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….

Fly Fishing in the Basque Country in Spain…


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.


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).


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!


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).


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.


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!