Nick Baker's Weird Creatures - Friday November 9

nick baker’s weird creatures
the frankenstein fish (6/8)

Continuing his second series of compelling nature documentaries, Nick Baker goes on the trail of another of the planet’s strangest beasts. In this evening’s programme, he goes in search of the wels catfish: the largest freshwater fish in the western world.

“This one is going to be a real challenge,” says Nick. “This is a quest for a real monster!” Knowing that seeing one of these giants in its own environment will be the best way to learn about the animal’s natural behaviour, he wants to find out more about it – and catch the big one. He certainly has a difficult job on his hands: it will not be easy to spot the wels catfish in the murky waters of its natural habitat.

The wels catfish is found in some 150 lakes and rivers in the UK and can also be found in central, southern and eastern Europe. In his quest to find one, Nick first heads for East Sussex, in southern England. He is going to the Withy Pool fishing lake, which is home to a UK record-breaking wels catfish weighing a whopping 62 pounds. On the way, he picks up his ‘secret weapon’ – his father, who he hopes will be able to pass on some fishing tips. Having not fished for 25 years, Nick knows he could use some assistance…

Arriving at the fishing lake, Nick gets ready to explore the three-acre, 30-foot-deep freezing waters while his dad settles down for a spot of fishing from the safety of the banks. Nick is surprised to find the water near the edge teeming with life, including insects and tiny fish, but further down, the fauna is not so abundant. He later sees a huge school of small fish being observed by a pike, which Nick describes as a “perfect predator”. Negotiating these murky waters is difficult, but a catfish would have no problem thanks to its incredible sensors – whiskery barbels designed to test vibrations and tastes in the water. After spotting two big perch, Nick looks up to see two catfish. “Aren’t they great!” he exclaims, just before seeing a giant carp swimming past. “It’s so special for me to see an animal in its own environment like this.”

The Withy Pool catfish are big, but Nick realises that he is going to have to go further afield to find the true monsters. At a pub called the Angler’s Retreat, he hears stories of giant fish caught on Spain’s River Ebro. One of them apparently had two cormorants in its belly when it was brought in!

To find out if there is any truth in these tales, Nick and his father travel to Spain to see for themselves. The Ebro is the Mecca of the catfishing world, thanks to a German fisherman who introduced a handful of wels catfish back in 1974. Like the carp, another introduced species, the wels catfish is hardy and can survive in low-oxygen environments like the polluted Ebro. However, the local people are not so happy about the river’s abundant catfish population, as it has reduced the stock of native fish dramatically – and Nick shares their concerns.

Continuing his quest for a monster wels catfish, Nick meets some ex-pat fishermen and women at a British pub near the river. He is regaled with more stories, including the tale of a 90-pounder caught by one proud Scottish lady. The anglers join Nick and his dad for a fishing contest – and soon beat them by landing a 31-pounder.

The next day, the group heads to a nearby hydroelectric dam – a prime catfishing location because of the way the churned-up water creates what Nick calls a “seafood bisque” for the giant fish to hoover up. Suddenly, Nick’s dad gets a bite – and is fighting the fish on the end of his line for over ten minutes. “I’ve never had to depend on my father for an animal to end a film with,” says Nick. “No pressure, Dad!” Could this be the monster for which Nick has been waiting?

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