Ive been working on a guide to help look after big wels catfish. The average weight where i fish is over 100lb, you get many abused fish over the year and through a process of education I hope that some people take on board that big fish dont last for ever if mistreated. We know the wels live over 100 years, the fish I catch at 200lb are no more than 30, so theres room for growth and an urgency to keep these big brood fish in good condition. Here are some of the main points, that may be of use to you. What is detailed in this thread will not catch you more or bigger fish, but will best help prepare you to look after one when you have it on the bank. I would be grateful of your feed back, fishing with pebbles has given me the edge this year and results in less mouth damage although creating areas of activity is a must for gaining the attention of the monster cats. Returning catfish alive & well is more important than any measurement, weight & even any trophy photo. In an ideal world every fishing swim would have an unhooking mat already pegged out ready for you to use. Unfortunately this is not the case on the Ebro & in most instances the flat areas of bank that are suitable for bringing the fish up on to are rock strewn & rough. For a little effort, a bit of thought & literally a few euros, you can automatically gain levels of respect from local anglers, more importantly the local water bailiff & the police when they see that you are thinking about fish care & safe return. Local attitudes towards fish return have started to change as they realise the revenue from the fishermen, its longevity through proper care & the safe return of large female catfish. Catfish care starts before you even get the baits out. Being prepared for your first take ensures you relax, read the fishes movements & respond with confidence due to there not being panic amidst your feet as friends best prepare for the unknown Look at your swim & identify foremost where you are going to manoeuvre the catfish up & out of the water & onto the bank. Forming a ramp to transfer your prize may require some hard work & effort by clearing rocks both bank side & those submerged in the margins, to form in effect a slope free from sharp edges from the waters edge to the bank level you are fishing from. Upon achieving your slope, cover it with a sheet of plastic or a ground sheet to protect the fish from any sharp stones & gravel that will scratch the fish as you remove it from the water & onto the bank & into position for weighing or photographing When fishing on a budget an ideal way to protect the fish you catch is to purchase a standard sleeping bag, open out & cover with a sheet of polythene (5m x 5m minimum) that is then pegged tight to form suitable protection. Use a smaller piece of sheet to cover your ramp & peg the top so it meets your bank mat. Always bring and return your fish using the ramp head first in a slow deliberate fashion supporting the bulk wherever possible. After putting the baits out make sure you have plenty of water on the bank ready to pour on the mat & the fish. Wet plastic is ideal for turning your fish for unhooking, weighing & manoeuvring into place for photos. These burns are most noticeable in fish when taking the photo. Pulling your catfish up a dry slope or moving it around on any part of a dry mat removes its protective membrane of slime on contact & causes burns that are avoidable. Playing the fish comes naturally, the emotions & experience resulting in it nearing the margins to be gloved is one best described by you later in the bar back home with a tale of the one that was this big. Gloves are best worn, as the pads both top & bottom just inside the mouth can be very sharp in young fish & will take off your skin on contact with any part of hand or arm leaving you literally red raw. This red rawness does heal eventually & does rub off your tan but it usually goes sceptic so ensure your tetanus immunisation is up to date. When the fish has been gloved ensure that the slope & mat are wet, this can take up to 6 buckets of water, so you need to be prepared. Firstly stand back, admire & respect your catch irrespective of size, then weigh & measure it & capture the moment on film if desired. When gloving a cat for the first time it is best to wear two gloves, take the hook link one hand a guide the mouth to the surface & place your hand into the opposite side from where the fish is hooked. This gives you a better chance of not you getting hooked up to a big cat, that either swims gently back out into the river with you still attached, even worse have you toppling overboard & to a depth or feature most frequented by your quarry. Be very careful using consistent non jurking movements when bringing the cat out of water. It is very easty to dislocate, crack and break jaws and ribs. Support any belly including your own at all times. Bank shots are nice but water shots are the best practice for fish care. Be surrounded by water than a blue mat over your fireplace. In Spain as you know most days are more than sunny than not, even in the evenings the dry heat lingers & fish on mats soon dry out. When you have a fish on the bank make sure you put plenty of water over it but particularly through the mouth so it gently trickles out through the gills. The trick is not to put or force too much in too quickly as they react such they either think theyre back in the river or by most a reaction to the shock is to turn & thrash on the mat, they do not like it. It is advisable when handling the fish that all loose jewellery is removed just in case the sharp edge of a ring or necklace pendant gets caught & tares the fish or gets caught up in one of its whiskers in some way shape or form. After being lifting for the photo, the fish must be lowered down to the mat as gently as possible & again dowsed in water as there is a lot of strain on the catfish internally associated with its lifting, whilst out of the water & this best practice will minimise any stress brought on by being caught & displayed in the open air. Out of shot at the head end is a gloved angler ready to take the mouth & support the chin & belly as it is lowered after the photo shoot. Holding a 200lb+ bar of soap is easier said than done, this one at 212lb could have been better displayed with the help of a fourth person holding out the tail but positioning of hands & correct grip ensured a good picture. It is best that both knees be on the floor when lifting up a catfish to the cameras as it better displays the fishes natural profile, a knee up to rest the cats chin on looks ok, if the opposite knee was up & touching the cats stomach, the rib cage would be resting on the knee, this as previously stated displays fish length in an unnatural profile Grip on the pectoral fin is essential for holding your fish when displaying it for camera, my personal view is that it is best to photograph all large fish in the water as it reduces the amount of time on bank & there is less risk of damage to your fish. When holding a pectoral fin is best to have all four fingers gripped tightly in unison over the thickest joining piece of cartilage as it allows you to pull the fishes head & shoulders down horizontal to the camera. If you do not achieve these types of grip, then you are more likely to drop the heaviest part of the fish. If there are more than two of you lifting, he who caught the fish usually is positioned for photo at the head end of the fish, with several volunteers supporting the tail section; you can use two hands to lift the bulk of the fish. Lifting is best done in short bursts on the bank, as you will need energy to lift the fish solo in the water. After carefully manoeuvring the fish back into the margins, when lifting using the grips pictured you will be able to lift & lock your legs at about waist deep in water as the river supports the tail & takes some of the weight. For examples of the types of bank & water shots, visit our website gallery for some of the biggest & best catfish pictures the fishing world has seen to date. When supporting the mid section (where the catfishs stomach & tail meet) it is best to grip gently the anal fins together & lift putting the strain of your forearm in the meat of the tail as opposed to compressing the stomach. Being anywhere near the anal fins & lifting such a weight can result, if these anal fins are not being held properly, in warm fingers! The water carries oxygen & the gills process this as do our lungs never the less as the cat sits out of water it will gulp in air, this air, if retained in the cats stomach may be fatal if not removed. You can easily tell if any air needs evicting by placing the cat back in the water. If the fish tilts to one side & left for just a moment you will see exactly where the pocket of air is sitting & can go about burping the catfish into swimming off strongly. When returning the cat, you must rub the air taken in whilst sat on the bank back out of its stomach, dependant on how long out & how big the fish is, it is achieved by ensuring the gills are submerged & the tummy rubbed like you would burp a baby, if you have never burped a baby its like gently but purposefully rubbing a bird stain off your previously polished car bonnet. You will see large plumes of bubbles as the air is released if both gill plates are underwater. If your fish has had a hard fight take it out into the margins & ensure that it is upright with nothing in direct contact with its lateral line, it will soon swim off. In most areas most patrolled by the cats you will need a minimum of 1lb of weight to successfully present bottom baits in the flow. This 1lb of lead is fixed either fully or semi & by using this results in the type of mouth damage shown here. It was on looking at the damage caused that prompted a re-think as to rig mechanics. Its not the hook being ripped out by the rod or the angler but the lead bouncing away out of control doing all the damage. There are numerous advantages of fishing with large round pebbles secured to a running clip swivel by rubber band. I have learned that one pound of lead fixed to the line either semi or running by the same clip swivel has detrimental effects to hook holds, the lead bounces around loosens & even pops hooks out of turning fish & results in mouth damage, with this method you obtain a direct line to your hook hold & not your lead weight. Heavy leads get snagged & tend to lead the fishes head down towards the river bottom. When a pebble rolls out of a band a direct line to the fishes mouth is obtained & usually results in playing the fish in the upper levels of the water giving you better control, increased rod tip sensitivity & quicker response times when playing fast turning & long, fast running fish as well as having better direction on the fish if fishing near snags. When fishing mud flats over long sessions, new environments are created in the form of small bars & mounds of pebbles if you are good at placing baits on the same spots in the main flow of the river consistently. These in are then frequented & commandeered in time as home by crayfish, patrolled by the carp & acts as a dinner plate for the catfish. When baited regularly, these features will provide the edge on fishing the barren mud flanks of flooded valley. This is also a cost effective way of presenting baits in the main flow as loops of pellet anchored can move & twist emitting signals similar to that of an anchored eel The first signs of stress are pictured left when the lower jaws bottom curtain starts to go pink & red in colour. This is followed by the inside bottom mouth & outer chin becoming blotchy & sore looking with a more noticeable pink & red tint. Catfish usually expend all their energy during the fight in many attempt to shed your hook hold, they can swim as fast backwards in short bursts as they do swimming forwards & initial runs can be in excess of 75 yards. They have no natural predator & fear virtually nothing other than a bigger catfish with a firmer grip. It is quite often that when you get the catfish up on to the bank that they lye calm & placid, this in effect is a sure sign it is knackered & will only play up by thrashing & snapping if it has been rushed to the bank unnecessarily & still has a bit of fight left & saved for the bank or is mistreated on the mat in some way The next signs of stress are seen on the outer gill covers & the pectoral fin bulbs. If you start to see these signs it is best to start thinking of returning the fish safely to the margins as the last thing you want is a dead catfish let alone dead personal best on your hands. Most catfish caught do not show signs of stress where as others take offence in being hooked & are red & blotchy from the word go. Be mindful of sensitive fish & always have the fish out of the water for the least possible amount of time, have both buckets of water & cameras to hand, ensure that every member of the group has little fish care chores to complete that will rotate as you work as a group & play a part in everyones catch & returns. If the catfish ever starts to pink & purple up in its flanks its time to say goodbye, by this time no excess air will be in its stomach as you would have burped it up & the fish should be making moves in an attempt to slip your grasp & return home. If you are unsure of returning fish in the first instance, ensure the head is facing the bank when you are out in the margins as you will be able to recover a distressed fish from under your feet as opposed to see it top up worryingly out of reach. Retaining catfish by a short stringer during the day is unnecessary unless it is a new world record. Most stringers (rope used to retain catfish) are put on personal best fish that are caught nearing the hour of midnight. The catfish are kept in the water until first light for photographing & these fish have a habit during this time of recharging their batteries to the max. Be prepared for rodeo when entering the water to reclaim your fish. If you obtain its weight and length before putting securing by stringer you can then just photograph the fish in the water as opposed to causing any unnecessary stress by haling it back up the bank. When collecting fish that have been put on stringer you will need to be waist deep in the water, if the fish is anywhere near rocks or dry land they will beat you & themselves up in protest. It is best to tire them in the water & on re-gloving the fish, gently rub the top lip running your hand over its nostrils as such & between the whiskers as it has some kind of calming effect & will see your cat soon purring to the bank. When you secure your fish for too long by stringer the catfish develops rope rash. Rope rash looks sore & itchy but is easily avoided by keeping stringer time to a minimum. The best type of stringer is a 15-meter length rope with a just loop in one end the loop is passed up through a gill plate between gill raker 1 & 2 with the other end of the rope passing through the loop so it self secures. You need this length of rope in order for the catfish to be sat relatively stress free in a reasonable depth of water. Use an echo sounder to find suitable mooring spots for sleeping cats as these factors will determine the length of rope required & avoids the catfish getting snagged in any unseen underwater features. The single loop stringer ensures that if the catfish escapes the tying off point on the bank then the stringer will pull through itself leaving the catfish free from its retaining device. Ropes with series of knots to form a retainer are difficult to pass through gill rakers & cause unnecessary damage, this in turn tethers the fish to the rope & if the fish swims free the stringer stays with the fish. Plenty of rest is the order of the day whether it is in shifts with your fishing party or with the rods wound in & is vital to the success of your fishing trip. You need to be on top form when laying your traps & in good condition & sporting a smile for your photographs. I f you are tired you are more prone to snapping at your friends & your ability to read the river & spot fish movements goes out the window. This is not the finnished article but never the less gets us started in thinking about big fish care and longevity. This goes out the window if your hungry, although I have found the smaller cats upto 40lb much tastier than the big ones.