It was at this time that news of anglers traveling abroad and catching huge catfish had started filtering down to us. Everyone had seen and marveled over the massive cat caught whilst carp fishing by Johnny Allen and his mate from Lac de Cassien. Despite this being an amazing capture no one dared even dream at this time that this could be anything else other than an amazing fluke. But some new information on the grapevine was different. Well known specimen hunter Alistair Nicholson was apparently catching some huge fish from a Spanish river. He would not give weights because he had got a bee in his bonnet over the rather exaggerated weight claimed by the angling press for the Cassien fish. Alistair’s aim was to catch a correctly weighed and witnessed fish to match this weight. With the benefit of hindsight we all now know it would prove to be an impossible task. Despite this, all credit must still be given to the man who was most probably the first English angler to find, discover, and catch the Spanish cats.
More rumours of fish being caught from the River Saonne in France were doing the rounds. These did not interest me so much as at the time; the sizes of these fish were not much larger than we could catch in the UK. A concerted effort was made by Rob and myself to find out more about this mystical Spanish river and its giant fish. Piece by piece information was gained – then disaster struck. Shortly after the release of Kevin Maddock’s video ‘Cat Fever’, which I must admit really inspired me, we started to hear rumours that it was all over in Spain and the river was all fished out. I was gutted. All that information which had been so hard won was going to be of no use, we were too late.
My attention then turned to Schnackensee, a German water that I had fished before but was now producing some very big cats. Then the first in a series of three lucky breaks came our way. During the coming autumn Rob and myself attended a Catfish Conservation Group meeting at which a young man called Terry Ayling treated us to a slide show about the Ebro. The second piece of luck came only a few months later whilst on a pike trip at Ardingly reservoir. At the end of a good days fishing we were having a cup of tea with our friend Wes Horton who bailiffs the water. He introduced us to another angler who had been fishing the water that day. I did not recognize him at first but as the conversation turned to catfish I realized it was the same person who had given the show at the previously mentioned meeting. Imagine both my surprise and delight when Terry told me that all the negative things we had heard were rubbish and that the Ebro and its cats were flourishing.
Shortly after meeting Terry at Ardingly he visited me at my home bringing with him everything he had about the Ebro. Despite having not caught very much Terry had a lot of experience in Spain having made several trips to the Ebro. This proved invaluable to Rob and myself. The missing pieces were now in place and with a renewed confidence we were to set out on our first trip.
(Please note that night fishing, the use of more than two rods and camping in any other than a designated area are illegal in Spain. In the early days the local police happily turned a blind eye to visiting anglers but due to the bad behavior of many they are no longer so tolerant. I would strongly advise people to take the same approach as we now do and avoid any problems by sticking to the letter of the law)
On arriving in Spain we spent some time surveying the river. Terry had given us a rough area to start in but not exact swims. After several hours we decided on a swim. This subsequently proved to be our third and final piece of good luck. Unknown to us we had chosen, what was later to prove, probably the most prolific swim on the whole of the Ebro. At that time the Spanish record was still ‘only’ 99lb. We were hoping to catch fish up to 50lb but on a first trip I would have been quite happy just to catch anything!
Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the kind of fishing we were about to experience. During the next nine days we landed five catfish over 80lbs! The very first fish was caught by myself and weighed an amazing 101lb. I won’t relate the much told story of this fish’s capture here but needless to say I class it as one of the most exciting moments of my fishing career. I was now well and truly hooked (please excuse the pun) on fishing for continental catfish. Terry has since become a good friend and has accompanied myself and Rob on many trips abroad to both Spain and Czechoslovakia.
So that’s how I came to be in this situation. I currently organize and guide one fourteen-day trip to the Ebro every month from March until October. November sees the whole firm moving down to the River Po in Italy for the month. Over this season I will send a series of reports from each trip and an insight in to the tackle and methods used to land these truly amazing fish.
Places on these trips this year are now extremely limited but if you are interested please feel free to contact myself for information on Spain or contact Luke for information on France and Italy.
Budgie Burgess Tel: 01797 321618 or Email: BUDGIE@burgess23.fsnet.co.uk
Luke Moffatt Tel: 01895 835745 or Fax: 01895 835265.