Wels catfish are so big they make the biggest blue catfish look small. The species is the largest freshwater fish in Europe. They are capable of living for decades, grow continuously as they age, and reach their largest size in a handful of rivers that have become world famous for their association with the species, most notably the River Po.
The wels also inspires a nearly cultlike following of anglers obsessed with catching and releasing a specimen that’s fractionally bigger—even if only by a few centimeters—than the previous longest fish. Since 2017 the length record has been beaten five times, including twice in the first half of this year. Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest whopper wels catfish ever caught on rod and reel.
1) The Biggest of All Time
Alessandro Biancardi caught the pending 9.35-foot IGFA world record wels in May while fishing the River Po in northern Italy’s Lombardy region. Biancardi reported that he hooked the fish after just a handful of casts in his first spot of the day, then fought it for 40 minutes before pulling his small jon boat to shore to bring the giant under control in the shallows. He nearly lost his boat in the process. Like many wels anglers, Biancardi elected to forego weighing his catch to minimize the stress on the fish; the measurements he collected were submitted to IGFA’s newly introduced catch-and-release length record.
2) A 25-Year Quest Pays Off Bigtime
On the same river a month before Biancardi’s catch, Stefan Seub and Christian Ritzinger caught their own 9-footer. Their River Po trophy was the result of a quarter-century chase for the two German anglers, who estimated its weight at 140 kilograms, or about 308 pounds. The catch was 281 centimeters, or 9.22 feet, long and was briefly considered the longest wels ever caught after barely edging out a 280-centimeter fish. Seub said catching the fish was the “absolute dream of both of us.”
3) An Anonymous Angler
Exactly who hauled a 9.19-footer out of the Po on March 21, 2021, isn’t widely known, as news reports noted that the angler preferred to remain anonymous. Austrian fishing guide Roland Ebner, who posted a video of the fish on his Facebook page, said he received a call for help from a friend while fishing on the Po. He arrived at the scene to find his fellow angler battling a massive wels, and the two men finished the fight together, according to the French fishing magazine La Peche. They initially thought the catfish was around 250 centimeters, but final measurements proved it was 280, at the time the longest wels on record.
4) Mystery Fish
The first European catfish to break 9 feet was caught by angler Ronny Zurcher in the River Po in October 2017. Not much is known about the catch, except that it was 9.02 feet long. Apparently never submitted for official certification, this fish nevertheless stood for three years as the fish to beat for wels fanatics across the continent.
5) A Tarn River Giant
The Tarn River in southern France is famous for its wels catfish, which researchers have filmed throwing themselves onto gravel banks while pursuing pigeons, much like orcas hunting seals in the surf. The river also produces river monsters that rival the Po’s, as Jean-Christophe Conejero proved on September 16, 2017. Conejero caught an 8.99-foot-long wels catfish while fishing from a float tube, using a Zeck Belly Stick, a 165-centimeter rod specially designed for belly-boat fishing.
6) A Side-Channel Monster
Caught in October 2015 by Sebastien Delabre near the town of Vauvert on the Petit Rhone, a shallower side channel of the main Rhone, this massive wels reigned not only as the top cat of France but of the world, for nearly two years.
7) Hooking a Giant Wels Catfish from a Float Tube
Impressively, Thibault Legendre’s personal best 272-centimeter wels catfish was caught from a float tube. The catch took place on the Maine River near Anger, France, on November 2, 2022. Legendre’s frequent catches of 8-footers in his home waters suggest the Maine River could be a bit of a sleeper destination in years to come for wels catfish anglers hoping to land a new world record.
8) Guide of the Year
Fishing guide Benjamin Grunder put angler Markus Brock on this 8.79-foot River Po behemoth after spotting the big wels nearly two dozen times on his fish finder over the course of a year. He even hooked the fish himself once but lost it when the hook pulled out during the fight. In January 2018, Brock battled the fish but was unable to stop it from swimming into a submerged tree 25 minutes into the fight, tangling the line. After using the boat anchor to lift the tree clear of the water, they fought the fish for another 20 minutes before finally landing it.
9) The 280-Pounder
Dino Ferrari’s 8.76-foot, or 267-centimeter, wels catfish caught on the River Po in February 2015 was hailed as a world record at the time, eclipsing a record 255-centimeter wels he had caught two years earlier. Well known for his pursuit of European catfish, Ferrari was able to get the fish on a scale before releasing it, recording a weight of 280 pounds.
10) Cold Weather Catfish
The 222-pound wels catfish that Ditch Ballard hooked on Spain’s Ebro River in January was 28 pounds lighter than the river record, but it gave Ballard all he could handle. Fishing in freezing temperatures, the Englishman hung on while shivering uncontrollably as the catfish towed his 16-foot aluminum boat nearly half a mile down the Ebro, one of Spain’s best wels destinations. The fish was over 8 feet long. Ditch, who was targeting carp with halibut pellets, sweet corn, and maize as bait, called it “the biggest battle” of his fishing career.