Wels catfish, sheatfish or European catfish, are some of the fresh water fish that can reach considerable sizes, making excellent subjects for extreme fishing. They can reach over 3 m in length and weigh over 250 kg.
Landing one of these monsters evidently requires a specialized approach, and an effective tackle. I’ll get to that in the second part of this post, but first let’s have a look what are the best places to look for these monsters and what fishing techniques are the most used.
Where to Catch Wels Catfish
First of all, wels catfish are characteristic to the fresh waters of central, eastern and southern Europe. They prefer deep lakes or slow-flowing rivers with warm waters, with plenty of places to hide, like deep holes, sunken tree trunks, brush etc. Especially in still waters, they are margin feeders, so there’s no need to cast or place your bait too far from the shore of the pond.
Some of the European rivers well-known for their population of large wels catfish are the Ebro (particularly at Mequinenza Reservoir), Danube (which passes through various countries), Rhone and Saone (France), Volga (Russia).
Wels Catfish Fishing Techniques
Still fishing is one of the most common fishing methods for wels catfish. Most anglers use different versions of paternoster rigs, with one or multiple hooks, with stinkbaits, dead bait or live bait.
Due to the fact that wels catfish are slightly different from other catfish around the world, being active predators, fishing with heavy lures can bring great results, and a fishing crowned with excitement. However, considering that wels catfish have quite a poor eyesight, it’s best to go for vibration lures. They locate their prey with their barbels, which are very sensitive tactile organs. A vibrating lure will easily be detected by a catfish. In clear water, yellow lures can be effective. Even though catfish have poor eyesight, yellow is the color that’s the easiest to spot underwater.
Wels catfish prefer warmer waters, therefore a decrease in temperature may not be the best time for catching these fish. Also, they are nocturnal feeders, so fishing at night will considerably increase positive results.
Bait and Lures for Wels Catfish
Wels catfish feed on smaller fish, gastropods and worms, crustaceans, insects, frogs, and as they grow in size, they attack larger prey, like aquatic birds. Therefore, for still fishing, you can use basically anything as bait for catfish. Some of the commonly used baits are
Live baits: eels, small carp, river bream, roach, frogs, mice, worms, leeches, or insects like mole crickets. That, or course, if live baits are allowed.
Dead baits: You can also use the same fish mentioned above for dead bait, or sections from them. But when it comes to dead bait, mackerel and herring sections are the best, because they release a very strong scent into the water. Also, chicken guts, livers or beef liver sections are great baits for wels catfish.
Boilies or pellets, especially the protein-based kind, can also be used.
Lures: Spoons, spinners and deep-diver plugs are great to try for catfish. These are lures that emit moderate or strong vibrations into the water, which can be easily picked by the sensitive barbels of a catfish. Color shouldn’t matter much since their eyesight is poor. However, it’s been reported that yellow lures have a higher rate of success on catfish.
Since all catfish are bottom feeders, deep-diving lures are more likely to be taken. Using lures works best if you already know where the catfish is located, and actually throw the lure as close to it as possible. Using a fish finder to locate catfish, especially if you want to fish with lures, is a great idea.
Since wels catfish have a pretty big mouth, never hesitate to use larger bait, lures and big hooks.
Tackle for Wels Catfish
Rods: Many anglers use the same 12′ rods that they use for carp, for catfish. However, a rod between 8-11′ (8ft if you’re fishing from boat, 11-12ft if you’re fishing from the shore), 3-4lb test curve, with 9 to 11 rings, is much better because it will grant a better control on a large catfish. Elastic action rods are also better than stiff rods. A stiff rod may not be able to absorb a quick, heavy drop of the fish, resulting in a hook pull. A few brand names to go with would be: Catfish Pro Persuader, Shakespeare Ugly Stik Medium Heavy, Daiwa Black Widow.
Reels: Evidently you will need a solid reel for catfish, with a hold capacity of at least 100 m of line. Daiwa Infinity X 5500, Eurorunner Excel 500, PENN Slammer 760L Live Liner Spinning Reel, or Shimano B Baitrunners 4500 and 6500, are a few spinning reels that shouldn’t let you down in a fight with these monsters. If you prefer baitcasters, you should go with Abu Garcia 6500 C3 or Penn 320GT2.
Line: No matter what line you choose, it’s best to fill the reel to the top, to allow a long run. Best line range for monofilament line is 20-40lb, and 40-60lb for braided. Braided will serve you better if there are a lot of snags. A few brand names to look for are P-Line CX Premium, Krystonite, GLT Pro-Tough, Amnesia.
Leaders: Since catfish have teeth, which are very abrasive, you will surely need good hooklinks. Kryston Quicksilver, Coramid Catfish or Dyneema are ideal. You can also use wire trace leader, especially if there’s a chance the live bait will be taken by pike. In any case, make sure you opt for 80-100lb swivels.
Hooks: Catfish have large mouths and will take large bait, therefore using large and strong hooks is vital. 1/0 – 5/0, should be good enough. Mustad O’Shaughnessys, Gamakatsu (Black series) or Owner SSWs with cutting point are good choices.