The southern coast of Spain doesn’t exactly conjure up imagery of wild fishing.. well not to me anyway.. the area boasting Marbella, Malaga and Aljeceras brings to my mind sun burnt brits, pot bellied dudes in speedos, condos, and tarted up jewel dripping folks rather than wild pristine waters filled with fish..
My best mate Dylan has been living in Southern Spain for the last 8 years. He’s got a Electrical Marine Services business in Gibralter called EMS Gib… which stands for, you guessed it, Electrical Marine Services Gibralter… clever huh? He and his family live just across the border in Spain, in a town called Alcaidesa ( or Al-ca-dethsa if you wanna try blend in with the localsth..)
We lived together many moons ago in Grand Cayman for 5 years or so and alot of our time was spent, in between back gammon, hacky sack and rum drinking, chasing fish of course, like chasing back country baby tarpon on 3wt’s , or bonefish on the flats, or whatever we could get to eat ofshore in our little tinny.. Good times indeed.. no shirt, no shoes, no tax, no problems…
Sadly we all grow up at some point, or grow older at least anyway. I’m still working on the growing up part I think. Growing up found Dylan and his wife Jo, and their daughter Fay in Spain the last couple years building a wonderful life in what turns out to be a pretty amazing part of the world. While Dylan and family have been back out to South Africa a couple times over the last 8 years, I had yet to make my way over to Europe to visit them.
Every time Dylan’s been out to SA, we’ve tried to squeeze some fishing in, but the weather, and fish gods haven’t exactly smiled on us.. huge cold fronts, unseasonal late season rains, limited time or whatever else I can find as an excuse had limited us to a few days/afternoons on the streams, a dam or two, and the Breede, with only a few tiny Elandspad trout to show for our efforts, which were taken in near flood like conditions. So while we spent many succesful years together chasing fish in Cayman, our track record since hasn’t been great.. and to be honest I wasn’t holding much hope it would improve when another mates wedding in Portugal, where I was to be playing best man duties, gave me a good reason to finally head over to Spain and visit, and then head over to Portugal for the wedding together.
I knew that Spain had some fish on the freshwater front.. one look at David Tejedor Royo’s Instagram will have you thinking its a veritable anglers paradise.. but David plies his trade a little further north, and info on the Southern reaches is alot thinner on the ground. But Dylan is one of those anglers who ALWAYS figures things out..
A species he’s told me about was the Andalusian Barbel.. Luciobarbus sclateri, a distant cousin to our endemic Yellowfish here in South Africa, these two tone cousins of the European Barbel inhabit the lakes and streams of the Andalusian countryside. So when the trip came up, of course I packed a couple rods and a box or two of flies just in case we got the chance to do a bit of fishing. To be honest I wasn’t hugely confident we’d have much success given our semi recent track record fishing together over the last 8 years, but hey, just the chance to see some new water, walk a stream with my best mate again, and maybe see a fish was worth squeezing in the Epic 370 and 686 glass sticks… in between my girlfriend Rachaels myriad of dress options for the wedding.
Day 2 of our trip, after flying from Cape Town to Doha, Doha to London, London to Gibralter, Rach and I decided to play tourists head up the Rock of Gibralter .. ironically once we got to the top and had a look around, Gib experienced a power cut, which meant the cable car we’d taken up wasn’t running, so we took a very steep couple hundred year old stepped walk down the rock, dodging Barbary Macacs, a weird looking tailless monkey that inhabits The Rock, and found us very jelly legged and thirsty late afternoon..
Dylan finished up work and got back to the house around 18:00 after a long wait to get back across the border from Gib, and asked “keen to go for a fish?”
Despite my jelly legs, of course I replied in the affirmative and chucked the rods in the car, threw a few beers in a cooler bag and 20 minutes later along a narrow rural road, Dylan pulled into a pull off next to a goat farm… I’d not really been paying attention, and actually had no idea we were even close to water at this point…
“How far is the walk in?”
“Umm, about 60 metres..” delivered in Dylans typical dry tone. The bleating goats were overpowering the sound of the stream hiding between our parking spot and a grove of trees.
I rigged the 3wt, and we walked down a small path and a grove of trees, naturally slowing as soon as we could see water peaking through the trees. A couple steps further and I hear Dylan say quietly “There”.
Now to be honest, I was not expecting to hear that.. I was hoping we might see fish.. a fish.. and maybe get a shot at it.. I was not prepared for what was to follow. The path opened up to the tailout of a long pool, leading into a shallow run out below it, and smaller pools, runs and riffles. The water, while not gin clear, was clear enough for us to see numerous Barbel cruising the tail out of the pool, mixed in with a few decent mullet for good measure.. sandy bottom in the pools gave way to small and medium pebbled structure in the faster water, with alot of over hanging trees and giant grasses along the way.. it reminded me so much of the small KZN Lower South Coast rivers I grew up around in colour, structure and flora surrounding..
I snuck in and put a few casts at cruising Barbs with a dry, then a couple nymphs in that first pool with no joy.. a few spooked, most just ignored me.. we moved downstream after that, and found large numbers of Barbs in the runs and riffles, holding in tight spots and skinny water.. Again I ran dries and nymphs past them.. doing my best to get long drifts from way up ahead of the fish so as not to spook them.. zero interest..
After watching me for a while Dylan casually tells me ” Bru you can probably be a bit more aggressive with your presentation on these things… there enough of them here, try hit one on its head and see what happens.”
I spent 6 days in St.Brandons back in 2018 hearing the guides tell me to “get in on his head” while chasing permit.. and only actually listened on the 7th day, and landed my first St.Brandons Permit.. While a 16 inch Barbel is not a permit, I still battle with the “hook or spook” side of things, especially in a new fishery.. But remebering that I spent 6 expensive days not listening to learn a lesson, I decided to actually listen this time, switched to one of Leaonard’s Sunken Ant patterns, which Dylan picked after peaking into my fly box, and crept down to where a bigger, darker fish was holding in just a few inches of fast water on a gravel bar.
My first cast was a little short, as was the second and 3rd cast.. the heavy fly plopped pretty hard each time, and I expected that fish to spook immediately.. any trout would have been gone. But that fish held… 4th cast that ant pattern quite literally plonked on the fish’s head.. the fish moved immediatly and I thought “Ok well thats spooked him” and then my line went tight and the fish shot off upstream and instantly popped the 5x tippet..
“Told you” I hear from Dylan.. convinced I’d foul hooked that fish, I wasn’t so sure..
20 minutes later after many more gentle presentations to fish in runs, riffles, pools with nary a sniff, I found myself in another rocky pebble bottomed tail out, looking at a holding fish again.. Fuck it, I’m gonna hook or spook this thing I thought.. he was close, maybe 20 feet away, and my first cast skulled him, and I watched him turn immediately and crush the fly… I lifted into him and watched him take off upstream into the pool with my beloved 370 bending happily ..
A few minutes later, after some fast runs, and dogged back and forth, with much hooting and hollering from me, and back slaps from Dylan, I slipped a hand under my first Andalusian Barbel.
With the sun hanging low in the sky by now, spotting fish was tougher, but I managed to pick up another just before we left the river.. The fish was again holding tight to the bottom of a shallow tailout, and with zero back cast space, I managed to roll cast another heavy Ant onto his head, watched him turn and smoke it and jet off to deeper water.
A week later after the wedding in Portugal we were back at it for another quick evening session. Dylan rigged up my 686 while I stuck with the 370.
Armed with the knowledge that these fish liked a fly hitting them on the head, we proceeded to have an amazing 90 minute session together.. Dylan ended up breaking off the first 4 he hooked.. to be fair I’d handed him a rod rigged with 15ft 5x leader… after the 4th bust off he’s shorted the leader right down to 8ft, and about 15lbs… mainly because in the low light, he couldn’t see tippet any skinnier to tie the fly on… neither of us are as sharp eyed as we once were..
Even with that heavy leader he proceeded to pick off a number of fish holding tight to the banks, with super accurate casts and not giving the fish much chance to inspect the fly, they jumped on it.
I really wanted to get one on a dry, and tried a few patterns, and got some half hearted eats and looks on a beetle pattern, before switching over to a fairly big Stimulator… The old faithful delivered again.. employing the same “hit them on the head” tactic, I started looking for the fish holding as shallow as possible, and picked off a pair in super skinny water that turned on the Stimi as soon as it hit the water.. the first one taking 2 goes at it before connecting.
I managed to squeeze in one more session before flying home… Rach wanted to get some shopping done up in Marbella, so as a trade off I’d drive her up there in our rented Fiat 500, and play shopping bag carrier, if she’d join me for a last little session on the river.
We had a dinner to get to that evening, so my last session was a short one, but the most productive picking up 7 Barbs, and busting off another half dozen.. Managed to pick them off on Dries, Nymphs, Skated dries, and swinging smaller Wooly buggers past their noses in the rapids, all sighted fish.
The fishing, and this fishery was completely unexpected treat, the cherry on top of an incredible trip to a new part of the world for me, and getting to spend so much time with friends I haven’t seen in far too long.
Gracias Espana, I’ll be back next year again to tangle with your two tone Barbs again for sure.