Hardest Fighting Freshwater Fish – 10 Freshwater Monsters

As freshwater anglers, we love a spirited fight from the fish we catch. Albeit, freshwater fish can’t match the sheer power generated by oceanic creatures, there are still some freshwater monsters that can put up incredible fights.

For most anglers, across the United States and Europe, the hardest fighting fish we’ll come across are either Muskellunge, Common Carp, or some species of large Catfish. However, this hardly represents the world. There are freshwater creates that frankly dwarf the fish we catch here in the West. In regards to both size and strength.

There are several freshwater fish that are impossibly strong and to catch them with a rod and reel seems nigh-on impossible. However, if I had to narrow it down to one particular fish, it would have to be the Giant Freshwater Stingray. This monster possesses both size and herculean strength, this coupled with the suction it can generate to the lakebed makes them easily the hardest fighting freshwater fish in the world. Also, we’re not including fish like Sturgeon or Bull Sharks that live in both freshwater and saltwater. This list is strictly limited to fish that are only found in freshwater.

Below we’ve compiled a list of the hardestfighting fish in the world:

Fish SpeciesMax Size
Giant Freshwater Stingray (Urogymnus Polylepis)660lbs
Piraiba (Brachyplatystoma Filamentosum)440lbs
Arapaima (Arapaima Giga)440lbs
Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon Gigas)650lbs
Wels Catfish (Silurus Glanis)600lbs
Giant Devil Catfish/Goonch (Bagarius Yarrelli)230lbs
Goliath Tigerfish (Hydrocynus Goliath)100lbs
Blue Catfish (Ictalurus Furcatus)150lb
Muskellunge (Esox Masquinongy)70lbs
Common Carp (Cyprinus Carpio)100lbs

Giant Freshwater Stingray – Urogymnus Polylepis

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Urogymnus Polylepis660lbs220cmBrown, WhiteSoutheast Asia

What makes the Giant Freshwater Stingray so difficult to catch is the way it sticks to the floor of rivers. The amount of power generated by suction means that reeling in one of these monsters takes some serious patience and physical strength. I remember first seeing this fish on River Monsters, and just fighting this fish looked painful.

With most fish you can apply pressure and allow them to tire themselves out before reeling them in, its almost tantamount to flying a kite. However, with this Stingray it is a completely different story. Jeremy Wade described trying to detach the fish as pulling the plug from a river. This technique means that for the most part, the fish just feels like a dead weight dragging you down. This leads to many fishermen becoming exhausted and cutting the line. Those who decide to push through the pain are met with grueling battles that can last several hours and will certainly live your arms in a world of agony.

Piraiba – Brachyplatystoma Filamentosum

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Brachyplatystoma Filamentosum440lbs360cmGrey & WhiteAmazon and Orinoco Rivers, North Eastern Brazil

The Piraiba is among the largest and strongest predatory catfish in the world. This fish has a fearsome reputation and has been known to eat anything and everything it can swallow. There have been reports of birds, monkeys, and even humans being found inside its stomach. What I find most interesting about the Piraiba is its shape. The fish has a streamlined, tapered body which leads to a thick tail. The Piraiba does closely resemble a shark in many ways and apparently, it fights like one as well.

Because of its physical shape and predatory nature, the Piriaba is a very explosive fish. So while something like a Giant Freshwater Stingray will just pull for hours on end, the Piriaba is much faster and more athletic. People who have hooked these fish describe it as being similar to a shark fight. The fish is explosive and tenacious, it wants to dart around and exerts maximum pressure during the early minutes of the fight.

Arapaima – Arapaima Giga

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Arapaima Giga440lbs300cmBrown, Yellow, Red, WhiteAmazon, South America

When observing the physical shape of the Arapaima, it becomes obvious that its an incredibly purposeful and explosive animal. The Arapaima truly is built like a missile, its head is quite narrow but it then tapers off into a large, thick body that is clearly designed for propulsion and power.

The other thing that makes Arapaima so hard to catch is their attitude. There are plenty of fish that basically accept defeat once they start to get tired and don’t much up much of a fight. But the Arapaima couldn’t be more different. This fish will fight with you until the bitter end. While these fish aren’t dangerous to humans from a predatory perspective they most certainly can cause damage to anglers who try to restrain them.

Trying to hold an Arapaima is a difficult task itself and that is after the fish has exhausted itself in the fight with the angler. These fish are so strong that its basically impossible for anyone to hold a large fresh Arapaima by themselves.

Mekong Giant Catfish – Pangasianodon Gigas

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Pangasianodon Gigas650lbs300cmWhite & GreySoutheast Asia, China

Mekong Giant Catfish are on this list because of their size. They are undoubtedly strong but the sheer weight behind this animal makes it incredibly difficult to physically pull in. The largest authenticated Mekong Giant Catfish was a colossal 646lbs. Fortunately, these fish are vegetarians and don’t have a particularly bad reputation but they will still put up a tremendous fight if you get one on the end of your line.

The chances of catching a Mekong Giant Catfish in the wild are negligible because these fish are critically endangered and have been fished to near extinction. However, there are places like Gillhams Fishing Resort in Thailand that stock some of these fabulous creatures. Anglers from all around the world visit places like Gillhams to have a first-hand experience of what its like to catch these creatures.

Wels Catfish – Silurus Glanis

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Silurus Glanis600lbs460cmGreen, Yellow, White, & GreyCentral, Southern, & Eastern Europe

Wels are the hardest-fighting freshwater fish you’ll come across in Europe. They grow to monstrous proportions and they are entirely made up of muscle. Wels have long tapered bodies that allow them to generate excellent propulsion. This makes the Wels very different from a lot of the catfish that you find in the United States. Many species of catfish from the US are quite fat, sluggish, and feed on the bottom.

The Wels, however, is much more purpose-built. While it is still a scavenger, it is also a predator and will actively hunt, particularly at night. Wels are also well-known for their enormous appetites. These fish will consume anything they can swallow. There have also been several reports of Wels attacking people and some people claim that they’ve even swallowed small children.

Their diet means that Wels grow incredibly large, with the world record standing at just over 300lbs. However, many people speculate that it could grow much larger and the only limiting factor is food shortage. This combined with their physical structure and a large amount of muscle means that Wels fight hard. Whenever I have a Wels at the end of my line, I’m quickly reminded of their brute strength. Sometimes you have to lock up the clutch and the fish will strip line easily from your reel!

Giant Devil Catfish/Goonch – Bagarius Yarrelli

Flikr.com – Mary Harrsch
Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Bagarius Yarrelli230lbs200cmBrown, Grey, & YellowNorthern India, Nepal

The Goonch is a fish of nightmares. It is an ugly and scary-looking fish with a dark reputation. The Goonch is well known for its taste for humans. During the fire ceremonies in India, often people are sent out into the river on rafts while they are burning. This led to the Goonch eating half-charred remains and developing a taste for human flesh and later actively attacking people.

The fact that the Goonch was able to pull a grown adult into the water proves that it is immensely strong like most catfish. However, unlike most catfish, the Goonch has a well-proportioned and streamlined body, similar to that of a Piriaba. This combined with its sheer weight and a large amount of muscle mass makes it undeniably strong and thus physically difficult to catch.

Goliath Tigerfish – Hydrocynus Goliath

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Hydrocynus Goliath100lbs150cmBrown, Yellow, WhiteCongo River Basin Africa

The Goliath Tigerfish is found in the fast-flowing rivers of the Congo. As it belongs to the Pirhana family, it is equipped with a set of large, razor-sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Since the Goliath Tigerfish is constantly swimming in such strong waters, its body is accustomed to moving against the flow of the water, thus strengthening its muscles and allowing it to pull fiercely away from an angler.

This is another fish that has excellent explosive movement for short periods of time. Frankly, the Goliath Tigerfish doesn’t grow large enough to pull you into a grueling war of attrition that lasts hours. Rather, it uses all its explosive might in one surge in an attempt to escape. Once you tire the fish out, the fast pace of the current can actually help bring the fish in provided you’re situated at the correct place.

Blue Catfish – Ictalurus Furcatus

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Ictalurus Furcatus150lb165cmBlue, Grey, WhiteNorth America

The Blue Catfish is yet another fish that is on this list due to its size. It grows up to 150lbs and like most catfish, it fights hard. I wouldn’t say that its as strong or explosive as a Wels but it fights hard nonetheless and is still incredibly strong in its own respect.

However, its sheer size is what makes it difficult to bring in. In fact, I’d argue that the Common Carp is actually stronger than all species of American Catfish pound-for-pound. But regardless, the Blue Catfish is another large and impressive fish that is undoubtedly hard to catch.

Muskellunge – Esox Masquinongy

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Esox Masquinongy70lbs183cmBrown, Yellow, WhiteNorth America

Muskellunge and Pike are famed all around the world for their fearsome looks and fighting spirit. Muskies are strong swimmers and the absolute apex predators of their realm. Everything about them is fundamentally indicative of a predator. They have a sharp set of teeth with wide mouths and strategically located eyes for locking onto their targets. Muskies mainly eat fish which means they have very explosive movement. Its rarely sustained because they often catch their prey in a matter of seconds but Muskies can really exert large amounts of force, especially considering their size.

Muskies tend to dart around a lot when you’re fighting them but they don’t apply huge amounts of consistent pressure. It is undoubtedly a difficult fish to catch, but for most, it shouldn’t be too physically strenuous.

Common Carp – Cyprinus Carpio

Scientific NameMax WeightMax LengthColourLocation
Cyprinus Carpio100lbs135cmYellow, Brown, Green, CreamEurope, Asia, & America

Carp are excellent fighters and they always put up spirited fights making them a joy to catch. Growing up, I spent a lot of time carp fishing, and I had so much fun catching these fish because of how hard they would pull. Truthfully, they aren’t as strong as Wels Catfish, which are the true monsters of British freshwater, but they’re certainly much prettier fish and can grow to preposterous sizes.

While carp put up great fights, they aren’t anything to be really worried about. They do get rather big but I’ve never felt overwhelmed by the strength of a carp. It is sometimes challenging but especially in the United Kingdom, the fish simply don’t get large enough to be seriously physically challenging. But that is exactly what you want in a gamefish. Some of the larger fish on this list take hours of grueling work to pull in. For pleasure fishing, that frankly isn’t enjoyable.

That’s why I think carp are perfect for pleasure fishing. They are very strong and a challenge to catch but they aren’t monstrously powerful and it doesn’t take hours to reel them in. They are actually rather perfect for the modern angler.

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