Coarse Fishing in Spain by Philip Pembroke

Where are the Big Fish Caught in Spain?

Buscalo, February 2007

The last week in January was a particularly cold month, by Spanish standards, but from now on in it can only get warmer. The carp are also becoming more active as the water in lakes and rivers gradually heats up.

On Internet fishing forum websites anglers in Spain are always asking where the bigger fish are to be caught. This is a good question because no one can be really sure of the right answer.

The natural world is a perfect place, but most lakes in Spain are man made and imbalances in the ecosystem create all sorts of problems.

Fish populations change annually in average size and number due to local water conditions. Pollution through pesticide run off into reservoirs and sewage discharge from large towns into rivers causing aquatic weed growth (that creates a lack of oxygen) occasionally result in large-scale fish kills.

In the summer of 2005 the water in the Embalse de Iznajar near Málaga, the biggest reservoir in Andalusia was found to contain herbicide used to spray olive trees, the inhabitants of twenty two nearby villages were advised that the water was dangerous to drink. The effect on the fish population was not immediately understood.

Fish kills also take place as a result of drought, a natural phenomenon. Anglers complain about these events but often assume that such catastrophes are irreversible. This is frequently not the case.

Fish populations in Spain recover quickly due to the advantageous climate. However constant spawning conditions, which a hot climate encourages, without predation create overpopulated fisheries and stunted fish growth, something anglers also moan about. We are a contented lot!

Let’s return to the first question. Where are the whoppers? Carp among other fish species tend to school according to size. One angler in a day can catch hundreds of small fish, up to 2kg, close to the bank with the occasional fish up to 5kg. Casting further out, up to 50m, will result in far fewer bites but more fish up to 10kg. Casting more than 100m distance may catch the largest fish in the lake but there are usually only a handful of these present.

This isn’t the whole story. Casting the furthest distance is no guarantee of the largest carp. Many of the largest fish are caught under the rod tip by the bank. The trick is to stay patient and of course remain quiet.

Wind direction and water temperature play a large part in where fish feed. Conditions change according to the time of day. Mornings and evenings are the best time to fish in the heat of summer. In winter midday is best.

The variety of different fish species that are caught in a single location is a good indication of water quality. Recently, an angler fishing for carp in Alicante caught a 5kg brown trout with sweetcorn bait in the feeder stream by the tail end of a reservoir. Brown trout are much less tolerant of inferior water quality than common carp, that can stand much poorer quality water.

The environment agency (Medio Ambiente) have placed a ban on bagging up wild brown trout in most of the València’s rivers - as have the Andalusian government, these fish must be returned to the water.  

The wild brown trout population is nearing a critical level. And I would place barbel in the same perilous situation because of their shared habitat and similar low tolerance of pollutants.

Cleaning up local rivers and the surrounding environment would go a long way towards restoring wild brown trout and barbel populations to sustainable levels. This requires political will as much as funding and therefore the outcome to this eco-crisis is any ones’ guess.

The environment agency in Andalucía will fine any person who is found guilty of transporting native fish species to an area where it is not normally found - the amount of 4,000€. Those caught introducing fish, not naturally found in Spain lay themselves open to a fine of 53,000€.

As you can see the problem of illegal fish introductions is a very serious threat to native fauna and flora. How seriously the threat is take,n for instance attitude of the Guardia Civil and water bailiffs to poaching and the presence of other law-breakers is debatable. In my opinion it is not their priority to prosecute the law.

The taking of large quantities of carp from public water e.g. Pego marshes, is not illegal. But much of this activity goes on at night when any type of fishing is illegal, except for fishermen with a baby eel (angulas - elvers) fishing licence.

This specific problem has raised its ugly head in the last five years especially. Many regional Spanish governments treat common carp as a pest and really don’t care about its fate. Hunting licences generate a thousand times greater revenue than freshwater fishing licences. So priorities remain elsewhere.

There are a few politicians who will stand up for the angler. Ex-socialist prime minister of Spain Felipe Gonzales is an avid fisherman in his native Seville. Maybe he can help?

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