When I was in Catalunya I was invited onto the River Ebro for a fishing expedition.
Rob has been a fishing guide on the River Ebro in Catalunya, Spain for the past 14 years.
One evening, when the temperature was still up over 30 degrees, Rob accompanied by his 12 year old daughter Holly, invited me and a friend out onto the river to experience Top Cat Fishing on the River Ebro.
This fishing expedition ticked many of the boxes for the Smash the Pumpkin Project so I was very keen to get out on the water. I am afraid of deep water so that was my fear challenged head on, it was certainly a new experience for me and I hardly needed a challenge to get outdoors with such spectacular scenery all around.
Rob had been fishing in the UK since the age of 4 and after coming to Spain for a fishing holiday, he made the decision to sell up and move to Catalunya with his young family. They changed their lives and they began a new business.
And so it was that one very hot summer’s evening when the dragonflies were hovering and darting over the river and the mountains still had to cast any shade that the four of us (Top Cat Fishing’s first all female clientele) stepped into the fishing boat and set off up river.
Our fishing adventure
The boat (I am scared of boats) was small (4.5 metres) but thankfully it was incredibly stable. It is fully kitted out with everything that you need for a day’s fishing and I felt very safe out on the water in it. The engine powered us up the wide river, where open banks lined with reeds gave way to olive groves which dipped down to the water and which in turn gave way to ochre coloured cliffs sitting with their feet in the water and their rocky heads towering above us.
As the name suggests, Top Cat Fishing targets catfish on their expeditions. I now know that catfish are the biggest freshwater fish in Europe and let’s be frank here, they are also quite possibly the ugliest.
The biggest catfish which has been caught in this part of the Ebro to date weighed in at a hefty 190lbs and it measured an enormous 2.5 metres. Rob told me that the large fish in this river can live for up to 40 years.
The cat fish are carnivorous and eat dead animals and live fish, but unlike the piranha which I had caught in the Amazon, the catfish don’t have sharp teeth, but rather a strip of what can best be described as Velcro in their mouths with which they shred their food.
I honestly didn’t expect that we would catch anything as we set off, but it was a beautiful evening for messing about in boats regardless of the outcome.
Rob pre-baits certain parts of the river which ensures a steady supply of the catfish for his clients – or at least shortens the odds in his favour – but he has an excellent track record of catches here on the Ebro and he was quietly confident that we would catch something.
The special places where the catfish like to hang out are called ‘swims’ and we fished a few of these during our evening on the River Ebro. We fished from a gravel sandbar in the middle of the river where it was possible to get out of the boat and paddle, and we fished in a shady place under trees where slimy lime-green algae and blanket weed surrounded the boat. We tied up at the foot of the sandy coloured cliffs and we just sort of hung about there peering down into the sparkling clear water and watching the myriad of ordinary fish which swarmed below us.
As we fished the swims we quietly chatted and patiently waited. The scenery here is spectacular and the evening light glowed amber as the sun began to sink behind the mountain peaks. The river flowed powerfully yet gracefully and it was crystal clear. Weeds floated in the currents and eddies, gently grabbing at the fishing lines which caused the reels to gently ‘tick’ and our hearts to stop for a second as we thought that we had a bite.
Top Cat fishing on the River Ebro
And then, we had the drama that we had been waiting for. My line ticked and clicked and the rod began to bend as I grabbed it from where it had been resting in the bottom of the boat. Following Rob’s instructions I pulled and wound the reel handle, pulled some more and then I was hanging on for dear life as the fish shot under the boat. I was reminded of the film Jaws and as my friend grabbed me and the pair of us held the rod, Holly untied the boat from the tree that we had moored alongside and she was quickly elevated to the position of team photographer.
We struggled for quite some time before Rob was able to reach out and bring the catfish into the boat. Normally when a fish is caught they are weighed in a canvas sling, people pose for a photograph and then they are carefully released. We didn’t weigh ours – the size wasn’t important for me, although Rob estimated it to weigh about 60lbs but we did sit quietly with it briefly before it was gently released back into the river.
Don’t be fooled by the gentle photograph either. The catfish exude a stinky sticky substance which dries like the glue that you would use in primary school and smells like a decaying dragon. We were plastered in it as we sat for the picture and we were trying not to gag as we smiled – it was certainly a case of the fish getting its revenge.
Whatever your views of fishing as a pastime, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that these fish are treated with respect. They are comprised of pure muscle so they certainly do put up a fight but once landed they are calm and still (apparently it is to do with a build up of lactic acid which then renders them calm). And on release, Rob gently held the fish alongside the boat for a minute or so until it was ready to swim away, and he explained that when they catch the larger ones the guides actually get in the river and support the fish for 10 minutes or more.
Where to stay
Whilst some anglers come for the day from the resorts of Salou or Cambrils, most of them tend to stay locally within the charming village of Benifallet, or they rent fincas nearby in the surrounding countryside. Rob can take out up to 6 people in a group (3 per boat) for a full days fishing, or for a half a day or an evening, all year around, and as I have already mentioned, he supplies everything that is needed.
Many of the villas have river frontage so even if you are not on the river with one of the fishing guides you can spend time just messing about with rods. Groups of anglers come away for fishing holidays but many also bring their families who can find plenty of other things to do in the region.
Top Cat Fishing has information on trips and activities as well as details of some of the accommodation which is available on the website which you can access from the links in this article. Do take a look if you are interested in fishing, or if you simply want somewhere peaceful to stay for a holiday.
Fishing and the River Ebro
I had previously spent time at the Ebro Delta (you can read that article here) so I was very interested to spend time on the river proper. The Ebro (spelt Ebre in the Catalan language) is 500kms long and it has somewhere in the region of 27 dams and weirs, most of which provide hydro-electricity. Close to the village of Benifallet the average depth of the water is 20 feet, although in some places it drops to a scary deep 60 feet.
The river Ebro is an anglers’ paradise and it has plenty of other species in it too – with large carp being the second most targeted fish. Egrets poke about at the edges, eagles and vultures soar overhead and I was VERY excited to spot an electric blue kingfisher as it darted past us.
The fishermen and the anglers contribute to the conservation of the river with the licence fees going towards the environmental costs. Clean water is necessary for the health of the fish and because of the revenue which is generated the environmental companies listen to the fishermen and keep the rivers as clean as possible. It is doubtful whether the authorities would do quite so much if the rivers were not profitable.
All in all, we had a wonderful evening on the river and the icing on the cake was catching an enormous fish. Now we just need to get rid of all the mosquitoes (unless you can give me one good reason for a mosquito) which launch their attack exposed skin at dusk and it would be just perfect.
For more information about the fishing excursions and some of the accomodation options see the website at TOP CAT FISHING
- Benifallet is located on the River Ebro in the Tarragona province of Catalunya, Spain
- The population of 780 people enjoy fiestas and festivals which often take place on the river bank and the town is blessed with several excellent restaurants
- Kayakers and cyclists as well as fishermen are a common site in the village, with many visitors also coming here for the caves and river boat trips
Thank you to Rob and Top Cat Fishing for giving me the opportunity to experience an evening on the river. All opinions are my own and were not influenced in any way.