Larysa Switlyk, of Sarasota, FL, poses with a 157-pound wels catfish on the Ebro River in Spain.

The giant eel-like wels catfish is native to deep, muddy waters of Eastern Europe, but thanks to human tinkering, has become well-established in many watersheds west of the Danube.

The Ebro River in Spain is one such stronghold, where wels catches have exceeded 200 pounds in recent years. Anglers from England, Italy and all over the continent make trips to the Ebro for an unusual and rugged brand of shore-fishing.

Into this unlikely transnational mix comes a 26-year-old Sarasota, Florida, resident Larysa Switlyk. A graduate of the University of Florida and certified public accountant, Larysa has been invited to attend the World Catfish Classic, May 23-25, in Chiprana, Spain. Fishing with local guide Gary Sheriden, Larysa carries the flag of Team USA.

Larysa, who came to fishing relatively recently, has been chronicling her far-flung fishing and hunting adventures for an in-the-works television show. She has some experience with wels catfish, and has hunted big game animals on several continents.

One such adventure, in December 2011, found her camped out on the muddy shores of the Ebro for a 3-day catfish trip with Sheriden, who she’d hired. Sheriden is a guide with Carp Dream Fishing,

“When I called him, he asked me if I was up for it, fishing all day, all night. I’m like ‘Yeah! I got this!’’”

The fishery is something close to Florida-style surf fishing, with 10-foot-plus rods, heavy line and natural baits. Except instead of pan-size pompano, they’re fishing for a massive fish whose diet and behavior at the end of the line is on par with a goliath grouper or stubborn tarpon.

Larysa had just enough experience with big fish (including Mekong catfish, on a trip to Thailand) to be confident in her endurance.

“They fish with these nasty pellets baits; they smell delicious,” she said. “The way he hooks them, is two to three pellets tied to a hook. The rod stays on the bank, you let out line, and they take a rowboat or power boat across the river to the deep channel, where they drop the bait and then a bunch of pellets.”

She had to endure more than mud banks, big fish and unfamiliar baits: A young, attractive blonde from Florida camped on a cold river in the Spanish countryside ought to expect at least some friendly jesting.

“We were camping in tents, and the first night I was trying to get some sleep,” she recalled. “They have alarms on the rods, that beep if a fish bites. Well, I heard beeping, and I jumped up and ran outside, and the guide was laughing—he was pulling on the line to set off the alarm. Then right after I got back to sleep, another beep, and again, the guide is laughing at me. A third time, I just tried to stay asleep, but then the guide is yelling, ‘Come here! I’ve got a fish!’ He hands me the pole, and I start sliding down the mud bank, half asleep!”

Larysa and a host of international anglers will soon compete at the World Catfish Classic. Picture taken on her last trip, in December 2011.

Larysa gamely landed that fish in about 15 minutes (“I fought it like I wanted to own it!”), then went on to beach two others, all released, per local tradition. The largest weighed 157 pounds.

When she received an e-mail invitation to the May tournament, at first she declined, due to scheduling conflicts, but when the calendar opened up, she jumped at the offer, again teaming up with Sheriden.

“After our trip,” said Larysa, “he said to me, ‘You know, you surprised me; you held your own.’”

Tournament regulations read like the Book of Leviticus, with ponderous statements like: … Competitors must not place fishing lines outside of the limits of their swim, such limits to be marked by an imaginary line marking the middle distance between them and their neighbour’s peg marker…

But Larysa suspects the event will be a lot of fun.

“Apparently the tournament takes over the whole town. The first day, they have a big parade out in the open—I’m going to be carrying the American flag. Then each day, after the fishing, they have a big dinner and a social event… a strong man contest one night, a big soccer match.”

Larysa promises a trip report for Florida Sportsman Fresh Water when she returns. Check out her website at

From all of us at FS, have a great trip, Larysa!

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