Coarse Fishing in Spain by Philip Pembroke

Buscalo, February 2007

Restocking of trout in Spain’s rivers, is it needed?

March sees the start of the trout-fishing season in Spain. Expectations are high and there is certain to be a rush to the cotos de pesca  (fishing reserves) found on many local rivers and reservoirs.

Trout fishermen have every reason to feel optimistic about their chances of catching a fish. In fact the bag limit on some rivers is ten. Why fish with a single hook when Spanish anglers often fish with three?

This successful fishing method allows anglers to bag up big time. The practice involves attaching three fly lures on droppers to the main line and casting for distance using a ballasted bubble float that has several names. The float is called a buldó in València and a boya lastrada in Galicia.

Spinning with a shiny metallic coloured cucharilla – spoon lure or Rapàla – plug lure is also a favoured technique. Bigger lures come into their own when fishing from a boat on large reservoirs in Spain known as embalses to attract enormous rainbow trout that are summoned up from the depths. But remember it’s just as good fishing from the bank.

The best time to fish aguas alta montaña – high-mountain streams is after May when the water has warmed up a little encouraging fish to feed. Productive fishing in lowland rivers known as agaus baja montaña starts much earlier and by April waders may be discarded in pleasant daytime temperatures.

The reason why anglers are so sure about a successful expedition is because many fishing reserves are restocked the day before the trout-angling season begins with thousands of fish bred in artificial tanks over the winter. These fish releases continue throughout the fishing season once every week or fortnight.

The Spanish angler is left in no doubt about their God given ability to bag up. Multiple catches prove the worth of their superior fishing skills. And down at the local bar there is no hesitation in proclaiming that Spain is the recipient of infinite natural resources.

Not quite. Nearly all the fish released into rivers are caught within a day or two farmed fish fail to thrive in the wild because they lack a survival mechanism. Those that remain lack the instinct a wild fish has acquired to migrate upstream to spawn.

What we are left with after two days of fishing is a desert river where the chances of catching further fish are very limited.

Restocking is so much window dressing. The solution to these problems lies in preserving the wild brown trout population through effective management of the rivers. The wild brown trout represents one of the main freshwater resources in Spain.

Original wild fish stocks have been depleted by over fishing, loss of habitat through dam building and new roads, and pollution. Not to mention the illegal import of exotic fish species into Spanish waters like the piranha that is now found on València’s Rio Turia up to half a kilogram me in weight.

These trends can be reversed. What cannot be recovered are the unique native trout populations. Attempts to restock rivers with farmed fish, there are 132 trout fish farms nationally compromise the conservation of wild fish.

The native brown trout is being crowded out of Spanish rivers by the aggressive rainbow trout although it is not yet endangered. And more significantly large scale restocking with too similar strains of farmed brown trout is decimating the much wider but vulnerable native gene pool where overall numbers are a great deal less.

A study by Gerona University in the 1990’s concluded that the effective introduction of hatchery reared fish in the Tajo and Duero river basins has made once disimilar fish populations indistinct. The individuality and uniquenes of these indigenous fish are lost the damage is permenent.

Francisco Martínez wrote in the February 2006 edition of Trofeo de Pesca  magazine

 “Over the past two decades there has been a gradual but significant decline in the population of native wild brown trout in the Comunidad Valenciana. So that today in 2006 practically none are left in previously abundant rivers like the Ríos Turia, Mijares and Sot.”

The most prominent event of 2004 was the severe drought. Sections of the Río Villahermosa were left dry. This in part is a result not so much of lack of rain as systematic extraction of groundwater for irrigation and industry to the detriment of wildlife.

A better balance is required between people and nature. When this occurs this will be more concrete ground for optimism in the ability of Spain to realise its potential for supporting some of the best fishing sport in Europe. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Buscalo readers are assured that it’s not all bad news and there remain some outstanding freshwater fishing destinations contained in my book called Fly-Fishing in Spain that includes fishing near the Costa towns.

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