A British fisherman who netted a monster 222lb (16-stone) catfish “almost lost a finger” in an hour-long struggle with the beast.
Ditch Ballard, 37, was fishing for carp on the banks of the River Ebro in Spain when he suddenly got a bite from something bigger. Much bigger.
He moved from the bank into his 12-foot aluminium rowboat, as the “biggest battle of his fishing career” commenced.
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Ditch says he was “shivering uncontrollably” in freezing temperatures as he struggled for an hour to land the nine-foot fish, which turned out to be just 28lb short of the record for the river.
Ditch, who moved from Watford to southern Catalonia in Spain six years ago, runs an angling holiday company called Ebro Mad Cats.
He said: "With an air temperature of -3ºC, the wind chill actually made it feel unbearable.
"I was carp fishing, but the bend in the little 10ft rod suggested I was likely attached to a catfish.
"The line was uncontrollably ripping off the reel so I untied my boat and set sail, without pausing to grab my hat or my shoes from the bivvy".
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"The next hour was simply painful," he recalled. "As my muscles fatigued and the adrenaline wore off, my body temperature began to crash, and I found myself crouched in the bottom of the boat trying to hold on whilst shivering uncontrollably.
"Eventually the leader knot appeared in the darkness and I knew my prize was close. What I didn't know is just how far I had been towed down river – I was now over 1km from home.
"I struggled to put on the gloves and began hand lining, putting way more pressure on that hook than should be possible. I needed this battle to be over one way or another, so I just pulled with all I had left in me".
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Ditch, who used halibut pellets, sweetcorn and maize as bait, released his catch back into the river after taking a couple of all-important photos as souvenirs of the moment.
He added: "Each time the fish ran I nearly lost a digit, as by this time my hands were so cold they weren't really doing what my brain was telling them.
"With the rod fully compressed, and the drag on the reel screwed up tight, I was actually leant back into that fish with all 13st of me. If the line had snapped at that moment I would have almost gone overboard into 6C water.
"Eventually over 2.5m of catfish surfaced, and I managed to get a hand on its jaw. I was physically and mentally exhausted but had to give one last push to secure my prize. It was the biggest battle of my fishing career, yet I wouldn't wish it on anyone!"
The world record for the biggest European catfish ever caught stands at 21st (297lbs). It was caught in 2010 by Attila Zsedely in Italy.
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