Even in Spain, barbel and carp fly fishing is something extremely new, but in the enormous variety of rivers and lakes present in our country, we have discovered awesome species with an incredible character towards the fly. Come join us in the gold hunt.
Most people don’t consider Spain as a fly fishing destination. Despite of being the second most visited country in terms of tourism, and being thought of as a country full of crowded beaches, warm weather and unique meals, Spain has a lot to offer to those fishermen who are looking for new challenges and new species.
From the ancient monuments left by the Romans and Moors, to a top world class gastronomy, there is a great mixture of cultural attractions in Spain. The landscape, drawn by its lakes and rivers, home of great variety of animals, from small singing birds to big mammals, makes you forget how close you might be to civilisation. On the other hand, evergreen estuaries of the north could hardly be more different from the deserts of Aragón or the rugged mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the south, scenarios that should be on your “to do” list to be visited.
Each of these characteristics makes Spain a unique country to embark yourself in a lifetime adventure. It will allow you to target unique species on the fly, only possible here, such as barbels and carps, while enjoying new cultural traditions, warm weather and extraordinary food.
Due to the soft temperatures during the whole season, plus the good food supply all year long, a very special behavior is developed by these species. They stop feeding in the bottom, searching for small larvaes and vegetables and start feeding towards the surface, aiming for insects that may fall from nearby trees or just, as us dry fly fishermen, waiting for the hatch. And you know what they say, there is always a hatch somewhere.
The barbel, known as the Spanish bonefish, because of the similarities in their behavior, shape and fight with the macabí.
In the Iberian Peninsula we can find eight different subspecies of barbel, but, the main ones according to its fishing value 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 Iberian endemism, so yes, you could add to your fishing bucket list some new species. Cool!
The average weight goes from one to two kilograms, but some of the species named above grow more than others so finding barbels of around five kilograms is always a possibility.
On the other hand, the carps introduced by the Romans near 2000 years ago are now fully adapted to our rivers, lakes and reservoirs, where plentiful and healthy populations can be found.
Their average size vary between two kilograms in some rivers to six or seven kilograms in others. This is just the average size, which means that much bigger carps, up to fifteen kilograms or more, are often sighted.
The spawning season of both fishes is during the spring, where the carps go near the river bank or close to the lake shore in big numbers, while the barbels run to the upper parts of the rivers in search of a cooler and better quality water. During those weeks, the behavior of carps and barbels can be apathetic, being focused in “their own business”.
The feeding habits are similar in both fish and depend on the habitat type, water temperature, weather…
Their diet is varied and complete, including little gregarious fish, crabs, amphibians, nymphs and insects…
We can enjoy good fishing during almost the whole year, with the exception of the winter months.
During the last years, due to global warming, water temperature in the southest regions hasn’t decreased enough as to change the fish behavior and they have still been active (but slower) during those months too.
One thing is certain, you have to be able to adapt yourself and your fishing to every possible scenario. Depending on the time of the year, the water temperature, the weather, and what is more important, the food that the fish are eating at the moment dictate your flies and your ways of presenting them. While sometimes fish will be feeding on big dries, you have to be ready to change your game to a small streamer and a more delicate fishing with careful presentations.
The prime weeks are during the spring and the autumn.
On the one hand, after the winter lethargy, the good weather of April and May warms up the water and brings new life, the insects start to hatch again and the fish, which are starving from the winter months due to the lack of food, begin feeding again.
On the other hand, after the summer, temperatures go down again so barbels and carps know cold weather and lack of food is coming and begin to fill their winter reserves.
The number of places we can fish in Spain in search of these golden fish is enormous. The habitat of these species is usually the lower parts of the rivers, where the water gets warmer and goes slower, and where the bottom starts to eutrophicate. Moreover, as a consequence of the elevate number of damns built in Spain, we can find them in almost all the reservoirs throughout the country.
Sometimes they cohabitate with other species like salmonids in the upper parts of the rivers and with pikes, bass and catfish in the lower ones or in the reservoirs.
Without doubt, in both locations, the feeling of solitude is overwhelming. Kilometres and kilometres or rivers or lakes surrounded by oaks and birches 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 barbels and carps usually feed.
If I could give just one tip, it would be: be sure your clothes and shoes are as comfortable as they can be.
This fishing is all about spotting the fish before they see you so 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 happens in the river during the summer, where I also prefer not to wear them, not only because the days are long and hot, but also because these are very spooky fish, so the less time you are in the water, the better chances you have of hooking a fish.
If I had to choose one rod for all the season, the 9,6 #6 would be my choice. Why? This rod allows you to cast some heavy or voluminous flies like little streamers or foam bugs. The extra length of the rod, compare to a 9,0, will be surely helpful in a lot of situations. It has also a better power reserve in the fight, but sometimes, if we are looking for the big ones, maybe a #7 it is a better idea and it will help you have the fight under control. Pair those rods with a reel with a strong brake system and some good fluorocarbon tippets between 3X and 0X and you will be ready for the 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. The greater resistance of the fluorocarbon will protect us a little bit in case it happens.
I am a 100% presentation believer, so I don’t think that a small change in a pattern will be determinant, but the truth is that there are some flies you can not forget at home.
The first one are the foam bugs. These fish love eating ants, grasshoppers, irons, cicadas… so when they are near the bank, no matter if they are eating in the bottom, they will always pay attention if something falls in the water. Be imaginative and tie a good amount of those bad boys between #16 and #10 hooks.
Secondly: nymphs. My favourites ones are the quironomids, but the possibilities are many. In these case, I prefer tying the nymphs almost without weight, because in my experience, the fish usually prefers not to feel the nymph dropping fast.
Finally, a good bunch of streamers is highly recommended to have. It can be a game changer. Between 3 and 7 centimetres of length with not much weight.
I would distinguish between the ones that try to imitate little gregarious fish, and the ones that look like a crab or a little bottom animal, for which I use zonker or sculpin patterns.
Most of the readers may not imagine these fish like predators, with their soft mouth of fleshy lips with no teeth, but, as strange as it can be, in some areas where they cohabitate with a large amount of small fish, they have adopted some incredible predatory strategies.
I think that, for every angler around the world, the sensation of seeing the fish, your target, your dream, in front of you, watching how it reacts to the fly has a power over our minds that leads to madness.
In my case, that is the gasoline behind hours and hours, thousands of kilometres, searching for golden silhouettes. Sometimes, during a bad day, one of those when the fish seem to have disappear and you have to walk miles before seeing one, at the end of the day, the distance covered surprises me. Yes, when you are hooked, you can´t stop searching them, even if you have to walk long distances for just one opportunity.
The truth is that this 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 was starting in this world that today has become not just my passion but also my way of life. In those distant days, my ability for presenting a fly in a proper way more than ten meters away was near none. But you know how a ten years old kid is, he won’t stop trying and exploring so I learned a lot that summer, and not always in a nice way.
Nevertheless, the river near the village where I spent the holidays taught me that the key to trick one of these fish is to be able to locate your prey before it even feels you are there, and that is not easy, not with barbels or carps. Their view is outstanding, but, especially, thanks to their moustaches, they are able to feel each vibration the water transmits through the floor. And, unfortunately, our steps are easily recognizable. Any way, after some days, I was able to be in front of a barbel, which was feeding in the bottom, in less that 30cms of water without him noticing my presence. My red tag –as you must know, there is not much in the fly box of a ten year old boy- hit the surface with strength and the barbel, immediately, fixed his eyes on it and slowly swallowed the fly. As if it were yesterday!
Back to what I have said in the introduction of the article, maybe we should change our mind and see Spain like a mixture of pleasures, where you will find good weather, one of the best gastronomy in the world, a different culture and some good quality fishing, near some of the most beautiful cities and beaches in Europe.
As you may have now realized, Spain is not one of those popular and conventional fishing destination where the angler dreams with an incredible fish, surrounded by outstanding peaks and a green forest, or one of those where you can enjoy a mojito in the boat deck.
If, however you are searching for another kind of experience, maybe by your own, sleeping in a little cottage near the spots, and exploring the hidden part of the country; or maybe with your family, in a mix between holidays and fishing… Spain is surely worth a try.
Álvaro G. Santillán
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*THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN IN THE LOOP MAGAZINE.