Fly Fishing: Los Pirineos de Aragón – Estupendo!

The Fun Starts for Texas Cari…Out on a Pintxo Stroll in Hondarribia!

Many months ago I received an email from my good UK mate Pete, a great fly fishing guide @ Devon School for Fly Fishing, asking me for the OK to forward my contact details on to a woman in Texas named Cari who was interested in the possibilities of fly fishing in Spain. I have been living in Spain for 2 years and I am well acquainted with the mysterious vagaries & deep black holes you can encounter in sorting out a Spanish piscatory adventure, so I was more than happy to be of any help…

But as weeks and then months went by, with round after round of email exchanges with advice to do this or not do to that, it appeared to me the simple solution was for Cari to come to me & we would fish together. Problem solved…

Cari flew into Hondarribia on a Tuesday arvo in June & after settling in, we headed out for the 50 cent tour of Hondarribia & of course, a pintxo stroll. Our next day was spent in the Big Smoke of San Sebastián and then it was time to get serious – pack up Gertie the Land Rover & get fishing!

Río Ara, Torla-Ordesa, Aragón

We were headed to Aragón where we had at our disposal the Ríos Ara, Cinca, Cinqueta, Aragón & Veral. But first, we had a mission – to reach the Environment Office in the pueblo of Boltaña before closing time (2PM but Gertie is a tad slow) to try & procure several permits to fish some of the managed or private water called Cotos. And as usual with Spanish fishing, it was a bit of a palava : extended conversations in Spanish per what cotos were available, several phone calls were made, lots of paperwork & document checking, then a brisk run to the local bank before closing time (2PM) to pay our fees & a mad dash back to the Environment Office to pop through the door at 1:57PM…Phew!!! Mission accomplished.

Cari’s First Spanish Trout on the Río Ara Alto…

After a bit of lunch, we had a substantial amount of fishable day left so we headed for a free fishing stretch on the Río Ara above the pueblo of Torla-Ordesa. We kitted up & climbed down the steep path to find ourselves abreast of a typical, high mountain river with big boulders, fast water and pools of pocket water. Cari confessed she felt a bit daunted to fish this water as it was a totally new style to her, but a few minutes of instruction & demonstration & she was away & brought her first Spanish trout (of many) to hand!

5 Minutes of Fame…Just Starting Río Cinca & Spanish Fishing Film Crew Shows Up!

Our first full day of fishing began on the Coto de Bielsa on the Río Cinca…we arrived at the start of the beat, parked up and started to assemble our gear when a Spanish film crew appeared out of nowhere & asked if we’d mind being interviewed for a Spanish fishing program…why not? A very amusing exchange transpired where I was given ample opportunity to trash Spanish fly fishing (in a humorous way) with regards to its bureaucracy & limitless paperwork (I have 7 fishing licenses). Hoping to catch the program…

Río Cinca, Coto Social Captura y Suelta, Biesla, Aragón

Ready to go, we started to work our way up some marvellous looking water – crystal clear, good current flows & depth and hopefully lots of trout! Well, we were not disappointed – each of us connected with a decent drop of trout and some running to a 8-10″ range…but lots of fun wee ones. After a couple of hours we bumped into some other anglers upstream (the coto allows 6 anglers a day) so we retreated to devise an alternate plan…

Top: Río Ara Below Tributary Río Cinqueta; Río Cinqueta, Saravillo, Aragón

We opted to drive back down river to where the Río Cinqueta joins the Cinca & scrambled down to have a go at several of its stretches but it was not very productive water and a bit of a difficult wade…so on to a lower stretch of the Río Ara. We had some decent hookups here…but it was getting late so we headed back to our home base of Sarvisé & a cold ‘jarra‘ (or 2) of Alambra beer to finish the day @ Chill Out Los Caballos, the only bar in town…

Asador Ordesa – Pulpo Enslada & Ventresca Tuna / Pimientos & Onion Ensalada

Top: Duck Confit; Suckling Lamb Ribs & Taters; Cari…

Since lunch that day had only consisted of a few muesli bars, some nut mix & a packet of cecina, we decided to hit the local Asador Ordesa for a proper meal. A tad extravagant for 2 fly fishing folks, but we felt we had earned it…we were the first & only people in the dining room for the better part of an hour (it being after 9pm) but tucked into 2 monstrous starters – Ensaladas de Pulpo (Octopus) & Ventresca de Atún…estupendo!

And both of us craved a decent dose of protein, Cari had the Duck Confit with potatoes cooked in the duck fat – the only way – and I went for the Costillas de cordero de Broto a la brasa (Lamb ribs on the grill) – mos def hit the spot. Home to bed…

Gertie The Land Rover Did Her Job, Now It Is Cari’s Turn To Catch Some Trout!

Up bright & early the next day (Saturday), we toddled off to our second chance to fish some more private water (Río Ara) on the Coto de Torla-Bujaruelo. A modestly nerve wracking drive up a single lane, shingle road that in the off season is often closed to traffic or requires a serious 4×4 & careful negotiation. But we made it and parked & geared up for a day of fishing – stupendous weather too…

Río Ara, Coto Social Captura y Suelta, Torla-Bujaruelo, Aragón

Stunningly beautiful – Cari blurted out it was the prettiest place she’d ever been in her life…I concurred. Gin clear waters, impressive mountain peaks & lush woods…but we’re here for trout! Well we were not to be disappointed on any count – every pool was good for 4-5 or more trout…granted, wee ones but awesome fun still the same.

Río Ara, Coto de Torla-Bujaruelo, Aragón

Río Ara, Coto de Torla-Bujaruelo, Aragón

Río Ara, Coto de Tora-Bujaruello, Aragón…Muchas Truchas!

We fished our way through numerous pools during the morning but about mid-day we bumped up against a couple of other anglers so we reviewed out coto map & saw that above a non-fishable gorge section, the river again opened up into a valley. So off we went in search of a track or path to the other side…after many false starts & dead ends, we climbed a super steep track to reach another track that for all intents & purposes felt like THE track…we queried several folks that confirmed we were spot on, so on we went.

Río Ara Muy Alto – Top of the Beat…Serious High Mountain Fly Fishing…Cari Pulled 5 Trout Out of that Pool!

And finally our nirvana was within sight…post a wee bit of scramble down some shingly slopes, we were again on fishable waters. Although a short section, it was chocka with lovely pools…Cari pulled 5 trout out of the last pool before becoming a gorge again…then the long walk home – we covered more than 20km that day!

Río Ara High Mountain Scenes…

Our last day together we had planned to hit the Ríos Aragón & Veral as a fishing mate Oscar said they were waters that usually held some bigger fish. It being Sunday, and good weather, the Spanish pescadores were out in force. We struggled to find a vacant stretch but eventually managed & had a fun morning/early afternoon hooking some wee ones.

We then turned our sights & rods on the Río Veral, and parked up on the free stretch below the pueblo of Biniés. The river seemed in low flow but we gave it a thrash for a few hooks ups but the higher up we moved, the more like a jungle it became where casting was near impossible…so we called it a day on the Veral & decided to hit a good, free stretch of the Río Ara just below our town of Sarvisé.

Río Ara Final Casts…

Slowly cruising the mountain road parallel to the river, we found our designated access point to the Río Ara on the Coto de Broto. We ambled down the track to the riverside & waded across to the opposite & fishable side. This section of the Ara was about as close to a New Zealand river as I have seen in Spain. Pool after pool, after perfectly formed pool of impressive water. I fished it blind & hard, (like I would a New Zealand pool if I were to fish it blind), methodically quartering the river & then moving up a rod length…but nothing. But not at all surprised either as my Spanish experience has been as much about not catching or seeing trout as catching them. After 2-3 hours & many pools later, the dark clouds started to move down the valley…then the drops began to fall. A retreat to our local pub for a jarra was in order…where it began to hose down…fly fishing finished!

Aragón Scenes…

It was a stupendous trip where fish & the weather gods fully co-operated…we both enjoyed ourselves & had no arguments at all with the scenery. Hoping to see Cari on the Other Side (New Zealand) when I return in September….

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Tolosa Chuleta Fest – Yippee!!!

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Yum Yum Eat’m Up — Chuleta Fest @ Tolosa


WARNING: To all vegetarian and vegan folks, this post contains meat photos.

The Hounds had recently paid a visit to the Basque town of Tolosa to check out the famous weekly Saturday market (which we loved BTW) and we spotted some announcements regarding a Festival de Chuleta – a Steak Fest to put it simply. A few weeks later, I read in my regular Saturday El Diario Vasco newspaper a detailed article on said festival with loads of history, ticket details, etc…I decided – “I’m in on this deal”.

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Street Scenes Tolosa…

I made the tactical decision to catch a train to Tolosa so as not to put a cap on any potential fun by having to drive my 1975 Land Rover back home post visiting vino & chuleta heaven. Like many other things here in Spain, trains are sort of an approximation…más o menos. The web site said a train departed from the Irun station at 11AM, so got myself there by 10:30AM only to find there is no 11AM, there is a 10:53AM. Said train, according to the web site, would deposit me in Tolosa at 11:40AM…try 12:05PM. But no pasa nada – I was not in a hurry & still had a decent chunk of time to wander old town Tolosa.

Casco Antiguo (Old Town) is, like many other Spanish cities or towns, the best part of the town with narrow, cobble stoned, pedestrianised streets that simply reek with character & charm. The only negative or slightly creepy thing was that they had loudspeakers strung up & down every street, playing a very weird mix of traditional Basque music, which was then followed by a Heavy Metal tune…go figure.

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Old Town Tolosa…

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Lots of Tolosa Graffiti…And Hay Muchos Signs…

The Tolosa Chuleta Fest was started in 2006 to commemorate the 750th (yes, that’s right 750th) birthday celebration of the founding of Tolosa. Tolosa, over several generations if not centuries, has earned a well deserved reputation for expertise in all things grilled. The chefs who grill are called asadores in Spanish & the restaurants are asadors. And originally the meat used came from the ox, but has now shifted to beef and is called locally ‘vaca vieja’ or old/aged beef.

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The festival runs for 3 days (6th, 7th and 8th of December in 2016) and is housed in the ‘Tinglado‘ (translates to ‘shed’) which was constructed in 1899 & 1900 to be the new home to the Saturday weekly market. The Tinglado sits smack dab on the Oria River, with glassed walls providing a very up close & personal river view.

The Festival Folks had divided the Tinglado into 2 bits – a sweet, spacious dining room for the lunches & dinners and a casual pintxo & bar area for a bit of Chuleta Fest warmups. There were 5 or 6 stalls, each offering a different pintxo or two, and of course, a bar serving the usual suspects – vino tinto (Rioja) & blanco (local Basque star txakoli) , cerveza & cider.

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The Best Fest – Pintxo Alley. Bottom Right – Pintxo to Beat All Pintxos!

I started my festival warmup with the pintxo pictured above (slow braised beef in a pork bun with micro greens, pickled red onion & a secret sauce) which was SO delicious that I came within in inch of having another, but given I was only an hour or so away from a massive steak fest I decided to spread the wealth and sample a different taste treat.

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Top Left: Local Brew Called La Salve (Translates to ‘Hail Mary’); Family Who Made Da Vino; Chistorra (Basque Sausage); Grill’n Up Some Pintxos…

My second comestible treat came in the form of the locally famed chistorra, a Basque sausage that is often cooked up in some local cider. Again, a hit right out of the park – 3 different types of chistorra perfectly grilled with another secret sauce (pictured above). Excelente & washed it down with a local brew call La Salve (translates as ‘Hail Mary’ – cool).

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Chuletas de Vacas….The Star Attraction

When the clock struck 2, folks started queuing up at the dining hall entrance…tickets in hand and appetites, just like the charcoal, on fire. As we passed through the foyer entrance, we were greeted with a chuleta display to get the juices flowing and we could plainly see the asadores hard & hot at work.

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Table Is Set…Wine is Open. Ready, Set, Go!

We had 10 folks at our table – 5 native Spanish-speakers, 2 Americans from Denver speaking American, a couple from Holland (who live in France) & me. Besides the asadores hard at work, the Ibérico Jamón carvers were all non-stop knife action to repeatedly fill & refill our plates to kick off the luncheon with a bang. The jamón goes down SO easy & marries perfectly with a glass or two of red vino.

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First Up – Sliced Ibérico Jamón…The Good Stuff – Black Label.

Next up was the veggie portion of the fest – white asparagus in a tangy vinaigrette dressing (sorry, no pics…too busy eating & drinking) followed by cogollos de Tudela – Romain lettuce hearts. Perfect foil to the previous salty & savoury jamón flavours, and the beef that was to follow…a light interlude was mos def called for…

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Top Left: Dining Room; The Veggie Plate – Hearts of Lettuce; The Dining Room Cow

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All Fired Up & the Grilling Begins!…A Man & His Ox.

As you can see by the grilling photo above, the Spanish are generous with their salt. As many chefs & cooks will tell you, salting the meat generously prior to grilling or cooking works small wonders as does brining (particularly chicken, turkey or even pork). Despite what appears to be, to me, an excessive amount of the salty stuff, you could not in any way taste it on the finished steak.

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Turn Away Now Vegetarians…

So the goods get delivered, and they are oh, oh so good. Cooked (for me) just the way I like it, as I think many meats become totally devoid of flavour when singed to within an inch of their life – might as well eat your shoe. This was perfecto – a crispy, char broiled brown crust with a deep, deep red centre and flowing with good steak juices. The meat was well balanced with just the right amount of fat marbling (relative to the meat) which added delectable, flavourful bits to the overall flavour.

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Steak & Roasted Pimientos….

The plates of steak just kept coming – no one @ our table seem to be able to get enough chuleta, nor vino as our Spanish table mates kept hailing our waitress with ‘Más Vino! Más!’ & bottles magically kept appearing.

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Lonely Dessert Cheese Plate & Sweet Snack…

To say I had a good time would be the understatement of the day or week – our festive table was the last to leave the Tinglado & its merry surrounds…all happy campers toddling off home for a wee siesta…Great job Tolosa! Keep up the good work!