We flew out of Gatwick on a Easy Jet flight costing no more than £90 to Barcelona airport where we were met by Catmaster Tours guides. The weather was appalling with heavy rain all day making the two hour journey to Mequinenza difficult. Once there we briefly checked into our apartment before heading to the local café for a bite to eat, a few San Miguel’s and a meeting with our guide Ryan, but not before a walk to our swim where we choose sides, nearest the bridge. Although we had one to many that evening he instantly knew that we weren’t their for the beer and although it was agreed to meet at first light the following day it would be a 6am start thereafter.
7.30am we were in the lorry park and after a brief explanation on how to use the reels, Penn multipliers we saw our guide taking our baits out and staggering their drops in the hope of intercepting any catfish coming through.
The week before had seen four rods take thirteen catfish from our position, not a huge amount but with six rods out plus the guides two we had visions of twenty being surpassed easily and with Ashley a few hundred yards upstream having taken at least four cats exceeding 200lb the previous week a big fish was definitely on the cards.
Unfortunately the rain the previous day plus the storms of the previous week was rising the river and we momentarily felt that this should turn the cats on and after just an hour a rod hoped over and Steve being first up made a dash for it before bending into the first fish. Having a personal best of around 30lb we weren’t expecting a catfish of 25lb to turn up and although we were up and running it wasn’t exactly the start we hoped for.
We had decided to take turns in hitting bites as this is the fairest way for everyone to catch. Having your own rods is allowed but this could mean one angler catching lots and another none. We had also decided that any cat under 20lb didn’t count so with a 25lb fish it was time for Steve to sit back and watch the action as it was now my time.
Resetting the rods every six hours saw us waiting till 11pm before the next bite, a time when I was in the land-of-knod and on waking up did a 360 before running in the completely wrong direction, but eventually got my coordination right and managed to get to the rod and strike before disaster happened. Straight away I knew it was a better fish but also that it wasn’t the zoo creature we had come for and after a few minutes had a catfish of 72lb on the mat. That was it for the day and having to wind in due to Spanish law at midnight we headed back to the apartment for a well earned sleep.
The alarm sounded at 5am and come 6am we were bankside and setting our rods. Unfortunately the river had risen some two feet over night and apart from the odd carp crashing at distance the day had very little to write about. Chris had a drop back late in the afternoon but the fish had dropped the bait and unfortunately lost a carp after a screamer off a run due to the 25lb mainline being cut through probably from a zebra mussel or clam. The other group managed to get on the score sheet again with a small kitten which saw the angler doing a bit of ballet dancing and mud wrestling before finally grabbing the rod.
The swim we were fishing was far from pleasing to the eye as we were positioned at the back of a lorry park so with engines running and fumes in the air we were beginning to get somewhat despondent but that evening a swim know as ‘The Special Swim’ became available upstream so we sent Dan a student on work experience from Sparsholt College to bivvy up and hold the swim.
Its probably a good time to mention that many heading out to Mequinenza assume that they will be fishing the river Ebro but in fact the river in front of the town and along the promenade were anglers such as John Wilson has been seen is in fact the River Segre. This river is 265km (165m) in length with an average depth of just 3ft and its source is on the north face of the French Pyrenees and enters the Ebro below the town bridge.
Ryan wanted to give the lorry park swim a few hours in the morning so this was agreed and the standard midnight departure saw us heading home some what disappointed after fishing for 18 hours!
Undeterred we were once again up at 5am and in the swim by 6am and once again it was raining. Unfortunately our guide for the day proved that he was only human and didn’t show till an hour or so later which gave us a victim for the day and after some harmless verbal torture once again had the baits positioned, yet come midday it was obvious the river had died a death as not only us but everyone else was struggling.
Chris had fished ‘The Special Swim’ a few years before taking cats to 168lb and said that it there was one swim he would feel confident in it was this one and much to the moaning of the other group it was agreed to pack up and head upstream. What a transformation as this swim was set between rushes and instead of lorry engines all we could hear was bird song. If we were going to struggle then this was the place. Des Taylor had taken a brace of cats exceeding 200lb the previous year from this swim and the tree to the side wore a body suit of tattooed history of previous captures.
To give you an idea of tackle and bait we were using Penn multipliers loaded with 100kilo braid and up-tide rods in the 6lb t/c region. To hold bottom depending on distance fished we used weights between 2lb and 3lb and on the business end was an undersized sized 8/0 hook attached to 150kilo abrasion resistant hooklink!
Once settled we watched the water and were given the most amazing display of catfish activity as huge tails and heads constantly broke surface yet amazingly come midnight our rods had failed to signal a bite and once again we headed home this time somewhat frustrated knowing we were on fish but they just weren’t feeding.
The day started with a rib breaking moment, well that was for Steve, Ryan and Chris as whilst sitting awaiting a bite a bird flew over and shit all over my head. My reaction sent them into an uncontrollable state of laughter but theirs an old wife’s tale that such an event brings you good luck, time would tell.
Knowing that we had so many fish in our swims we decided to use five pellet stringers as although it probably made no difference at all it at least gave us all confidence that we had some bait right next to our hookbait as well as a couple of handfuls of pellets thrown over the side by Ryan close by. Taking turns in hitting runs is a bit of a lottery and trying to create edges and boosting confidence is something that’s difficult to do. In between runs all you can do is try and have some fun be it loosening your mates chair so he crashes backwards with a cup of tea in his hand to personalising your hookbaits. Id love to progress yet the image of Steve standing with his back to an amazed Ryan paints the picture.
Spending 18 hours on the bank does drain your energy and drinking beer wont help, in fact I think we had three bottles of wine between us all week and this was with our late afternoon meal which varied from Paella to Lasagne, Steve even to our amazement had a goats cheese salad at the start of the week and the garlic bread is the best in the world all of which is collected by Ryan from the café in town each day. He also collects breakfast each day which for me was a Spanish omelette and as long as you keep drinking plenty of water your stamina should keep you going.
We had loads of expectation for the day and after the best part of two and a half days Chris finally got his bite resulting in a modest cat weighing 66lb. Steve was back on the rods and as darkness fell landed his second cat, a personal best of 80lb. Going into darkness we expected more yet it wasn’t to be but two fish landed it was far better than other groups on the river and we had a feeling things were beginning to repay our time on the bank.
Yesterday was our first day of total sunshine and another misty start finally gave way to a wonderful day with temperatures reaching 27 degrees. The flies were their normal irritating selves, the only downside to the holiday, well apart from the form of the river.
The activity of the cats showing had slowed right down, had they moved or had they gone down? We had decided to up our work rate and instead of baiting every six hours were now doing this every four as it had been noticed that a few fish had fallen soon after the rods were set. The morning once again passed without incident and we were all beginning to think that a big fish just wasn’t going to show when out of the blue around midday one of the rods slammed over and after walking back a few passes I hit into a cat that had me sliding bare foot over the gravel. Instantly I knew that this cat was bigger than anything we had caught before and blessed the bird that had shit on my head as line poured of the spool. Ryan wasn’t around so Dan was sent out in the boat and did a wonderful job of guiding the line around the reeds and slowly a proper cat came to hand. Ryan was now with us and helped pull the fish up onto the mat and as he did this it grew somewhat.
Before weighing we reflected on what our targets were for the week and it was like this. My best stands at 139lb so to beat this was my wish. Steve best was 30lb so beating this would be a result yet one exceeding 100lb would be great and as for Chris well having taken cats to 168lb in the past he was now wanting a big albino, yer right, fat chance of that!
Estimations were close to my personal best and amazingly as the fish was lifted the scales settled on 140lb, a best by a pound, would you believe it. Having given Ryan some stick throughout the week it was now his turn to make things even and as you can see from the picture took great pleasure in getting me soaked with a bucket of water. Hopes were high for another fish that evening but apart from Chris pulling out of a small cat it wasn’t to be, in fact my cat was the only one landed between the three guides that day!
Super human Ryan had somehow managed to set the baits well before first light in dense fog and we sat back once again with high hopes that the fishing gods had seen that we hadn’t given up, fished the maximum hours available and were desperate for some reward.
The last day dawned in an unforgettable way as for the first time the morning mist lifted as the sun rose above the hills in the distance. Our tummies were now beginning to percolate due to the change in diet and lifestyle and we all joined in with the morning chorus, not for the first time I have to admit. Just as the sun rose a rod was away and Chris bent into a cat but knew straight away it wasn’t that big and at around 40lb it was set free without a photo. Not long after this the same rod signals a bite and Steve manages one of 60lb and with two fish in a morning things were looking good. Late afternoon saw the third bite of the day and having hooked the fish my first thoughts were that a carp had picked up the bait but it wasn’t as a cat around 15lb showed.
As it was the last day and having already caught a big cat I dismissed our previous agreed terms and passed the next bite to Chris in the hope that his dream fish would show a big albino and just into darkness he found himself locked in battle with a sizeable fish. Unfortunately it wasn’t o be but at 132lb it was another great fish, all that was left to do was to see Steve catch a whacker, and he did just that as a couple of hours later he found himself attached to a proper cat that just ripped line of the reel. It seemed an eternity before Ryan, who was out in the boat started to get excited, especially when the cat started dragging him downstream. Ryan was now as excited as a kid in a sweet shop and Steve was hanging on having a proper knee trembling moment. Eventually the cat surfaced and their it was the longest pure albino possible, one that finally weighed 172lb.
I did feel for Chris as if I hadn’t passed my turn on this fish would have been his and fulfilled his dream, yet Steve would be going home with a best of 80lb. As I said earlier this type of fishing is a lottery, you just have to take what comes!
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