Coarse Fishing in Spain by Philip Pembroke

Fly fishing is a Tradition in Northern Spain

Buscalo, June 2007

Last week in Portugal a British angler landed a 52 lb (24 kg) common carp from a private natural lake in the Alentejo. Well done to him, in fact the previous day his wife had caught a 40 lb common from the same place.

This must qualify as the new Portuguese record (as yet still unofficial), the catch was verified by witnesses and there is a photograph of it in last month’s Angler’s Mail magazine. All previous carp that were caught to much bigger sizes in Portugal were not authenticated to this degree of certainty.

Spain like Portugal has very few natural lakes, as we know them in the UK, thee exist mainly large reservoirs called embalses. In my opinion the bigger fish are still to be caught from these embalses but fish are harder to locate in the larger waters.

Food supply is another factor that determines the potential for fish growth. But in this instance it all depends on the individual location. Embalse de Orellana holds the Spanish carp record at 72 lb. Carp will grow quickly at this the huge reservoir on the plentiful crayfish, a favourite snack.

Many anglers based on the Costas are always asking where they can catch a big fish? My answer is in any reservoir that has its smaller fish population kept in check by predation. This reduces competition for food rescources and allows a smaller number of carp to grow to much larger sizes.

Embalses located away from the coast that contain Black bass or pike will support larger carp. But once you have found your dream water the rest is down to putting in many hours of fishing. Choice of bait is not crucial, ground baiting is. And most of all you will need luck.  

This month I am fishing in the northern Spanish region of Asturias for salmon on the lovely Sella (pronounced seja) River near Cangas de Onis (Oviedo). Then I will push on to the Esla River near Benavente in the region of Castilla y León (Zamora) to the southwest.

Many Buscalo readers will be unfamiliar with northern Spain. It rains more in Asturias and the rivers are short and steep with clear fast water. Prized day tickets for the salmon cotos are not expensive but a ballot is held pre season and this is the time you must apply.

However there are lots of free fishing river stretches that are not suitable for the style of au toc bait fishing that the local anglers employ for catching salmon with a shrimp hook bait. These free fishing stretches are suited to fly-fishing techniques and lucky anglers can still bag up one salmon per day.

After a hard days fishing, and wading in the river channel anglers retire for the evening meal accompanied by the local drink cidre (cider). This is locally produced non-fizzy stuff. To include air the drinker has to pour the bottle into their mouth from a great height. This procedure can only be mastered after a great deal of repetition and must be practised every night.

I will be visiting the great gothic cathedrals at Burgos and León on my way to Benavente. There is plenty to see and do. Waving to hundreds of pilgrims walking their arduous way to Santiago de Compostela is an atmospheric sight. I wish them well.

The Esla River near Zamora is a trout fishing location. Tactics that work here are nymphing (anglers can use a bubble float with one fly tied to the end and a second fly on a short dropper) using hare’s ear and ballasted fly lures. And sometimes dry mayfly lures for when the trout feed on the surface, usually in the evening.

The medium size Esla River is famous throughout Spain for its pike population that have grown fat on their constant food supply of trout. The best results for the fly anglers are achieved using poppers and streamers fly lures that imitate fish fry. Of course spinner and rapala lures will work just as well.

Napoleon’s army destroyed Benavente and restoration seems to be an ongoing project. But the surrounding rivers are very beautiful as is nearby Zamora city located a few kilometres drive south. Here is situated the much large Duero River winding its way to Portugal through the broad wheat plains known as the breadbasket of Spain. Here the water is full of barbel and carp.

Zamora’s thousand years old Byzantium cathedral is famous for its tapestries but if you look towards the roof you will see entertaining sculptured fish scale patterns symbolicly reflecting the Christian practice in northern Spain.

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