The predators of the Carpathians

Zander . Wels Catfish

May/June 2015 . Romania . Danube

Martin Sack

In times of the Middle Ages the opponents of the ruler Vlad III Draculea had been speared and executed on long pales to thousands, to scare his enemies for more assaults. What once was a good stuff for creating the legend of the vampire prince Dracula, was also the reason leading us in the Carpathians. Also we wanted to stay between threatening timber piles, looking after creatures with long canine tooth! After the Danube had been swelled downstream the gorge through the Carpathians, the Iron Gates, by the dams Iron Gates I and II, complete woods were sinking in the floods. We hoped that this underwater labyrinth in combination with cliffy rocks and depth up to 90m offered the zanders living there enough protection against commercial fishery and poachers. Our main target of the upcoming fishing tour was the zander, but also wels catfish was on the program. We were exited to fish in complete new water, in which all or nothing was possible!

Before the Danube was calmed in the year 1979 by the Iron Gates I, the ca. 100km long passage through one of the most awesome gorges of Europe was counting as the most dangerous part of the Danube for shipping. Now we had the “pleasure” to face this original situation again, because just before our arrival Serbia had opened the dam maximal because of an energy dispute with Romania. So we had a highly depressed river level with around three times higher current, and many interesting, lake like shallow waters were simply dry. Direct in the gorge the water was so fast running, that I believed I was fishing in the Fraser River in Canada. We were fishing between exiting cliffs, but where could we find now the zanders under this changed conditions?

I was coaching our guests from our teamer boat together with Zoran, Bruno and Denny. The first four days the group of Berndt with six anglers was joining us, focusing mainly on wels catfish. But our bad luck was getting worse: At our day of arrival a big thunderstorm was starting, streets were flooded and have been cleaned from gravel afterwards. Because of the low water level and the wide muddy banks the most trailer ramps for the boat were not usable, and it was not easy to bring all four boats into the water. But at the end we managed all challenges and started to the first fishing day. We were concentrating on the area just before the gorge, and while our teamer boot had a good start with 14 zander up to 79cm, the wels catfish team had next to a zander no cat contact. At the next two days the thermometer was falling from hot 30°C to 11°C with permanent rain and storm, the fishes were stopping to bite. Anyway we could outwit a catfish of 1,66m, which was attacking one of our zander lures – another fish was lost by a bended hook.

At day number five we had the next big move on our program, we planned to fish the next six days 20km downstream. With us were coming Thomas & Thomas, who wanted to fish all time from the boat for catfish, and Christian und Günter focusing next to the active cat fishing also at zander.

The temperatures were rising up to 30°C, the water temperature was between 18-20°C. We were looking for zanders at the beginning with little success close to sunken wood. As we recognized, that most of the fish were swimming in a water depth of 1-3m direct in the timber we got constant success and the best result of a boat per day were 21 zander and one asp. Often the stamps of the trees were so dense, that nearly every cast was leading to a snag and causing a high rate of lost lures. At the end I was fishing successful with a braided line of 0,31mm, to bend as much hooks as possible back of the wood! The catfish were not starting to bite better, only three smaller ones were taking our zander lures. After in total six nights fishing with best livebait we got only two bites, from which one was first destroying the reel drag and then the line. All tries with the clonk were leading to no success, because the current was to strong – or did the catfish still starting to spawn?

Despite the not easy conditions and lower catch rates we all had ongoing much fun and I want to send many thanks to all for pioneering spirit and always best mood! But what can we say about the future of the Danube at the Iron Gates? Well, we have seen some big zanders. We measured two zanders from 90 and 93cm at the commercial net fishers, another one from a local angler of 92cm and in a restaurant was hanging a stuffed animal of 99cm. For the commercial fishers zanders of 5-10 kg seemed to be common! I lost a very big zander under the boat by getting off the hook as the line was touching the anchor rope. Potential for big zander exists for sure, and under normal conditions and at a colder time in year here should be some nice zander fishing possible. I will try it again for sure!


Zander: Ca. 70 (40 – 79cm)

Wels Catfish: 4 (bis 1,66m)

Asp: 7

Pike: 1