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Fly Fishing in Spain

IN FRANCO’S FOOTSTEPS

When he wasn’t being a right-wing dictator, Spain’s General Franco loved his fishing. Philip Pembroke has visited some of the General’s old haunts…

LEÓN province is said to boast of some of the oldest and best trout rivers in northern Spain. Richard Ford, the famous travel writer went one step further, indeed and described its fishing grounds as amongst the best in all Spain, including the famous Lago Sanabria, the lake in San Martín de Castañeda – “A crystal loch like the filled crater of a volcano, where the trout are noble in size, inexhaustible in number, and when in season, pink as chars”.

I resolved to find out the truth for myself one day and can now report that while you may only fish Richard’s “crystal loch” at weekends and on public holidays in the trout season, there are 28 major rivers to choose from, nestling in the wide, shallow valleys that score its extensive flood plains. No wonder León is steeped in angling history.

In 1624, Juan de Bergara published a best selling book called El Manuscrito de Astorga, in which he talked about the art of making 33 imitation fly lure patterns from the unique feathers of León’s famous cockerels, called the Pluma de Gallo de León which are bred especially for this purpose.

Alas, the majority of Spanish anglers prefer spinning when they fish, so they tend to ignore tramo libre pesca sin muerte - free fishing stretches where only flyfishing is allowed and catch-and release prevails.

One exception is local ace Pablo Castro, who offered to show me the ropes on his local favourite stretch of the Torío River in early May.

This river flows from north of León south into the Duero River basin and offers a fantastic free stretch of catch and release fishing, where you just turn up and cast.

It is an easy 30-minute drive north from Leon on the LE 311, through the Torio valley. Take the first signposted right turn through the village of Pedrún. The stretch extends for 2.5 km upstream to Pardavé. To view the Leon fishing map, showing  where we fished in Leon, click here.

Pablo and I parked by the bridge and fished a tablada; a deeper water behind a small weir. Pablo cast to the boulders by the far bank - using a small brown dry fly lure called a Pardon [see ‘Flies’ section below] - and immediately caught and returned two small, yet beautiful wild brown trout. He explained that their anal fin often has a white edge that stock trout mostly lack.

Pablo is a member of Spain’s national flyfishing team and makes catching fish look easy. From my own perspective, I would describe the fishing as challenging but rewarding, not least because of the refreshment breaks that saw us retire to nearby Matallana for a bocadillo jamon y cerveza – local cured ham and a refreshingly cold beer, invaluable in countering the torrid Spanish heat!

In most cases, local fly fishermen use techniques similar to those used in the UK. Spinning and bait-fishing are more traditional in Spain, with flyfishing a comparatively recent development, so fly anglers there are heavily influenced by English-language satellite TV angling programmes.


For an alternative location, I chose the town of Benavente, a relaxing 90-minutes drive south from León, along the N 630 main road. Here there are three good rivers to fish, less than 20 minutes from town.

In the morning I spotted some larger trout to 1.5kg that were jumping 200m downstream from the N 525 road bridge over the Órbigo River at Santa Cristina, a 10-minutes drive west from Benavente. To view Benavente fishing map, click here.

I cast from the gravel beach area below the weir into deeper water towards the island on my right, using a caddis imitation dry fly lure.

While my luck wasn’t in on this occasion, anyone looking to widen his ambition on better days should note that there are also large pike here, growing fat on the trout that are stocked in abundance.

The Orbigo and nearby River Esla are the best locations to flyfish for pike. Since anglers have been advised to stop killing any pike they catch, pike stocks have thrived and can go up to 7kg. To view Orbigo and Esla River map, click here.

Trout, meanwhile, average 0.5kg caught weight for wild browns, with rainbows in the same rivers being slightly bigger, more so if you fish for them in the embalses (reservoirs).

For pike fishing, I used a Spanish fly lure that is beyond description other than it resembles a small marlin fly lure with pink feathers. It can be bought at Jose Cenador’s tackle shop in León [see factfile panel for details].

Flies

Seca Pardón – indispensable dry fly lure for spring in mature rivers and at start of summer in mountain streams. Fish when you observe unmistakable hatchings of emergers (efémera) at noon.

Seca Pardón fly lure is a brown/olive dry fly lure of basic design, dressed as an emerger. It is very buoyant and visible, and is fished during hatches of efémera. Hook size 12-14. Most effective from start of season up to May.

The Pardón corresponds to a subimago insect. UK flies that correspond to it include the Olive Emerger. Other flies I tried include the Black Gnat, a killer for barbel in shallow water. Spot the trout or barbel, then cast to its head and expect a take.

The local insect life features Emergent Rhithrogena in April/May and Mayfly hatches in May and June..

There is abundant insect life here in summer: pardónes, mayfly and pérlidos insects groups abound, including tricóptero - sedges. There are big hatches of winged nymphs. Multitudes of winged ants or hormigas appear across the water.

I used a general-purpose 6-7wt rod with matching floating line. Other techniques I have used are nymphing, using a golden hare’s ear (ballasted) and small nymph dropper. The back up fly for anglers all over Spain is the sedge fly
(red deer hair caddis).

After lunch in a popular chiringuito (snack bar) situated upstream from the bridge by the factory in Santa Cristina, I drove across the bridge, took the first left turn and headed 7km down to the Tera River, located at Mózar.

This destination had been recommended to me by the manager of the shoe shop in Benavente and in the space of an hour, I watched a small boy catch five fish by the road bridge, a rather better return than my own!

Day tickets for this stretch can be obtained from the bar across the road from Camping Rio Tera. Being a lowland river, the Tera offers its best fishing in late season, September and October, where high water levels are preserved in tabladas behind the dams.

On my final day I drove west from Benavente up the flat Tera River plain along the A-52, towards the town of Puebla de Sanabria, situated in the beautiful Sierra de la Segundera.

Anglers may fish the beautiful Lago de Sanabria here, and the surrounding rivers: the Truchas, Tuela, Bibey, Forcandura and Trefacio.

Throughout my time in Spain, I found local anglers especially kind when it came to sharing their time and advice with visitors.

The Spanish are known for their hospitality towards strangers and the local anglers don’t disappoint. Just a little bit of spoken Spanish will take you a long way.

Factfile

FISHING
The trout season on free fishing waters in León and nearby Benavente, starts on the first Sunday in April. Catch and release stretches extend the trout-fishing period usually to the end of September.

The regional fishing licence costs €8.25 per year and also covers Benavente. It is available, along with day tickets for the cotos de pesca - stocked fishing reserves - from the Medio Ambiente (Department of Environment) in León at Avda. De Peregrinos, s/n 24071-León. Tel: 987 296159, Fax: 987 296125 Email: cazaypesca.le@jcyl.es

The building is located just behind the Parador Hotel, situated by the Bernesga River. Nearby, there is a tackle shop at Avenida Gran Via de San Marcos, 53, Email: josema777@gmail.com. Friendly proprietor Jose Cenador sells León’s famous cockerel feather fly lures.

ACCOMMODATION
Benavente is a pleasant place with a restored historic centre offering a generous selection of refurbished bars. I stayed at the Parador Hotel, having booked my room via philippembroke007@hotmail.com

On a fly-fishing holiday in northern Spain I would budget on spending €12 for a good lunch (menu de dia) at any bar/restaurant that you can find close to the river. Accommodation is easy to find: ask for camas – bed and breakfast - in any town or village.

Benavente and León have a wide range of accommodation. At upmarket Paradors, you can expect to pay €65 per night for a double room bed and breakfast and €35 for set menu evening meal.Mid-priced hotels average €45-60 per night and even some of the budget hostel accommodation can be surprisingly well appointed. Expect to pay less than €30 per night for a double. I would advise you to ask at the local tourist office first.

When eating out, León has a wide choice of restaurants to suit all pockets, while in Benavente look out for Restaurante Los Remos, a good fish restaurant just a short walk from the town centre (C/Cartagena N, 1, 49600 Benavente Tel, 980 636 698). Expect to pay around €15 per person all in.

BUDGET & FLIGHTS
Your budget for a two-week fishing holiday in northern Spain should be between £800 and £1,000. Budget airline flights are available from main UK airports to Valladolid, Salamanca and Asturias airports, all of which have budget car hire facilities that are best booked in advance via the Internet.

- Trout Fisherman February 2007

The wonderful Spanish, fly fishing destinations, mentioned above, are described in much greater detail in my guide book, called 'The Smooth Guide to Fly Fishing in Castile and Leon (Northern Central Spain - Leon, Salamanca, Zamora)'. To view this title, and 7 further guide books, covering DIY fishing in Spain, and Portugal, click here.

 

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