that the bulk of the catfish did move around the stretch of river according to some particular set of conditions and/or stimulus that I couldn’t quite figure out; but whatever it was seemed to keep on changing during our stay and swims that could be poor one day could suddenly spark up and produce some good fish the next.
Eventually it was time to make way for a couple of paying guests, but even on the final morning before we had to pack up our things and vacate the accommodation I sneaked out for a quick bit of fishing and managed to land a last minute catfish of 55lb to draw the session to a close.
All in all Ian and I had managed to catch 15 catfish each (so a total of 30 catfish between us), with more fish weighing over 30lb than under and eight of them weighing over 50lb. Not a bad total I reckon from a river that was reported to be fishing at its very worst form for quite some time.
Ian had the heaviest cat during our stay, an angry beast of a fish weighing in at 67.5lb that gave him a right tussle out in the river and a proper wrestling match and a good old slime-fest once we’d got it out on the bank and were attempting to grab a few photos!
I’d quickly like to take the opportunity to thank Richard, Andy and Alison for inviting me out to Ebro Mad Cats to sample the venue and the fishing and to wish them every success for their venture in the future.
We’d had a few weather reports from back in the UK while we were away, but it was still something of a surprise to see that the weather was still really poor on our return and that rainfall was starting to cause some problems in many areas of the country - a huge contrast to what we’d been experiencing out in Spain.
As I’m writing this the weather continues to be mixed and especially wet for this time of year, so it’s probably best that I get out there and do a spot of fishing as soon as possible and reacquaint myself with the English climate.
Until next time, happy fishing!
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