Fly Fishing Asturias & Cantabria…


We recently went on our second big adventure to lovely Asturias where Hounds #1 & #2 planned to hit the beaches while I thrashed a bit of Spanish water in search of trout. Asturias can be a tough fish, as many of the rivers close to the coast are also classified as highly prized salmon rivers for which the permits or licenses are obtained via a lottery system that you had to have put your name in the ‘hat’ the previous October. And, as they should, they heavily favour locals. And in some of my own research into Asturian rivers I found that for every 100 salmon beats you will typically find only 4 or 5 trout beats, often on wee tributaries (most likely dried up in mid to late summer) to the real deal like the Rivers Deva or Cares or Sella. And given I only had 2 or 3 days to fish, I made an executive decision to hire a guide to cut to the quick & catch some trouts rather than fritter my time away in search of elusive river access & fish. I chose Oscar at A Mosca Cantabria and he was estupendo! Hard to go wrong with Spain’s two time World Champion (been in to top 4 four times and placed in the top 10 every year for the past 10 years) and a guide with extensive and intimate knowledge of the rivers, their current conditions and, most importantly, where the trout are.

As we head into our final stretch of time here in Spain, I am trying to squeeze in as much fly fishing on Spanish rivers as is humanly possible. I am now the proud owner (sort of) of 6 fishing licenses as you need one for any or all of the Spanish provinces that you want to fish (if you are a Spanish native you can obtain a multi-province license which covers I think 7). I am thinking about writing an article on the Spanish fishing license debacle as it is as close to Hell on Earth as you can get…

Some of the Trouts Caught in the Deva via Czech/Spanish Nymphing and Dry Fly & Dropper

When Oscar picked me up for our first outing, he explained that given the VERY mild winter where there was virtually no snow, combined with an extremely dry Spring in Cantabria and Asturias, that many of the rivers he wanted to fish had seriously low water levels and were close to unfishable. So his plan for the day was to head to the pueblo of Potes near the Picos de Europa to fish a catch & release section of the River Deva. The Deva’s source is in the Picos de Europa where the high valley that the Deva originates from actually faces South. The South had had a decent amount of rain recently so the Deva’s level and flow were good.

We rigged up 2 rods – one for Czech/Spanish nymphing and another as a dry fly & nymph dropper. As most fly fishing folks know, to say the Czech/Spanish/French nymphing technique is productive is truly the definition of an understatement. We soon had a posse of trout to the net but as we cruised into the afternoon we made the decision to: (a) head a wee bit farther out of Potes, up river for a less urban/more wild setting and (b) to have lunch.

Río Deva, near Potes, Asturias: Top Left – Me; Guide Oscar & Mate Dario; High Mountain Flows of the Deva

After a couple of hours or so fishing the upper Deva stretch (with some success), Oscar decided we should head 45 minutes due East to the river Nansa where as early to mid evening rolled in, the Big Boys came out to feed. We arrived at the river bank shortly after 8PM and scanned the river for any activity. Not much to see but Oscar said it usually kicks off into high feeding gear just after 9PM.

And almost like a trout alarm clock, when the face of my watch registered 9:15 the sips & sucks began to happen. Big sucks and sips…clearly gulps. But the trout were clearly wary from fishing pressure – I had one decent take but my reaction time @ 9:30-9:45pm was a tad slow & the Spanish trout are VERY, VERY quick, so no Big Boy prize…

The next day the weather turned ugly as it was forecast to be a day of rain…and more rain. And for once in their sorry forecasting lives they were 100% right. Oscar said we would head for some other stretches of the river Nansa, a bit higher up where the river was narrower with pocket water & flat stretches to fish.

River Nansa on a VERY Wet Wednesday: Top Left – Best Trout of the Day; River Nanasa & more River Nansa (Almost looks like New Zealand) and final Fish Shot.

Despite the despicable weather conditions (I was soaked to the bone), we fished and we caught some trout…and my best fish of the trip – who rose from the dark, deep water depths to a perfectly cast & drifted (if I say so myself) CDC dry tied by Oscar. Sweet fish, great fly fishing & estupendo guide Oscar – muchas gracias!

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Spanish Recipe from Movida in Melbourne, Australia

Braised Beef Cheeks & Cauliflower Purée a la Movida, Melbourne, Australia

Hound #2 has been niggling me of late to get back to some of my more ‘creative’ cooking, as here in Spain I have gotten a bit slack. Reasons being that: (a) it is way cheap and mucho fun to eat & drink out in Spain; (b) many of the dishes in my kitchen repertoire require ingredients (some are key & non-substitutable) that are very hard to find or are VERY expensive or do not exist at all here in the Basque Country.

So she paid a visit to Movida’s web site (an awesome Spanish restaurant in Melbourne that makes the real deal) and yanked a couple of their recipes that use local Spanish ingredients to make right here in our cocina pequeña. To make a long story very short — this was SUPER YUM SQUARED. We are a bit nutty for anything cooked long & slow, falling off the bone tender & in its own broth of flavoured juices. The sweet touch (in both meanings of the word) here is the use of the Pedro Ximénez sherry, which if you have ever had PX you know the deep, dark, nutty dulce flavour of which I speak.

Duck Confit with Leftover Beef Cheek Stew & Asturian White, Fat Beans

And we never, ever waste a good thing, so the next day Hound #2 took the leftovers & added some potatoes and some pre-soaked Asturian White Beans to push the stew-thing to another rich & dense level. And to push it to its ultimate pinnacle, day #3 found me pan searing a Duck Confit leg to sit atop the final remnants of the stewy goodness – pure duck & stew & bean heaven. Now for a siesta…

Braised Beef Cheeks with Cauliflower Purée

Serves 6

  • 1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz) beef cheeks
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) olive oil
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic bulb, halved
  • 1 brown onion, sliced
  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) Pedro Ximenez sherry
  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) red wine
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 185 ml (6 fl oz/¾ cup) cream
  • 40g (1 ½ oz) butter

1. Trim the beef cheeks to neaten them up and remove any sinew and silver skin. Season well.

2. Heat half the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Brown the beef cheeks for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden, then remove from the pan.

3. Add the remaining olive oil, then add the carrot, garlic and onion and sauté over high heat for 12-15 minutes, or until well browned. Stir in the sherry, wine, bay leaves, thyme, sea salt and 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) water.

4. Reduce the heat as low as possible, add the beef cheeks, then cover and cook for 3-4 hours, or until the cheeks are beginning to fall apart.

5. Meanwhile, put the cauliflower, cream and butter in a saucepan, season to taste with salt, then cover and cook over low heat for 35 minutes, or until very tender. Place the cauliflower mixture in a blender and process until smooth. Keep the puree warm.

6. The sauce from the beef cheeks should by now be reduced and glaze-like. If it needs further reducing, remove the cheeks from the pan, cover with foil to keep them warm and simmer the sauce over high heat until nicely reduced. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve and return to the pan; gently reheat the cheeks in the sauce if necessary.

Serve the cheeks and their sauce on warm plates with the cauliflower puree on the side.

A Walk On The Wild Side – The French Basque Country…

Village of Bera, País Vasco…

The weather forecast called for a near perfect Spring day recently, so we decided a Sunday tiki tour was in order to: (a) shake the cobwebs off Gertie, the 1975 Land Rover, and (b) to explore & visit a bit of the French Basque country since it’s just over the border.

We sorted out a circular road trip which had us headed for the Spanish village of Bera as our first stop of the day. We arrived earlier than planned, so the village was more than quiet, though it was quite obvious that things be shake’n in Bera as for a village its size it appeared that it could feed Napolean’s army with the number of dining establishments spotted.

We wandered up to the town church and puttered around the graveyard which was peppered with fascinating old, Basque tombstones. Then a wander down a crooked laneway for a wee stroll & then a return via a path along the village river. The water looked sweet & we quickly spotted numbers of trout holding their feeding positions…one looked to run to more than 1 pound which is a decent size for these parts. Hummmmm????

We decided it was time to move on if we were to make our lunch date in St. Jean de Luz & be able to pay a visit to 2 or 3 other French Basque towns. As we left town though, headed for France, we were a tad disappointed that we had not wandered farther along as Bera has a decently sized Old Town section where they were hosting an agricultural machinery fair…damn!

Crossed to the French Side – Cute As Village of Sare…

From Bera you climb up & over the foothills of the Pyrenees and descend down into the first Basque Country village of Sare. You have or hate to admit it sometimes, but the French truly do have a grand sense of style and that was on display in spades in Sare. Tidy as, almost movie set perfect & clean as a whistle…we tested one of the local cafes with a café au lait & it passed more than a muster. A bit of souvenir shopping was completed, then a good zig zag wander round the village lanes & back to Gertie the Land Rover.

We literally made a pit stop in Ascain, it was nice but did not seem to hold a candle to Sare and there appeared not to be a soul on the streets. We made a pause for a bit of refreshment (local brewed beers), in some sun facing deck chairs before making the decision to move on to our lunch destination…

Lunch on the French Basque Coast @ St. Jean de Luz…

Hound #2 had read somewhere, about some cafe or bar that was someplace on the beach, somewhere near or close to St. Jean de Luz – I know, not exactly the directions you can put into Google & achieve success. But lo & behold we managed to find not 1, but 2 bars/bistros on the beach & opted for La Guinguette d’Erromardie. It just had the too cool for school look, with lots of hip folks taking in the sun & beach vibe and clearly tasty food & drink.

Yum Food @ La Guinguette d’Erromardie – Top Left: Caesar Salad; Grilled Fresh Sardines, Baked Potato & Salad; Coastal View with 2 Hounds; Drinks & Flowers Beachside…

The Daily Special was all Hound #2 had to see – grilled sardines with a baked potato & salad – choice made & she was happy as Larry (so was Billie). I thought I’d be healthy & have the Caesar Salad & get my dose of greens, but was disappointed to see the chicken in my Caesar came deep fried, not simply grilled. No serious complaints – all very tasty & washed down with some red vino & chilled cerveza & sweet, sweet staff. This place must rock @ night on the summer weekends.

Top: The Company Car; Beach View Towards St. Jean de Luz; Sunday Buzz…

This type of day needs, needs to be repeated before we depart for the UK, then New Zealand…so close & so interesting…and they have trout!!!!