I have always had the rivers of Castilla y León on my ‘to fish’ list but last season was literally a washout. My mate Asier & I tried to go several times but his good León fishing friend waved us away as pretty much all the rivers were in flood and pretty much stayed that way for the season. So I was very happy to see the León rivers come right this year and be in mint condition if not a wee bit low. So I packed up Gertie, my Series III Land Rover, and made a bee line for the hills north of León…
My primary source of information or guidance for this escapade was an article in Eat-Sleep-Fish, a free web-zine put out by my friend & super UK guide Pete Tyjas of the Devon School of Fly Fishing, that recounted a fly fishing adventure on León’s rivers. The Río Curueño was awarded high marks in the article for its abundant amount of trout and this was backed up by an article in Danica, Spain’s one (as far as I know) fly fishing magazine.
It is VERY difficult in Spain to find any useful information about where, when & how to fish. And you need information because Spain is an extremely complicated country to fish in with numerous licensing requirements, special permits to access to private or managed water (called cotos), vastly varied seasons and regulations, etc… Despite hundreds of Internet searches I was able to track down ONLY 2 books (and a few web sites) on where to fly fish in Spain, but one, Dónde y Cómo Pescar En León by Eduardo García Carmona, is outstanding – only drawback is you need to be able to read & understand Spanish.
As a 3rd backup information source I have struggled to use some of the books written by Englishman Philip Pembroke – his heart is in the right place but to be perfectly candid, they pretty much suck. They are poorly written & edited (or not), the maps are almost undecipherable and much of the information is just plain wrong or mis-leading. On the positive side they do not cost much and they are in English.
I based myself at the lovely Casa Candana in the pueblo of La Candana de Curueño which happens to be the centre of the world for the famous Coq de León feathers (there is actually a feather museum up the road in La Vecilla de Curueño). Casa Candana is perfectly situated to access the Ríos Curueño (it flows past the Casa Candana & is free to fish pretty much from La Vecilla all the way down the valley), Torio, Porma, Esla, Bernesga & many more with a short to modest drive. And the owners of Casa Candana are sweet as and serve up an awesome start-to-the-day breakfast.
To say that La Candana de Curueño is a small village is quite the understatement – it has 2 streets (one is simply called ‘the street behind the church’) and one taberna called, naturally, La Pluma (The Feather) which also appears to double as the local store because there isn’t a store in La Candana…or any of the other pueblos up & down the valley.
In my first full day on the Río Curueño, I combined some fly fishing with a wee bit of reconnaissance to suss out where the free (libre) fishing spots were and what the stretches or beats (tramos in Spanish) looked like in terms of fishability. I came across a lot of superb water which confirms León’s reputation as one of the best places to fish in Spain and I believe it has the largest amount of free fishing water of any of the autonomous communities (there are 17).
I fished 5 or 6 different beats my first day that were quite varied in character – below the gorge (Hoces de Valdeteja) you will find numerous sweet, well defined pools (top picture above) with some faster & rockier runs in between. Here the river is about 20-30 metres across with the deepest depth being about thigh high. Hooked a pile of trout with 2 or 3 hitting the 1-1.5 pound mark & beautifully coloured…Above the gorge it becomes a tad bit more bouldery and turns more toward pocket water fishing. The Río Curueño has 2 cotos – Coto de Vildapiélago and Coto de Tolibia.
The next day I decided to head to the source of the Río Curueño for a fish and then work my way back down river. As you would expect, the river narrows significantly here to no more than 5 or so metres across (or way less in some cases) and the banks are, for the most part, completely covered in bushes or small trees. Some precision casting is called for or you’ll lose all your flies – after 2-3 hours I caught 6 small fry and was a bit surprised concerning the lack of trout as usually these less fished waters are chocka with very stupid trout. And these types of waters are mostly ignored by fishing folks as: (a) the fish are not big or big enough to take home for a feed; (b) the casting is a bit tricky & frustrating and (c) moving & navigating up river with all the bush is a serious hassle.
So I toddled down river to a free stretch that runs between the pueblos of Tolibia de Abajo and Lugueros. Had a delightful couple of hours here with 2 trout to hand that tipped the scale at just over a pound (or half a kilo) & they were feisty as! Now it was time for some lunch…
I was a bit of a starv’n Marvin at this point as the last real meal I had eaten had been Sunday night (it was now Wednesday) as La Pluma bar only serves pintxos when you order a drink & Casa Candana was closed to go shopping in León. I first stopped in a popular, local taberna but when I inquired about some food I was told ‘later’ – it was now 2PM – so I asked how much later & was told 3PM! So I drove on to the next taberna or what I thought was a basic taberna (Los Argüellos) only to walk into a super swanky place – in my full on fly fishing kit of boots, neoprene socks, gravel guards, polypropylene tights & shorts and an Akubra fedora. They wanted to put me in the dining room but I managed to talk them into letting me eat in the courtyard…and what a meal! They offered an outstanding menú del día (3 courses, wine & coffee) for the pittance of €12 – score!
Post my superb lunch, I tackled several of the stretches of the Río Curueño that run through the gorge. Gorge fishing is not my favourite cuppa tea though I know (especially in New Zealand) it can be superb if you have the right conditions. It can be frustrating putting in at one point only to fish 4 or 5 pools and then find when you round the corner you cannot go any further due to deep water and there is no way to get around it as you are bookmarked by sheer rock walls. So you retreat…and repeat.
The next day I decided to test some new water – the Río Torio – which was an easy 25-30 minute drive west & then south. I parked up riverside in a pueblo called Pedrún de Torio & I knew there would be a weir here (I hate weirs), but Googe maps showed a road that paralleled the river for quite someway. Well, there is no road but I managed to walk across the weir to a footpath on the other side & make my way a decent distance up river to find – another effing weir! Pushed on to some good water & noticed the trout were taking dries – so put on a #20 Royal Wulf (all purpose bug) & made a perfect cast to drift it under some overhanging bushes and just when I lifted my rod to avoid snagging the fly – bam! A serious tug on the other end! Best fish of the trip (pic below) weighing in @ 2+ pounds (1+ kilo) – a seriously fat boy!
I left the Río Torio @ Pedrún and headed north to another free section near the pueblo Serrilla. But first – lunch! Another menú del día deal to make ya squeal @ Las Portillas @ a price shattering €9! Had a quick chat to 2 local council workers & they gave me instructions on how to get to a Roman bridge which marked the start of the free section. I was able to park up just short of the Roman bridge & slowly crept across, scanning up & down river for trout when I spotted the biggest trout I have seen in Spain. He/she easily weighed in at 5-6 pounds (sort of normal for New Zealand) but was located directly under the Roman bridge, cruising a beat in shin deep, super calm water. Impossible to fish to…
Brought to hand a decent number of trout on this free stretch, but then the wind & weather changed & I could hear the deep rumble of thunder a ways away…and some flashes! Done & dusted for this trip…