The homeland of catfish is Eastern Europe and Asia, but after carrying out acclimatization measures in the West, significant populations of this fish appeared.
Catfish in Italy
In the 1960s, the first catfish, along with other fish imported from Yugoslavia, fell into the North Italian waters. Climate and water, obviously, were quite suitable for them, because already in the late 1960s, professional fishermen found, at their heights, set on eels in the Po river, the first young catfish. Since then, the catfish population has been continuously and rapidly increasing. Catfish was completely alien to Italians as a food item. Therefore, the number of this fish in water bodies increased and many large individuals appeared, especially in the Po River, where not only there are many fodder fish, but also a favorable humid climate. In the first half of the 1990s, we were the first to purposefully and very successfully catch catfish in it. Catches from 10 to 30 soms per day in the first three years were considered quite normal. From 1994 to 1996 on a section of 350 km in the lower reaches of the Po, we caught a total of 1, 200 soms weighing over 30 kg. Such a result could not be achieved earlier anywhere. It is noteworthy that only five of these fish were more than 80 kg, and the largest pulled 86 kg on the scales. After the first reports in 1997 of catfish grace on the Po River, numerous fishing bases arose there. But although catches decreased markedly, the number of catfish continued to grow. Trophy catfish in the Po River are even larger today than they were several years ago. If earlier only every 200th or 300th catfish had a mass of more than 80 kg, today today every 50th fish is so large. This was facilitated to a large extent by the fact that catfish in Italy are still not eaten and about 35% of fishermen release the caught fish into the wild. Thus, the catfish population is growing, and in the future we will hear more than once about the giants from the Po River. The chance to catch a 2-meter catfish in it is much higher today than in all other countries of Eastern Europe.
The first catfish were acclimatized on the Iberian Peninsula in 1970. In the mid-1980s, specimens weighing 25 to 30 kg were considered large. In 1970, about 50 kg of fish came across, and today's record catfish reach 80 and even 90 kg. However, such fish are caught less often than on the Po River. However, 2-meter specimens in the reservoirs of Spain come across noticeably more often than in Italy. In the muddy waters flowing into the Riba Rocha reservoir, today one out of three catfish has a length of more than two meters, and every sixth in the zone where the water flows into the upstream Mekinens reservoir. The chances of catching a 2-meter catfish are quite high here. The unusually large population of large catfish is explained here differently than in Italy: no professional fisherman catches them, because freshwater fish are not eaten here at all.
Presumably, the first catfish came to France via the Rhine-Rhone canal in the 1970s. Since then, its own population of this fish has formed, which did not go unnoticed by French fishermen. Here, catfish early began to experience the fishing press. About 10 years ago, we had surprisingly good catches of catfish of 30-50 kg, which promised a future fishing paradise. However, events developed according to a completely different scenario: catches decreased significantly. And although you can still count on the capture of large catfish weighing more than 70 kg, but now it is rare. In contrast to Italy and Spain, these fish on Sona and Rhone are rarely released into the wild. Giant catfish are believed to inhabit the Rhone Delta today. But the chances of their capture are slim. In the Loire, Seine, Dordogne, Garonne and Tarn, there are also many catfish, but there are hardly any fish more than two meters long.
Back in the 1980s, active fishing tourism was carried out in the Danube Delta. At that time, these places were considered simply cattle lands, but now they are oblivious, unable to withstand competition with Italy and Spain. Although it must be said that the lower reaches and the Danube Delta are still promising bodies of water in this regard. Back in September 1999, we were catching catfish from a drift boat in the Danube Delta on a quok.
Numerous fish were visible on the echo sounder screen, which responded to the sound of the quok as if they had never heard it. The largest specimens do not live in the widely branched channels, elders and backwaters of the delta, but in the three main branches, where the water is deeper and the current is strongest. The northern arm (Chile) has an average width of 1.5 km and a depth of up to 40 m, the middle arm (Sulina) and the southern one (San Georg) are noticeably narrower, but their depth still reaches 30 m. In the last decades, catfish were caught in the Danube Delta up to 100 kg more than in any other European pond. The potential of the reservoir is great, but now a 2-meter catfish is considered a giant here.
Greece has few inland waters. The largest Greek pond, Lake Polyfito, is a reservoir on the Alikmon River. Here, apparently, the largest catfish in Greece live. The living conditions and climate are very favorable for them, fodder fish is more than enough. All prerequisites for the habitation of catfish are evident, but commercial fishing is also highly developed here. My Greek friends consider it normal if they catch at least one catfish within a few months. Yes, and that in most cases is quite small. Large specimens come across from time to time, but it is very difficult to catch them. In 2001, we were lucky to catch 65 kg of catfish in Lake Polyfito. It was the largest freshwater fish ever caught in Greece by a fishing rod. My friends Sakis and Paris, after many years of efforts, pulled out a 2.60 m long monstrous catfish in September last year - their first and only fish in many years of fishing, exceeding two meters. How many kilograms were in it is unknown, because it was weighed together with a garden pallet and a winch without any deductions from the total mass. They say that the scales showed 140 kg during oscillations up and down. However, according to Sakis Papantoniou, the fish itself was significantly smaller. Sakis and Paris believe that this fish is the largest ever caught in the reservoir. True, fishers talk about catfish of 150-180 kg. But in the photographs they showed, the fish were half the size. In general, the chances of catching catfish longer than two meters in Greece should be considered rather moderate.
Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia
I willingly and a lot of catfish in Hungary. On Tisza I happened to catch my first trophy specimen. Separate Hungarian catfish can be over 100 kg, but most often during the whole season all fishermen in the country catch less than a dozen 2-meter fish. In Plattensee, Raab, Tisza, Köröze and the Danube, although there are good populations of catfish, there are apparently few fish there over two meters long. The situation is similar in the former Czechoslovakia. It is no coincidence that today so many fishermen from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia go for catfish to the Italian river Po and the Spanish reservoir Ebro.
Many Turkish ponds have local populations of catfish. However, well-developed reservoirs are highly developed commercial fishing. For this reason, the chances of catching a catfish giant are not so high. The situation is different in the reservoirs of eastern and south-eastern Turkey. However, while trips to these areas are difficult.
This is an unusually vast country with a rare population and steppe landscape. The largest rivers here are the Syr Darya in the southwest and Ili in the east. While there is a natural catfish population in the Syr Darya, catfish were launched into the Ili River by Russian ichthyologists in 1920. Ili is a very short river that flows into Lake Balkhash. For decades, she has endowed professional fishermen with one or another huge mass of more than 100 kg. At least two specimens of 104 and 108 kg were also caught by visiting “catchers”. In 1999, we caught here two fish 2.49 and 2.51 m long. On the scales they pulled 86 and 92 kg. But in large quantities, the catfish were never caught on Or. I am familiar with many anglers who, despite all efforts, did not catch any fish more than two meters long. And the fishing press on Ili catfish is growing, so the prospects for catching a large specimen in this river are deteriorating.
The Syr Darya flows into the salty Aral Sea. We just made a tour of this hitherto unknown reservoir of Western fishermen. The long and wide Syr Darya River provides the catfish with a huge living space. The competent representatives of the fish protection and hunting facilities told us about the numerous catches of catfish weighing more than 140 kg, however, these catches have been over ten years old. In a month, we caught about 100 soms in two boats. However, more than 90 fish did not even reach 10 kg, two or three catfish pulled from 30 to 40 kg and caught only two fish longer than 2 m. The catfish 2.30 m long had a mass of 80 kg, and the other 2.40 m - 110 kg. This giant served as evidence that the long-lived catfish still exist in this river. But even if there are individual monsters of more than 100 kg, I would not advise anyone to make a trip to this river. The danger is too great to return with nothing from this very expensive and tiring trip.
Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine
In these countries the situation is the same as in Kazakhstan. If, for example, back in the early 1990s, the Volga delta was one of the most promising and desired goals for the "somniks", now widespread poaching is flourishing there. However, there are still catfish there, but they do not have time to reach a really solid size. In many places, two-meter-long specimens are considered huge. Russian fishing magazines are full of photographs of readers with catfish from 10 to 80 kg. But the Dnieper, Don and Sea of Azov definitely hide a certain number of giants in their waters. But in general, the chances of catching 2-meter catfish there are very modest. About the largest catfish caught in Russia, read this article.
Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union protects its natural wealth much better. The country, however, is not very large, but there are huge ponds there, such as Lake Aydarkul with an area of 2000 km2 - a giant reservoir for feeding the Syr Darya. Professional fishermen handle fish stocks quite carefully. In Uzbekistan, a fishing magazine caught my eye, in which several pictures of really large catfish were placed, some of which definitely had more than 100 kg. My friends fished on this lake, but have not yet met a catfish more than two meters long. However, I would not be surprised if from there in the foreseeable future a message came about the capture of such giants.
Undoubtedly, very large catfish are found in the aforementioned eastern countries, larger than all catfish in Western Europe. Unfortunately, catfish populations are now suffering so much that they are just a miserable semblance of what they were before. The capture of a catfish monster there is almost unreal. In parallel with a decrease in eastern populations of catfish, their number in some bodies of water in the West, especially in the Italian river Po and the Spanish river Ebro, is constantly increasing.