Coarse Fishing in Spain by Philip Pembroke

Information about places to fish for barbel and trout in Spain

Buscalo, June 2006

In that time of angling popular history Don Quixote and his man servant notoriously caught shad from the River Ebro in Catalonia. Shad were the most sought after fish and much valued by the pueblo or common man who found them perfect for their flavour and culinary versatility. A that time information about places to fish for barbel and trout in Spain was limited.

A dish called Cazuela, after the pot it is cooked in, was very popular among peasants in those times, for getting the best out of river fish. Rice is first fried in olive oil, water is added, then potatoes, green vegetables and shad, twenty minutes cooking time, season with tomatoes, pimentos (red chilli powder), onions, garlic, powdered almonds and saffron.

Tastes have moved on (a little). But let’s reverse in time five decades. In the region of Navarra, a few kilometres from the Pyrenean border, walking distance separated fifteen sub species of wild brown trout.

The major differences in colour and size were a fundamental cause of diet and mimicking surroundings for instance camouflage. These special fish, never great in number were unique to Basque Country rivers.

Forward-wind to today: most of the hundreds of sub species of wild brown trout have disappeared, lost forever due to habitat loss and increased fishing pressure. Put simply there are more anglers than ever before attempting to catch less fish.

Traditionally the Spanish trout angler has bagged up for the table, old habits die-hard. Many consider it their inalienable right to do so.

Interestingly, of late cable sports fishing shows have influenced trout fishing tactics; those who use spinning and older bait style fishing methods (au toc) have been superseded by a new breed of younger Spanish anglers who favour fly fishing, catch and release methods.

Information about places to fish for barbel and trout in Spain is handed down from father to son. Old timers can still bag up on specially stocked trout waters such as the River Frio near Loja in Granada province and on the River Turia near València in designated fishing reserves called a coto de pesca intensivo. But supermarkets are usually a better option.

A good tip is to book a day ticket for a catc hand release fishing reserve (coto de pesca sin muerte). Often you may secure a whole river stretch of superb trout fishing all to yourself for a whole day.

Great value day tickets can be obtained in the vicinity of a fishing reserve (coto de pesca) from local bars and restaurants or in advance from the environment agency (Medio Ambiente) in large towns.

Many barbel species are equally susceptible habitat loss and have suffered over the past few decades as a result of a ten fold increase in the use of agricultural pesticides that run off fields into local river basins.

Barbel often share the same environments as brown trout and a particular gregarious species the Graels barbel found in Catalonia where it’s known to hang out with trout for company. But they do not appear to catch the public’s imagination in the same way as brown trout do. This is a mystery because although not great eating they are excellent sport when caught on light fly fishing tackle using nymphs and dry fly lures.

Powerful private commercial companies that produce concrete have successfully lobbied in poor regions like Galicia for the construction of hundreds of mini-centrals - small hydroelectric power stations.

Spain is fourth in the world list of nation dam builders and the construction of reservoirs (embalses – artificial lake) is the most dramatic change to the environment post democratisation in the 1980’s.

Dams have strangled the life out of rivers. Barbel are present on just one stretch of the River Mino in Ourense (Galcia in northwest Spain). And wild brown trout are present in just two rivers in Galicia.

Richer regions like neighbouring Asturias have been able to afford successful measures designed to recover their salmon fisheries from the blight of mining pollution caused over several centuries.

Nonetheless money isn’t a “cure all” remedy. Popular support for conservation is more important in the long run.

Back in the middle Ages, along with shad carp were a popular dish. Many believe that common carp, now found all over Europe came from monastery ponds Galicia in Poland.

Originally imported as wild carp, by Romans from the Danube delta, they were cultivated in commercial fish pond and bred specifically for the table all over Europe (carp were originally transported along the Silk Road from China).

Over time, selective breeding created carp sub species that were fatter and had less scales, making the fish more appealing for diners.

Today we can catch mirror –no scales, and leather carp - fewer scales. They are much fatter than the sleek profile of a pure strain wild carp, although interbreeding has retained some of this sleekness in the common carp caught in Spanish rivers and lakes.

In a few remote Spanish rivers an angler might get lucky and land one of the pure wild carp strains that are still in existence. In Spain it pays to be a pioneer.

Pack your bags and head for the wonderful River Guadiana in the unspoilt, remote region of Extremadura in Western Spain before a new motorway changes the view forever. Or visit the interior of Andalusia, the River Guadalquiver flows through Jaén and Cordoba provinces and amazing scenery. Here too, anglers will find Information about places to fish for barbel and trout in Spain.

This is where the future of Spanish fishing lies. Clean rivers and lakes full of barbel, carp and trout and with any luck our heroic knight’s faithful servant Sancho Panza’s catch of the day, a shad.

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