Fly Fishing in the Basque Country in Spain…

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Iñaki In Action…

Compared to New Zealand, fly fishing in the UK was a hard yard with most of the water being in private hands of some form (business, fishing syndicate, club, person) and loads of rules as to the wheres, whens, whats & hows of what was fishable water. But Spain makes the UK look like a walk in the park.

The UK, like New Zealand, has a national fishing license so you only need to pay once and license wise you are pretty much good to go. Spain requires you have a license for every state that you plan to fish in, and in some cases you need a specific area license. So I am now the proud owner of licenses for states of Euskadi (Basque Country), Navarra and Aragón. And my mate Asier has urged me to apply for a ‘sport license’ which you can only get if you can show proof of residence (el padrón) in Hondarribia at the local city hall (el ayuntamiento).

A licence is not expensive – about €8 – €15. And you do not want to ignore this bureaucratic necessity, as you might in some countries where you would get a slap on the wrist, a scolding and be told to get a license. The Spanish police of all levels are reputed to be seriously tough on violators. You stand a good chance of having all your gear confiscated and possibly your vehicle too and be in for a serious fine ( up to €6,000) and get a criminal record…not a good thing to have when you want to enter a country.

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Asier Changes Flies…

Another factor adding mucho complications to the fishing brew is the many and varied seasonal dates & times you can actually fish. To begin with, the season in many places is very short (in some places just July & August) compared to most countries. When you add in restrictions like ‘no fishing on Tuesdays & Thursdays except festival days and religious holidays and Mondays are reserved for people over 65 and under 18 and nymphs that look like worms are prohibited until August 15th’…well you can spend the bulk of your time holding your rod & just scratching your head.

But I have been most fortunate since arriving in the Basque Country to have been hooked up (pun intended) with Iñaki and Asier (two local fly fishing nuts like me) by my good mate David Brookes (a New Zealander living in the Eden Valley, Australia).

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My First Trout of España! Oiartzun River

No more than a week after my first meeting with Iñaki, he introduced me to Asier (who also graciously helped me navigate the Basque fishing license process) and they had me on the Oiartzun River, just a stone’s throw from San Sebastián. It flows all the way to the sea and we saw schools of mullet and one massive salmon in the river! It is a curious bit of water in that it flows through a heavily populated area (by normal fly fishing or New Zealand standards) with loads of apartment complexes bordering the river, with crowds of folks riding bikes, running or walking their dogs.  We met & got kitted up in the car park of a huge Alcampo shopping centre & petrol station but the water (as you can see in the pictures) ran clear and they assured me it was chocka with trout.

These guys like their tiny (#20-#22) dry flies and avidly fish for the surface take. I opted for my bog standard Kiwi style rig – dry fly (#18 Parachute Adams) with a nymph dropper (#18 Golden Bead Head Pheasant Tail). We alternated pools and I was the first to hook up with a small brownie but he soon managed to loose my nymph. I lucked out again and copped a great stretch of water just as the rain took on a heavier pour and the nymph once again worked its wonders and a sweet 6-7 inch brown trout made it into Asier’s net. Yippee! My first trucha de España!

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Iñaki Catches 1st Vibrator Fish!

We all met again just a few days later at the same Oiartzun River and walked a considerable ways down stream to a point where there were far more mullet in the water than trout. After an hour and a half, Asier deep sixed the Oiartzun River as it was not fishing well and proposed we hit another river about a half hour away. And 30 minutos later, we were on the banks of the Orina River and could immediately see a dozen trout feeding voraciously on the surface – una problema, they were directly under a canopy of tree foliage. Smart trouts.

Asier spotted some caddis flies and a cursory check of a river rock confirmed that, so it was a caddis fly all round. Asier, being the gentleman that he is, let Iñaki and I have a good go at the fly snarfing trouts and Iñaki connected first with a real leaper (pics above).

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A Decent Fish…

Then I managed to flick a halfway decent cast up under the leafy canopy and at the bottom of the drift the caddis fly was gulped – bingo! Sweet, sweet rainbow trout on the line and fighting just like a rainbow does.

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Net Troubles…

As I said, these guys, like me, are fly fishing nuts & we kept at it well into serious darkness and I managed to make it home a little after 11PM…I think this could be the start of some awesome fun!

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It’s A Cider Fest!

HRCFSign2And the tsunami fest continues here in the wee seaside pueblo of Hondarribia…no sooner had we gotten our breath back from the Blues Festival, we saw the above poster plastered all about town. It’s 100% in Basque but we could decipher the important stuff like (a) it was a cider thingy, and (b) it was going to be right outside our flat on Gipuzkoa Plaza.

HRCFSignAnd what a deal – 5€ got you a cider glass & a pintxoa and all the cider you could imbibe by 10pm (started at 6pm or for the early drinkers like 5:30) or until they ran out.

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The Cider Crowd from our Flat

We managed to make it to almost 8pm before a serious cider buzz was starting to kick in, so we retreated to our flat for a breather before doing our usual Saturday evening pintxo stroll down Calle San Pedro.

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Alex & Billie Show How It’s Done….

We are not at all sure who or how it was organised but we did recognise several of our new friends manning the pintxoa table. We met them at a local Basque Social Club (bar) which is a 1 minute walk from our flat when we locked ourselves out & they loaned us a ladder to climb in the first floor window….new mates.

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The Basque Social Club’s Sign…

And if you want to see how a real ‘local’ (as in I live on this square) does it….here ya go.

 

Farmer’s Market – Hendaye, France

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We are muy suerte (very lucky) here in Hondarribia, not only do we have our own local farmers market every Wednesday & Saturday, but a similar market takes place in Hendaye, France at about the same time. Now that may sound like a bit of a hike or an extravagance to toddle off to a farmers market in France, but for us Hondarribians it is a mere 5 minute ferry ride (or in the case of Hound #2, a 10 minute paddle board paddle across the harbour).

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Oysters from all Areas, Rotisserized Everything & Charcuterie Heaven

And we have timed our arrival food-wise pretty good – summer has kicked in and the fields around us are exploding with veggies & fruits. In the short time we have been living here we have sussed out our favourite stall holders & make a beeline for them once off the ferry as they sell out quickly – as they should. It is a bit odd in the Basque Country but the use of fresh herbs is close to non-existant – parsley is pretty much what is on offer and most farmers market stalls give it away gratis as though it was a weed. So to France we go – where the likes of basil, thyme, chives, oregano & rosemary are readily up for purchase.

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Bacon – Who Likes Bacon?

And it is nice to peruse the various butchery stalls as many of my favourite cuts (bavette/skirt steak, onlget/hangar steak) are frequently sold here – scored a sizeable slab of bavette on my last visit. And of course, there is duck in ALL ITS FORMS – estupendo! The French of all nationalities know duck — nice to see the magret breasts again…the size of a small car. And the queue for the foie gras stand is a bit unnerving – he sells out the quickest!

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And deli selection to beat the band – a vast array of seriously local & delicious fromage / queso on offer as well as all the other desired deli goods. The charcuterie stands are just plain deadly – free samples almost always lead you down the evil path of purchase. And with 3 saucissons for 9 Euros, a deal to make you squeal, the market is left 3 shorter…

Hondarribia Blues Festival…Wow!

We appear to have arrived in Hondarribia at the start of the festival season – it does not seem that a week goes by without some type of festival (major & minor) taking place. The first one that literally popped up was some type of religious fest (not too keen or knowledgeable about these) called Saint SomethingOrOther where you apparently set fire to everything and set off massive skyward explosives…

Saints Fest Collage

But shortly after that festival came the Hondarribia Blues Festival – 4 days & nights of fantastic blues music and all for FREE! We are not sure how all this gets paid for – one Kiwi amigo suggested Greece paid for it – but what a show.

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For a couple of old folks we managed to rally our collective energies and catch the opening set of shows…at least until midnight when Dr. Feelgood took to the stage & we took off to bed. The best act of the night in our opinion was Shakura S’Aida – not only a vocalist estupendo but and an entertainer of the highest order.

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Ms. Shakura S’Aida Belts One Out…

At last count, there were like 4 different stages / venues where folks appeared. Ranging from the small stage on Calle San Pedro high street to the massive main stage where the above extravaganza took place. All of these venues were put up just for the fest – wow!

It is a bit weird to hear the blues sung in Spanish – but it still sounded great…

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Travellin’ Brothers Sextet – Awesome!

On Saturday & Sunday during the day a roster of acts appeared at the smaller sister venue where not only did we have excellent music but a full on BBQ roast was going on with pollo asado con arroz (rice) and on Sunday – paella!

The highlight for moi was the Travellin’ Brothers Sextet, a subset of the Travellin’ Brothers Big Band that had boogied the night before….heard the sound check & just had to check these cats out. The lead singer, Jon Koreaga, was a stupendous entertainer – at one point he left the stage sans microphone & walked across the tables still singing & getting the locales to join in (he sang in English but they got it – hey, it’s the blues!).

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BBQ Crowd Catching Some Tunes…and Pollo.

The style of music these folks played took me right back to my old band days with the Pearlies – a sentiment confirmed by old band mate Scott Monahan. It could have been us! Damn, maybe next year…Pearlie reunion, Hondarribia 2016 – get on it dudes.

And for your listening pleasure, a snippet of the Travellin’ Brothers

Mariscos Mania – Hondarribia

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Las Gambas

We are muy suerte (very lucky) here in Hondarribia food-wise. We have at least 4 awesome fishmongers in a town of maybe 25,000 folks and being smack dab on the coast we get the good, fresh shite (much of it line caught). But besides the cornucopia of piscine choices, we are also blessed with a tienda de mariscos – seafood store – called Kresala Mariscos which carries a wealth of just caught crustaceans for your cooking & eating pleasure.

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We had a hankering for a simple clam & linguine dish so it is here that we headed and were by no means let down. Clams aplenty and much, much more….

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The crab looked stunning and was noted for a return visit…

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The woman owner’s padre makes these seafood salads at home (casera in Espanol) and she was most generous to send us home with a free sample along with our bivalve purchase – muchas gracias mi amiga. The clams were estupendo!

Cantina de Guadalupe – Hondarribia

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Cantina de Guadalupe, Hondarribia, Espana

One of the things that strikes you quite clearly here in Spain is how cheap it is to eat out. Whether you are partaking of an evening pintos stroll or diving into the Menú del Día as we did here at the Cantina de GuadalupeMenú del Día can be awesome value deals as the price usually is for a 3 course meal (entree, main & dessert) and includes water, wine (a bottle!) or beer or cider and coffee. Our lunch at the Cantina set us back €12 each, (€11 if you did not want to be seated on the outside terrace) which translates into $17NZ/AU, £8.6BP and $13US. I think you just might be getting a glass of wine in Melbourne at that price! And for the most part, at least in our limited experience, the food is damn good…

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Chorizo & Patata Sopa…

For my starter I opted for a more substantial dish — chorizo and patatas sopa (I am guessing that is what it was or could have been a stew) which was presented in its own serving bowl allowing me to refill my bowl until it was all gone…which it was.

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Ensalada Mixta…

Hound #2 went her usual healthy, wealthy & wise route and was presented with a ensalada mixta fresca that included some sweet tuna & a hard boiled egg…

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Pollo Asado – Estupendo!

I could not not try the Pollo Asado (Roast Chicken) and was rewarded with half a bird…Billie helped out. It was perfectly done & tasty and the patatas perfecto.

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Bistec con Patatas

And Hound #2 decided to get some serious sustenance under her belt and ordered the Bistec con Patatas – seriously large cut of meat for the price & well cooked and half ended up as Billie’s dinner…lucky dog.

The vino was the house tinto which was nicely chilled – wine, like the food here in Spain, is absurdly cheap. Not only when you are buying at the stores but also when eating out. I am not totally sure why that is – low taxes? cost of production? loss leaders? And it is not swill by any means – you often see or get very recognisable wines from some serious producers. Granted. these are not their aged, reservas but their crianzas or jóvenes (young wines) but they seem to bring a reasonable amount of effort & vinification knowledge to bear & make a decent quaffer. Most pintxos bars offer glasses of blanco, rosado and tinto at €1.30 to €1.80 – deal to make ya squeal!

We finished out lunch with a very nice flan – sorry, no pic – and a very decent cafe con leche.

We will go back…we actually tried last Sunday & they were fully booked out.

Fly Fishing Wales 2015…

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River Otter, Devon

On my fly fishing ‘bucket list’ before departing the UK for Spain was one new river for me, the River Otter, and one old faithful, the River Bray. I had driven past the River Otter countless times during my fly fishing adventures in & around Dartmoor but had never cast a line or dangled a fly for a brownie. It looked so damn enticing from the A30 whizzing past Honiton that I put it on the ‘must thrash’ list…

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River Otter, Devon

Just like most of the UK waters, someone (company, hotel, syndicate, person) owns the fishing rights and in this case it is the Deer Park Country Hotel. They charge not an unreasonable about of £30 for a day on the river but there are a few problems or hassles. First off, the river is in need of some TLC – there are quite a few deep pools that make wading up stream impossible so you absolutely need to get out & walk, but the banks are steep and mobbed with serious thickets of nettles, thistles & brambles. Second, there is no kind of beat management – it is just a ‘first come, first cast’ kind of deal which given that they technically have 3 miles of river might not be a problem on a given day but would help to manage the resource better so all interested fishing parties have a good day.

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River Otter Lively Brownie…

That said, I enjoyed a gorgeous weather day and also managed to hook a few trout…using some of my own newly tied nymphs which was a great reward for the day.

My next destination on this final Devon fishing trip was the River Bray which has become one of my favourites of the Westcountry Angling Passport Scheme which is one of the best (besides the Wye/Usk Foundation) things in British fly fishing. I cannot praise it enough in terms of the fishing opportunities at an affordable price that it has opened up to the average fisher person like me. Get on to it folks and use it or lose it!

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River Bray, Devon

The water on the River Bray comes as close as you can get to a chalk stream in this part of the country – and at more than 2km of water you have a decent day of fishing for all of £15…and I have never been disappointed as it seems to hold a good stock of fish where a normal day for me would be 15-20 netted and more than twice that hooked & lost. And the canopy has been pretty well copiced so casting is free & easy.

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River Bray Brownie…

I was a late discoverer of Wales, for some odd reason I had this idea in my head that it was so far away & difficult to get to. Then I started to hear about the Wye/Usk Foundation & went on to order their fishing booklet which peaked my interest a bit more. Then my partner & I decided to do a week’s trip up into Wales to do some winter walks and I was amazed that from our home in Somerset we could be in Wales in less than 1.5 hours! Well that clinched the idea to fish Wales – wish that the idea had smacked me across the face a wee bit sooner!

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Trericket Mill B&B and Camping Site

Post an extensive read of the Wye/Usk Foundation booklet & online perusal of the beats, I came up with a plan & booked myself into the most friendly & hospitable of sites in Wales that you will ever find – Trericket Mill Veggie B&B. Alistair & Nicky are hosts supreme providing all the mod cons a camper could ask for in a stunningly beautiful setting. Besides the great camping space, they run a warm & cosy B&B and also rent out self catering cabins.

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Home Sweet Home in Wales…Including Table & Chairs & Firepit!

Post my arrival @ Trericket Mill, Alistair suggested a quick & easy wander down to have a peek at the River Wye…which I made a bee line for to watch the sun set & catch the masses of swallows having a feast on the hatching bugs…

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River Wye @ Dusk…The Gromain Beat.

I know the Wye/Usk Foundation’s 230 miles of water in Wales is a superb fishery without a doubt, but it was just not to be for me on this trip. My first day of river exploration began with the Upper River Irfon which is a tributary to the Wye and came highly recommended from a fishing guide mate in Devon.

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Upper River Irfon, Wales

The water was STUNNING – and the thought kept going through my head when I come across water this clear & clean – why are there NO FISH? It just cannot be that an environment this pristine cannot be attractive to fish…but in 5 or so hours of wading & casting & sitting & watching – nada. I started to get the feeling that like many new waters & areas, you had to build up or have access to local knowledge about the when’s, where’s & how’s to catch fish. I went through a similar learning curve when I moved to New Zealand many years ago.

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Upper River Irfon, Wales

I fished 2 other rivers on this trip but I have decided not to write about them or show any pictures as they were not the best foot forward for the Wye/Usk Foundation waters. Though I did catch fish, it was not under the circumstances I would say made for a pleasurable day (jungle canopy, herds of sheep in the river, a section that looked more like a rubbish tip than a river).

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River Usk @ Penpont, Wales

My last water of the trip was in the Rive Usk at Penpont, which without a doubt was superb water…just not for me to catch some trout. I fished for about 2-3 hours before I even managed to site and/or scare a decent sized fish. Spotted a good 3 pounder but he was about 6 inches from the bank in about the same depth of water so I just had a good watch. I was using the same gear I had used on the rivers the previous day when I hooked about a dozen fish so I was not sure why that was failing here.

I would really like to give Wales another go – and I hope I get the chance before we return to New Zealand…