Spanish barbel gently sip dries, but what follows is an electric, turbo charged, dash into the depths. Here are some patterns that worked during the trip to Extremadura covered in The Mission Magazine #17.
The insect life around the desolate, arid lake sides is tremendous. Every flower was covered with little beetles, hundreds of spiders skitter and blow across the lake and hoppers are bountiful in an assortment of colours. Ants, while I did not observe any during my time, are apparently plentiful too. Crane flies, wasps and the odd dragon fly zip across the horizon every now and then. With the rich bounty of protein on wings about, it is no surprise that the barbel and carp love dry flies.
Beetles were everywhere in all shapes and sizes. The barbel seemed to be very suspicious of my beetle patterns, apart from the Harrops CDC beetle in size 16. When the water was mirror calm and flat, the barbel would often turn down ants and hoppers. The CDC beetle usually did the trick. I also watched carp gobbling down beetles stuck in a scum line when the wind picked up. They would also eat and spit out the floating sheep dung balls that also mimic a beetle shape.
I did not see any flying ants during my trip, but this was the first fly I tried and it picked up a barbel first cast. Generally the barbel preferred the ant in the morning. Towards the end of the day, beetles and hoppers were better. I had tied up an army of ants for the trip, covering a combination of monster ants in #10, down to #14. The smaller ants were definitely eaten better.
I tied only one type of hopper for the trip, Ed’s Hopper. The profile of this pattern from beneath the water surface is incredibly realistic. Trout find it irresistible, and so do Spanish Barbel (and carp). The first fish that spotted a large, bright yellow #10 hopper accelerated forward 2m to engulf it eagerly. Usually barbel slowly meander to a fly and then equally calmly sip it down. Another great asset of the hopper is its bulk that makes a satisfying plop. The plop could usually bring shallow mud rooting barbel up to investigate.
KLINKHAMERS and the No-No of Hot Orange
In the late afternoon, hoppers, beetles and ants tended to be less effective. However, the klinkhamers then came into their own.
Hot Orange tends to be an amazing trigger for most South African barbus species. However, on the Spanish reservoirs it sent them flying away in terror.
Having caught plenty with the standard ants and hoppers, I started experimenting with a few different patterns to see how they would respond. One pattern that worked very well was a #14 black klinkhamer. Klinkhamers with white, grey, pink or black posts were all eaten confidently.
I tried a klinkhamer with a hot orange post on only one fish. The response was so dramatic that I cut out hot orange all together. An orange posted klinkhamer landed about two meters in front of a cruising barbel, who promptly sped up and veered to the side to inspect it. It rose to within an inch and I was absolutely convinced it was going to eat it. However, upon seeing that hot orange post it exploded away with an almighty splash. No other fly or colour ever elicited this response.
They responded the same way to small #16 and #18 black nymphs tied with 1.5mm hot orange beads. They would always wander over to inspect it, and then bolt off as if they had been shot. The same pattern tied with a copper or black bead would either be eaten, or simply rejected by calmly swimming on.
NYMPHS & SQUIRMIES
I did not try many nymphs, but one late afternoon a school of barbel were simply not interested in any dry. Switching to a small, black cdc nymph with rubber legs I flicked it into the path of a fish. I thought I saw a flicker of movement in the mouth and tentatively lifted the rod to check. Success as it rocketed towards a submerged tree. This was the one and only shorthead barbel I caught during the trip, as fat as a rugby ball and a very different shape to the comizo.
Squirmies were excellent, although the squirmies were ripped up during the fights as the barbel tend to scrape around on the sharp gravel damaging tippet and fly. I will take some alternatives, Squirmy Switch patterns next time. But the squirmies were excellent for targeting deeper mud rooting fish that would not look at a dry.
Shorthead barbel taken on a small black, leggy nymph
I focussed very much on dry fly and the flies above were very successful. However, next time the other dry patterns I will add are some wolf spider and crane fly imitations.
Also, a few more streamers, zonkers and baitfish patterns in search of a monster comizo.