The Wels catfish is native throughout large areas of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe. The most western extent of its natural range is Germany where there are many rivers that contain Wels catfish inc the Rhine, Neckar and Donau. There have been some very large catfish caught on these rivers although populations seem to be smaller these days.
Southeast Europe has large populations of Wels catfish in the Danube basin as the river and its tributaries pass through Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania on the way to the rivers delta where it meets the Black Sea.
There are also populations of Wels catfish in Russia in the rivers Volga, Ural, Dnieper and Don to name a few. Historically there have been some massive catfish reported form Russian rivers. Many of these populations have been put under threat due to overfishing by commercial boats on these mighty rivers. However Russia is such a massive country with so much water there must be lots of areas that do not get fished, particularly in the backwaters and channels of deltas like the Volga.
There are also catfish in many lakes throughout eastern Europe and countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia are all worth looking at if you plan a real ‘fishing adventure’.
Although the Wels catfish is native to Eastern and South-eastern Europe it is often rarer here than in areas of Western Europe such as France, Italy and Spain. The primary reason for this has been the over-fishing of Wels catfish. In lots of eastern European countries the Wels is an important food source. It is the smaller fish that are sought after by the commercial fishing operations which mean that many of the fish may not have spawned that many times thus declining the species locally even further. The smaller fish, under 15kg, are favoured as over this weight the flesh tends to get very fatty and does not make good eating. The eggs of the Wels catfish are poisonous and should never be eaten.
It is possible that with political, social and economic change in the old eastern bloc countries that, if commercial fishing declines and there is less dependence on the Wels catfish as a food source that many of these countries will see the Wels return in the vast numbers that used to be present in rivers like the Volga many years ago.
To see some pictures of big catfish caught from both Spain and France by Catfishing UK forum members check out our gallery pages. If you have any questions about fishing in Europe, please feel free to contact me via the contact page. Better still, join the forum and ask any questions on there. Lots of the members have fished in Europe and will give honest and good advice.
Introduction by Man
In continental Europe, many of the popular catfishing rivers are in France, Spain and Italy. All three countries have rivers that have produced some very large catfish and yet, surprisingly, Wels catfish are not native to any of these countries and have inhibited these waterways for less than 40 years. They have been introduced by man, sometimes legally and at others illegally.
France has many good catfishing rivers such as the Saone, Seine, Doubs, Seille, Tarn, Garonne and Loire. Access to many of these rivers can be quite easy and English anglers fish these French rivers every year in search of some of the large catfish that lurk there. Surprisingly there few guiding services operating in France these days.
In Italy Wels catfish takes place primarily in the North of the country. The rivers Po, Mincio and Arno are of interest to anglers. The Po in particular has done some massive fish in excess 250lb. This is a very fast and powerful river and for anybody planning a trip out there, a guiding service is pretty much essential. At present there are no British guides on the river but there are some very good German companies.
The River Ebro
Catfishing in Spain is centred on the river Ebro and its tributaries the Segre and Cinca. The Ebro gets a special mention as it is simply the most prolific Wels catfishing venue in the world. Every year large numbers of anglers from the UK flocks here to the many guiding services to catch that dream fish. The most famous areas on the river are Mequinenza, Caspe and Amposta and 200lb fish come out of the river every year. It is unbelievable to think that the fish were only introduced into the river less than 40 years ago. Some of the monster fish that are caught may even be from the original stocking. A lot of the fishing is now done ‘pellet style’ from the bank, particularly in Aragon, which covers both Caspe and Mequi, as livebaiting is now illegal. Further down river it is still possible to fish from a boat and have the river to yourself. The stretch between Flix and Riba-Roja is very picturesque and holds some very good fish. Please note that licences are required to fish the Ebro. Dependant on where you fish you will either need an Aragon or a Catalan licence. Having fished this river many times I can say that there can be some absolutely fantastic fishing to be had, I once had over 500lb of fish in 6 hours. However, like all rivers it can go off form. Not every fish will be a monster and not every day will be a red letter one. However I have no hesitation in saying that it is the most consistent river in Europe.
Catfish in the UK
Although there are no large populations of catfish in the rivers of the UK, the amount of lakes that hold Wels are increasing all the time. The whole subject of where and how to fish in the UK is dealt with on the ‘Catfishing in the UK’ page.