• SPAIN:

    FRESHWATER SIGHT-FISHING FOR GOLDEN “BONEFISH”

    FRESHWATER SIGHT-FISHING FOR GOLDEN “BONEFISH”

Fly fishing for barbel and carp is still something very new in Spain, but with the enormous variety of rivers and lakes present in the country, versatile freshwater fisheries for alternative fly species just keep popping up. Come join in on the gold hunt.

Text & Photo: Álvaro G. Santillian

Most people don’t consider Spain a fly fishing destination. But that’s a bit of a paradox. Spain is the second most visited country in Europe in terms of tourism and it’s generally considered a place flush with beautiful beaches, warm weather and unique meals. Spain, however, has lots to offer fishermen who are looking for new challenges and new species.

From the ancient monuments left by the Romans and Moors to world class gastronomy there is a great mixture of cultural attractions in Spain. The landscape, carved out by its massive lakes and rivers, is home to a great variety of animals; from small singing birds to big mammals. The overwhelming richness of flora, fauna and wildlife makes you forget how close you actually are to civilisation. On the other hand, the evergreen estuaries of the north could hardly be more different from the deserts of Aragón or the rugged mountains of the Sierra Nevada to the south. Those are places that should be on your “to do” list when visiting Spain – if fly fishing doesn’t end up consuming all your time that is!

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  • Fly fishing for barbel and carp

The abovementioned characteristics make Spain a unique country to visit – and, if you bring your fly rod, you might just be in for the adventure of a lifetime. While in Spain, you will have the opportunity to target unique species on the fly – species that aren’t readily available elsewhere. Barbel and carp, for instance, are plentiful – and they offer exhilarating sport on a fly rod. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that you can fish for them while enjoying new cultural sights and experiences, warm weather, and extraordinary food.

Due to the stable temperatures throughout the season, plus a favourable food supply all year long, a very special behavior is developed by these species. They stop feeding along the bottom, searching for small larvae and plant particles, and – instead – start feeding towards the surface, searching out insects falling from nearby trees or – like us fly fishermen – patiently waiting for a good hatch. And you know what they say: There is always a hatch somewhere!

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  • Fly fishing for barbel and carp

THE SPECIES

Barbel are known as “Spanish bonefish” because of the similarities in their behavior, shape and fight with the macabí. In the Iberian Peninsula, eight different subspecies of barbel exist. The main ones are:

  • Comizo Barbel (Barbel comiza)
  • Common Barbel (Barbus bocagei)
  • Graells Barbel (Barbus graellsii)*
  • Mediterranean Barbel (Barbus guiraonis)*
  • Gypsy barbel (Barbus sclateri)*

The last three are endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, so yes, you could add some new and unique species to your list when visiting here. Cool, Eh?!

Barbel are known as “Spanish bonefish” because of the similarities in their behavior, shape and fight with the macabí

Barbel are known as “Spanish bonefish” because of the similarities in their behavior, shape and fight with the macabí

The average weight goes from one to two kilograms, but some of the species named above grow bigger than others, so finding barbel of around five kilograms is always a possibility. On the other hand, the carp introduced by the Romans some 2000 years ago are now fully adapted to our rivers, lakes and reservoirs where plentiful and healthy populations can be found. Their average size varies between two kilograms in some rivers to six or seven kilograms in others. This is just the average size, which means that much bigger carp, sometimes up to fifteen kilograms or more, are often sighted. Catching them, of course, is a completely different story!

The spawning season of both species occur during the spring. The carp gather near the river banks or close to the lake shores in big numbers, while the barbel run to the upper parts of the rivers in search for cold and oxygen-rich water. During this period of time, both species can be rather apathetic – being focused, as they are, on “their own business”.

Generally, the feeding habits of both species are similar, and they depend on the habitat type, water temperatures, weather etc. Their diets are varied and include little gregarious fish, crayfish, crabs, amphibians, nymphs and insects.

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  • Fly fishing for barbel and carp

THE SEASON

Good fishing can be had almost throughout the whole year, with the exception of the winter months. During the last years, due to global warming, the water temperatures in the southeast regions haven’t decreased enough as to change the fish’ behaviour, and they have therefore still been active (although a little slower) during the winter months.

One thing is certain, you have to be able to adapt to every possible scenario when targeting barbel and carp. Depending on the time of year, the water temperatures, the weather, and most importantly, the food that the fish are currently feeding on, you will need to dig deep; find the right flies and the right presentation. While sometimes, the fish will be feeding on big dries, you always have to be ready to change your game. Moments later, the key to success could be a small streamer or simply a more delicate and careful presentation.

The prime weeks are during the spring and the autumn. On the one hand, April and May can be really good too. After the winter lethargy, the good weather of Spring warms up the water and brings new life to the rivers and lakes: The insects start to hatch again and the fish, which have been starving during the winter months, begin feeding actively again.

After the summer months, comes yet another period when the fishing can be red hot. Once the temperatures start declining, the barbel and carp start feeding hectically. They seem to instinctively know that cold weather is on its way, and they therefore begin to fill their winter reserves.

SCENARIOS

The number of places you can fish in Spain in search of “golden fish” is enormous. Their prime habitat is usually located on the lower parts of the rivers where the water is fairly warm and slow, and where the bottom starts to eutrophicate. Moreover, as a consequence of the high number of damns built in Spain, they can be found in almost all the reservoirs throughout the country.

Sometimes they even cohabitate with other species like salmonids in the upper parts of the rivers and with pike, bass and catfish in the lower ones, or in the reservoirs.

Fly fishing for barbel and carp is still something very new in Spain, but with the enormous variety of rivers and lakes present in the country, versatile freshwater fisheries for alternative fly species just keep popping up. Come join in on the gold hunt.

Fly fishing for barbel and carp is still something very new in Spain, but with the enormous variety of rivers and lakes present in the country, versatile freshwater fisheries for alternative fly species just keep popping up. Come join in on the gold hunt.

Without a doubt, the feeling of solitude is overwhelming in most of the locations that one might encounter barbel and carp. Kilometres and kilometres of rivers and lakes surrounded by oak and birch trees in the middle of a grassland, known as dehesa… with the red-toned earth under your boots and your eyes squaring the shallow waters where the barbel and carp usually feed. It’s quite an experience!

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  • Fly fishing for barbel and carp

GEAR

If I could give just one tip in terms of gear, it would be the following: Be sure your clothes and shoes are as comfortable as they can be. You’ll be walking a lot, and it’s all about spotting the fish before they see you. As a result, light sneakers will surely do the trick instead of the big and heavy boots we normally use with our waders.

Most of the time, while fishing reservoirs and lakes, you don’t even need waders and the same goes for the summer fishing in the rivers, where I personally prefer not to wear them – not only because the days are long and hot, but also because these are very spooky fish. The less time you are in the water, the better chances you have of hooking a fish.

Fly fishing for barbel and carp with Rio Products

If I had to choose one rod for the whole season, the 9,6 #6 would be my choice. Why? This rod allows you to cast heavy- or voluminous flies like small streamers and foam bugs. The extra length of the rod, compared to a 9,0, will help in a lot of situations. It also has better power reserves when fighting the fish, but sometimes – especially when looking for the big ones, a #7 is, perhaps, a better idea as more fighting power is needed. Pair these rods with reels that have strong brake systems and tie some good fluorocarbon tippet between 3X and 0X at the end of the floating fly line and you will be ready for action.

I have lost too many fish as to continue not using fluorocarbon. These fish tend to go to the bottom very quickly, searching for every stone, submerged tree or whatever they can use to find shelter and break your tippet.

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FLY BOX

I am a 100% presentation believer, so I don’t necessarily think that a small pattern change will make a big difference. The truth, however, is that there are some flies you cannot leave home without when targeting barbel and carp. The first one is a foam bug. Both carp and barbel love eating ants, grasshoppers, cicadas etc., so when they are near the bank, no matter if they are eating on the bottom, they will always pay attention if something falls onto the water. Be imaginative and tie a good amount of these bad boys on hooks ranging from #16 and #10.

Secondly, nymphs are important. My favourite ones are chronomids, but the possibilities are endless. I prefer tying the nymphs almost without weight, because in my experience, the fish usually prefer when the nymph drops at a natural pace.

Picking the right fly for the right conditions. A key element anytime..

Picking the right fly for the right conditions. A key element anytime..

Finally, a good bunch of streamers is highly recommended to have. They can really be game changers. Between 3 and 7 centimetres in length with not much weight – and in a multitude of natural colours, these flies will sometimes be the key to catching big fish.

I distinguish between the ones that imitate little gregarious fish or bottom-feeding prey fish like sculpin and the ones that look like a crayfish or a little bottom animal.

Streamers is evident. Witch one to pick?

You might not think these fish are actual predators with their soft mouths and fleshy, toothless lips, but make no mistake! In some areas, especially where they cohabitate with a large amount of smaller fish species, they have adopted some incredible predatory strategies.

SIGHT-FISHING

I think the sensation of seeing the fish; your target; your dream right in front of you and watching how it reacts to your fly has a certain power over your mind that potentially leads to madness. In my case, it is the fuel behind all those hours spent and all the thousands of kilometres travelled in search for golden silhouettes. Sometimes, during a bad day (one of those where the fish seem to have disappeared and you have to walk miles before finally seeing one), the distance covered surprises me. Yes, when you are hooked, you can´t stop searching for them, even if you have to walk gruelling long distances for just one opportunity.

The truth is that sight-fishing fishing is like a drug; it makes you addicted. You will never forget your first time. Mine was at the age of ten, when I had just gotten started fly fishing. Back then, my ability to properly present a fly at ten meters was almost non-existent. But you know how a ten years old kid is: There’s no stopping – so I learned a lot that summer. And a lot of times, the hard way!

The river near the village where I spent the holidays provided me with important experiences. It taught me that the key to tricking one of these fish is being able to locate your prey before it even senses you are there – and that is not easy, especially not with barbel and carp. Their sense of sight is outstanding, but they are also capable of feeling all the vibrations transmitted through the water and riverbed because of their hyper-sensitive moustaches. And, unfortunately, especially our steps are easily recognizable to these fish.

After days spent along the river, I was finally able to approach a barbel that was unsuspectingly feeding along the bottom in less than 30 centimeters of water. My Red Tag (as you probably know, there are many weird things in the fly box of a ten-year-old boy) hit the surface and the barbel, immediately, fixed his eyes on it and slowly swallowed the fly. I still remember it as if it were yesterday!

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ENDING

Returning to what I have said at the very beginning of this article, maybe it’s time to change our perspectives and see Spain as a playground for mixed pleasures: A place where you will find good weather, one of the best culinary scenes in the world, a vibrant culture and some good quality fishing in close proximity to some of the most beautiful cities and beaches in Europe.

As you may have realized by now, Spain isn’t one of those conventional fishing destinations where the angler poses with a trophy fish surrounded by outstanding peaks and green forests, nor is it one of those where you can enjoy a mojito on a boat deck while fishing.

If, however, you are searching for a different kind of experience, maybe on your own, sleeping in a little cottage near the river or lake, or exploring the hidden parts of the country – perhaps even with your family, in a healthy mix between vacation time and fishing…

Spain is surely worth a try!

Further information about Fly Fishing in Spain: 

www.focusonthefly.com…

More about flies:

www.moscasjoaquinherrero.com…

www.crrflies.com…

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