Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fishing for Catfish and Carp on the river Ebro.

Exploring the River Ebro from the Delta to Mequinenza.

Monday 6th of November and my car is full to overflowing, I told Joe, my dog, to hop inside and we left a grey and stormy Marbella to make the 900km trip up to Tarragona and the River Ebro.

As always prior to these big fishing trips my head was running full of lists,
I systematically tried to run through the ever growing amount of tackle that we seem to convince our self we need for these big fishing sessions miles or even countries from home.
With a final flip through the mental shopping list, I decided to stop fretting; what wasn’t packed - wouldn’t be, so sod it, I would just make do, a characteristic well needed for long session anglers.

I had been thinking of pulling over somewhere just past midway, bivvy up and have a little shut eye so I would arrive around Tuesday mid-day, in time to meet my fellow anglers - Mark Finch, his girlfriend Hayley and Marks Mum and Dad, Brian and Olive Finch, who were all arriving at Barcelona Airport, hiring a car and making the pleasant 1 and 1/2 hour trip to the Ebro.
However as my Seat Altea eat up the miles and I felt the stresses and strains fall away as my mind and body slowly accepted the fact that I was now on holiday, I soon found myself 8 hours from Marbella and fast approaching the small town of Deltebre, situated around 15 km from the coast in the Ebro Delta.

I felt it was too late to wake our guide up so I thought I would just find a suitable looking swim, bivvy up and chuck the rods out, you never know your luck, and even though I didn’t physically have my Cataluña rod license on me, I would have, tomorrow, first thing when I located Gary Sheridan´s place.

On that shaky foundation - tested by then, a dozen times against the imaginary Guardia civil in my head and the conversation we would have at 3am in the morning, on the miniscule chance of them finding me in the first place. I turned the car onto a dirt track in the general direction of the river. The first 5oz leads with single pop ups were splashing down not 20 minutes later and soon enough I was in my bag and looking up at a starry night. I could hear fish crashing everywhere and every now and again an almighty splosh, as a Catfish, or I imagined it had to be a Catfish to make a racket like that, came out of the river. Lots of floating weed soon had me back at the rods and jittery, I tried tips in the air but I still kept getting wiped out by those floating golf greens, so it was a relief when around 4am I decided to reel in and get some kip.

5am and the sweetest of sleeps was interrupted by a purple faced wizened Spanish bloke going apoplectic. I was out the bed and hopping around in a complete panic, so wired subconsciously to wake on the sound of an alarm, my brain just couldn’t work out what was going on. This bloke screaming, I mean having a major fit in a dialect I could barley work out, half Spanish half Catalan with enough laborers’ gutter slang thrown in to make him unintelligible but to the locals. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. He was threatening the police, screaming at me that this was a private swim, I tried to argue that it says you could fish on the sign, Peche DÁngle or something like that but it had a picture of a fish and a rod bent, which to me had meant fill your boots, it wasn’t till later in the week that I found out that this was a special swim to fish for eel palvers, and it was by special license only, which this bloke was waving madly in my face. I packed up as fast as I could just as the rain started, watched by the purple headed moron, getting soaked in his shorts and carpet slippers, small satisfactions are all we got sometimes.

It was a relief to finally meet up with my fishing buddies at the rented accommodation and get set up and sorted out.

It really tipped it down that first night, I mean cats and dogs, I was fairly lucky as I had set my Bivvy up in the most protected swim, cut into the 15ft high river bank reeds, so was protected from the worst of it. I did have small rivers running through the bivvy which was a bit more uncomfortable for poor Joe than me, but we survived that first night.

The important parts of the river Ebro, from a fisherman’s point of view, are the three sections created by the huge hydro electric dams. We were fishing the lower Ebro and this stretch runs from the sea up to Riba Rioja. The current record for this lower section is 167 lbs but I would think this will be beaten again soon as there is a huge head of 80-110 lbs fish and absolutely masses of bait fish. Our week was spent tiddler bashing for bait during the day with the carp rods out, and evenings on the boat for Catfish using the baits we caught on the float rods. It wasn’t hard to get a good netful of small commons, some excellent Crucians and plenty of Roach. I even hooked one of the acrobatic mullet that continue to jump out the water like skimming stones, three four...five times in succession.

It was a relaxed few days with plenty of sunshine after the wet start and spirits were lifting as Brian, happily bagging up with quality Crucians was startled by his screaming carp rod that he had slung down to the margins. He jumped up from the float road and hit into a scrappy Ebro common that took him through his other line and into a few weed beds before we could safely slip the net under a perfect Ebro specimen.

Brian was absolutely over the moon and when he told us it was a new personal best his infectious laugh and good humor started to rub off on all of us. Once safely photographed and returned Brian told us the story of his previous personal best common, caught from a local lake when he was just a lad of 19, today, some 50 years later Brian had beaten that well remembered and treasured fish from his childhood. A very happy chappy!

It seemed that the Carp weren’t feeding in the day, coming on slowly during the evening but not really getting going till 10pm through to 3am. I had been filling in with about 15kg of particle every day and around 3kg of boilies over the top, the bait was a simple shelf life bird seed scopex boilie bought from Gary Sheridan at 7€ kilo, but the fish when they came didn’t seem to mind what bait they took as I had them on plastic corn, various pop ups and snowmen rigs and straight single scopex bottom baits. Some nights with the traps set and everything shouting Fish - just passed in a confusing blank, whilst others were mad, the alarms screaming off every 1/2 hour and they all seemed to be around the 12- 16lbs mark.

I was losing a few fish due to weed, fishing tight to the margins, and being too far from my rods. We had 3 cat rods out from the bank in Mark and Brians swim during a couple of all nighters, and I have to admit, me legging it to my rods 30 yards away gave many fish just too much of a head start. But what can you do?, I was mad to catch my first Ebro Cat and I didn’t want to miss out on the party happening just up the bank. Not the best attitude I know but sometimes you have to do it.

I was hovering over my rods however when I got a screaming take that went ballistic from the first moment and I knew it was a different stamp of fish from the normal. The fish was practically diving into a reed bed on my right hand side and all I could do was lock up and hold tight. I had re-spooled all my reels with a 25lb braid and this did the trick, the fish splashed his way out of danger and swung back into the main current, I breathed a sigh of relief and not long afterwards Mark slipped the net under a massive common.

We weighed it straight away and it jiggled at a fraction over 30lbs after subtracting the weigh sling, I was happy with 30lbs dead and a new personal best common. Another very happy Chappy!

Mark had caught a small cat during one of the evening boat sessions that weighed around 35lbs and we celebrated our first cat of the trip with a bottle of the local red.

Brian had caught a very cute 1/2 pounder on a piece of luncheon meat whilst going for the Crucians, yet I was still to even get a bite. I had my live bait mysteriously nicked from 2 x 3/0 trebles and a single a couple of times, and am as yet, unsure how that can happen, but as my week drew to a close it looked like I would remain Catless.

I had decided to pack up and do some research on the middle and upper regions of the Ebro for my last 2 days, and Monday morning saw me pull the carp rods in and pack camp. I said goodbye to Mark and Hayley and left them with the parting words of:- go get a big one... as they were not flying back till later that evening and would get an early afternoon session in on the boat.
If I knew then what I know now I wouldn’t have left.

They took the boat out and headed to the other side of the island where Mark had caught his first small Cat earlier in the week. 2 Hours of bite less fishing saw them drifting downriver close to the end of the island when Marks rod went off. The drag on the multiplier was screwed up tight and Mark, like myself, was not too familiar with the workings of the multiplier reel couldn’t loosen it. It turned into a hold and pull tug of war between Mark on one end and one very angry cat on the other, with the drag screwed tight there was no way to take a hand from the creaking rod to loosen it, Mark could do nothing but hold on and was barley able to keep the rod in his two hands as the huge fish gave it all that it had. It went under the anchor rope and on feeding the rod through and connecting Mark heard an ominous crack, as the Rod shattered somewhere fundamental.

So it was mark holding onto the upper section of the rod, Gary the guide pulling the line and Hayley with the butt section reeling in the slack that Gary was gaining, it looked like a lost cause, and Gary was convinced that they had a bigie on, maybe even the new lower record. After a Herculean effort by all Gary managed to glove it and pull the monster into the boat.

The fish wasn’t weighed but Gary’s expert eye put it at around 105lbs and who’s gonna argue with that. It was a physically and mentally shattered Mark that sat through the photos and slipped his first ton fish safely back. Well played mate!

Destination Riba-roja D´Ebre

So as Mark was making war on Gary’s tackle I was ambling along towards the more interesting middle section, where the river runs deep and wide through stunning cliff valleys. I felt akin with the rapidly changing geography as I headed towards Tortosa and a small village I wanted to see called Tivissa. From there I headed to the regional Capital of Móra D´Ebre and a spot of property hunting.

I had been thinking for a while that I would like to own a place on the Ebro, prices are still fairly reasonable and my business more or less allows me to work from where ever. So there were a few other little villages that I wanted to check out on my meandering course upstream. To be honest nothing really fired my imagination, the villages all seemed to be fairly dull agriculturally driven rundown places.
But as I approached Riba-Roja things started to look up. Just 1km up stream from the village the first hydro electric dam creates a heap of electricity and separates the lower delta area from the higher mountainous section running 40 kms or so to the next dam at Mequinenza.

I have written a post about the dreaded Zebra muscle which first invested the river Ebro from this area, you can read that post here.

The village was quaint, a little run down but lighter somehow to the other villages I had traveled through that morning.

On driving out the village I spotted a small marina where a couple of smaller skiffs were moored and obviously set up for the Cat Angler. I had seen a 4x4 on German plates around the village with Hacienda Angling on the side, and I knew from my Internet research that Riba roja was the start of the serious Ebro Big fish scene. Just passed the marina was the Dam and beyond that the middle section of the river Ebro and the home to some of the biggest catfish in Europe. 200lb fish are not uncommon from this middle section, but most of the real biggies seem to come out at the famous town of Mequinenza, Riba Roja has its fair share of lunkers too.

I passed the dam and continued on the only road I could find that would keep me near to the river, roughly 3 km out of the village I cam across Camping Riba-Roja and some excellent pegs, well maintained by a local angling club and fishable on the Cataluña license with a 3 Euro a day ticket from the campsite.

As I approached the county of Aragon I had been warned not to night fish, and not ever, never ever fish without a permit. The county line for Cataluña and Aragon crosses just upstream from Riba-Roja so I though that it would be as good a place as any to bivvy up and get the rods out whilst I was still legal on my Cataluña permit.

This had been obtained at the start of the previous week from an Amposta tackle shop with presentation of my passport and 14,50€ for a years fishing from bank and boat, the next day I would be entering into Aragon, where they have had us big fish hunters up to their back teeth and check all permits with a vigilance that’s quiet scary and firmly enforce the no night fishing rule.
But that night I was still in Cataluña, who have a much more lassie faire attitude about the whole thing of sleeping and fishing, or so the two guys in the camping restaurant assured me as I bought my day ticket and headed down to the swim.

As the sun fell below the mountains infront of me and the clear skies turned to a perfect observatory for the stunning light show the stars were offering. I felt confident of getting some fish, plenty crashed in the general vicinity of my single baits and small pva bags, so it was no surprise when my middle rod screamed off and I was into a lovely hard fighting common. Nothing special at around 11 lbs but a nice fish straight away from a new swim. The night was uneventful with 1 more fish of the same size just before I started packing up in the morning.

A few kms passed the camping in a small in cut to the main river is the the famous and massive German Wels Camp run by Andree´s Angelreisen and I was well impressed by their set up. No one really spoke English and it looked like they mainly catered for the German Market, but they do rent out gear, a cat set up is €7 per day and boats and guides are all available.
Next to Wels camp was a place renting out canal barges, and this has really taken my fancy for the next trip. At around €1200 for a week sleeping up to 9 and renting your gear from the Wels Camp it seems an excellent and reasonably economic way to get in among the big ones and fish at night - who’s gonna check my permit when im moored in the middle of the river!

From here the road winds inland away from the river through some stunning scenery and wildlife with fish eagles and buzzards riding the uplifts in a clear blue Spanish sky. (Excuse the plagiarism Mr. Issac)

The road then heads back to the river, slowly dropping down to the big fish Mecca of Mequinenza. I parked up and made my way to the river front in the center of the village, the pavement lined bank was dotted with Brits and Germans, their rods all fishing sea fishing style from cleverly made brackets that adjusted by screw thread to the concrete river siding. Due to the lack of bait fish in this section, and the only explanation of that can be that the cats have eaten it all as the lower Ebro is packed yet this middle section is strangely bait fish free. The anglers were all using big Marine Halibut pellets, numerous ones all threaded hair rig style and fished with big lead and super tight line.
I didn’t see anything caught but they told me that 2 different big fish had been out in the last 3 weeks, 1 of 227 lbs and 1 of 220, could have been the same fish with a tidily 7 lbs Carp snack in its belly, but lets say 2 cats over 200 lbs! It’s more fun.

I drove through the village and came across an excellent tackle shop called, what a great place, one of those tackle shops where you feel like a lad at Christmas, heaps of bait and everything you could need or even not need but buy it anyway cause it looks the business. So few of those here in Spain, but I’m pleased to say my resolve held up and I walked out of there with nothing. A short detour up to Caspe, a pleasant mountain town some 40 kms upstream, and in the third section of the river, saw me checking my watch and realizing that if I was going to make it home in time for work on Wednesday I had better make tracks.

So I’m looking forward to the next trip and hopefully putting 1 of those big cats on the bank, hasta la proxima, Fraser

The Truth WareHouse Blog

Video Catch reports Morocco Carp