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Wels Catfish - Spain 2024

Updated: May 3

By David Graham: 4-26-2024

giant wels catfish

Hot off my trip to Suriname chasing the mighty piraiba catfish, I wasted no time setting sights on yet another giant catfish, the European Wels Catfish.

The beautiful thing about genuinely passionate anglers is we're drawn to one another from all over the world. The boundless pursuit of this passion has many bi-product's that aren't necessarily fish, but equal in value. Among them is the relationships built. Once that pursuit extends beyond state lines or continental borders, the community becomes progressively smaller.

In the realm of world traveling freshwater monster hunters, it seems everyone knows everyone - or has at least seen or heard of each other. In a sport populated by millions across the globe, that is unique! My trip to Guyana's Essequibo river in 2023 afforded me the opportunity to cross paths with Natakorn (Thumb) Changrew of Thailand. That connection allowed me to meet up with Yuri Grisendi of Italy in Suriname. With collective minds and ambitions we drew up plans to unite on neutral territory in Spain for one of my all time bucket-list fish, the Wels catfish!

We planned to meet up and fish under the guidance of Dutch angler Peter Hutting of 'Big Catfish Hunting'. Peter specializes in the pursuit of monster wels catfish by using high end belly boats equipped with electric motors and live scope sonar. This method allows anglers to actively search for specific fish and specimens under the stealthy propulsion of an electric motor or ones own feet pushing with a pair of flippers.

Intrigued by the completely new style of fishing I could experience here, and the obvious payout that would come at the end of a giant wels catfish - this was a no brainer. Unlike Suriname, we would be 100% equipped with all gear. Rods, reels, wetsuits, hardware and tools, the boats... everything. We would have proper lodging, three meals per day and laundry service. A total (and welcomed) change of scenery from the absolute grind that was the Coppename River of Suriname.

Barcelona airport

I touched down in Barcelona mid day where I linked up with Thumb, his cameraman, and Yuri. We were picked up at the airport by Barry Postma who has recently assumed the reins of Ebro-Total-Fishing. The area from Barcelona out towards our stay in the Caspe area was a progressive change in architecture. The impressive modern buildings of Barcelona slowly changed as modern buildings became meshed and frankly connected with ancient looking stone brick structure. More and more as we moved west the rugged terrain of desert cliffs and mountains were punctuated by old farm land and fruit tree groves. Life and economy out here looks rough, but it clearly works.

At the lodging of Ebro-Total-Fishing we were welcomed by the site of our nations flags proudly waving over the quote "Feels Like Home". We got to our rooms, arranged our belongings, and met up for a meal. The family style meals here provided by the kind ladies on site were excellent. Sitting and breaking bread with people from Thailand, Italy, Holland, and Spain... it was fantastic. We told big fish stories, and listened intently as Peter Hutting explained the nature of the fishing here.

Peter got straight into business... day one. He had prepared a detailed video that demonstrated and articulated precision tactics and techniques he himself had developed. These are trade secrets, and no one dared film... and we swore to secrecy the things he showed us. Its a unique style where ego needs to be left at the door, listen to professor!

For this reason, out of respect for someone I admire and now consider a friend, I will not go into depth about the tactics of the fishing in this blog...

After detailed mental notes were taken - we prepped for the days ahead. Forecasts called for very concerning conditions the first two days, with sustained winds exceeding 25-30mph. To try to learn and operate a belly boat effectively under these conditions would be rough! But Peter proclaimed these are actually the BEST days to learn!

We hit up an area on day one under the high pressure of terrible winds and chilly air. It was like learning to walk again... being a completely helpless amateur as an angler. I haven't felt that way in a long time, but its a good feeling.... its a challenge! Navigating in the belly boat is bizarre in that you're essentially moving in reverse everywhere you go - and anything showing on the radar is technically behind you. We would steer with our flippers. Peter put on a masterclass of coaching, explaining, staying patient and communicating effectively with three guys who really didn't know what they were doing in what could maybe be called dangerous conditions!

This is hardly fishing as much as hunting. And makes Peter's brand 'Big Catfish Hunting' really make sense. It is a constant search pattern of looking for viable targets without scaring them away. The gridlines would allow you to see the general size of the fish and depth they swam at thereby allowing the angler to pick and chose targets. Smaller fish are more willing, and in the early days could be used as another means of 'training'. We observed some fish on the radar that looked to be over 2.5m (8.2 feet) on the grid system... terrifying! Keeping composed and keeping Peter's advice in the back of the mind when seeing these fish was really tough. The heart elevates, you're stressed, shocked, amazed... and all focus and precision goes right out the window!.

The first day was just a baptism of fire, a training session. On day two we would take what we had learned and apply them in similar conditions. Once again we battled the winds but this time we were able to operate individually without as much babysitting. The fish were somewhat active, and we had the shots at them, but our inexperienced kept a lot of fish from taking. There was very little action, but mostly because of self inflicted errors. Its a game of lining up all variables perfectly. The precise trajectory of the fish without scaring it. Compensating for the wind, knowing which direction it turns and keeping with it, and knowing exactly when where and how to present the lure to trigger a bite.

I managed on several occasions to get a strike only to lose the fish... but the take of the fish is distinct and exhilarating. A hard 'thump' that cant be mistaken. I'd compare it to a goliath grouper. This enormous mouth popping open and creating a vacuum of gallons of water in an instant... pulling anything in range into a mouth lined with tough sandpapery bite pads and crushers.

wels catfish

I was able to experience the raw power of a decent fish in the two-meter range on the 2nd day. The smaller fish would fight sporadically twisting and shaking and spinning around, but the larger fish just pull consistently downward. A prolonged vertical pressure where, without the ability to plant your feet on a solid surface, you absorb entirely into your back and arms. That was the worst part! The fight is not ergonomically efficient at all! Your legs just sort of dangle there and instinctively kick and struggle and search for a footing that is not there! You take the full brunt of the power into your arms and lower back whether you like it or not!

wels catfish

When my first decent fish came to the surface it was such a rush. I recall seeing images of wels catfish floating around online as early as 2003. A specific photo had circulated through my early AOL email address as a 'chain mail' claiming this enormous fish had been caught in the states. Even this early on I think I was intuitive enough to question the validity of that but even more so a local tackle shop along the Santee Cooper had the same photo posted behind the desk claiming it was locally caught! Nonsense! I held on to that photo all these years knowing one day i'd chase that very species... and in a crazy twist of fate I ended up with with one of the guys who was there that day (Yuri) and have since spoken a good deal with the angler who reeled it in - Lucas van der Geest.

The next three days forecasted glass conditions and warm weather! We felt for sure we were going to get on them hard! Because of a local carp tournament in the section we had fished in previous days, we tried a new area. We worked a steep rock wall among giant boulders, down steep bank lines... we tried near shore, and way 'off shore' but for some reason we only found small fish. Peter assured us this was not normal. The only new observation made was the abundant groups of carp splashing and spawning in the shallow reeds along shore. One would suspect the larger fish would be drawn in by the commotion and the easy meals.

belly boat fishing for wels catfish

We fished another day, another location, and found similar fortune. Mysteriously... with better conditions the trophy sized fish were vanishing and yet the groups of carp spawning hard in the shallows was ever present. In three feet of water, any wels would be virtually inaccessible... and impossible to detect. We would put in long hours and miles on the electric motors or under tow of an outboard boat canvassing every possible area and yet could not find the fish.

small wels catfish

belly boat fishing for wels catfish

Smaller fish were being encountered and caught - if for no other reason than to break up the monotony. We went into the final day knowing it would once again become a 'last day glory' situation. We opted to return to the original spot where the majority of large fish had been seen during the week. There too the larger fish seemed harder to locate. Or would often be 'cruising' at fast speeds at the top six feet of the water column where a stealthy approach was near impossible. I will say, despite the difficult bite - everyone seemed to remain pretty optimistic and on the hunt.

Before the final bell - we had all captured our fish. And I am happy to report that I was able to experience the full power of a proper sized monster Ebro river wels catfish! Perhaps more so than some of my recent trips and targets, I am eager to return to Europe to hunt for this incredible fish again. I have a very strong urge to experience this particular style and chase this species again! I need to stay focused on a perpetual path to targeting new fish... but I know I will be back before long.

At this stage im six species in on a quest for the world's largest freshwater fish (Alligator gar, gulf sturgeon, white sturgeon, arapaima, piraiba, and wels catfish). I have such a strong desire to separate from the pack, elevate, and do things that not many (or no one) has done before. To potentially tackle a double digit quantity of fish over 100lb. To be in the company of few...

belly boat fishing with live scope

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Apr 26
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Incredible adventure and article!

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