A country that can seem remote and very foreign indeed even though it is in the European Union and is a mere three hours flight away from any of our UK airports. One of Spain's problems is that we only think of the Costas when the name is mentioned. But Spain is far more than tower block hotels, swarming beaches, English-type pubs and chips with everything. Get away from the coast and you'll find the old, real Spain. A place where people will bend over backwards to help you. Where local food is gorgeous and surprisingly cheap and where you'll find fishing waters that rarely see an angler. Yes, Spain really does cry out for serious exploration.
Well, Spain offers potentially superb sport. When English anglers think of the country it's nearly always the Ebro that springs to mind. Perhaps it's the very big catfish that were introduced into the river some twenty-five years ago and are now making angling history. Perhaps it's the carp and the barbel species that live there that also have been well-documented in the past. But, believe me, this is just the tip of an enormous angling iceberg.
Carp proliferate in Spain. It's a country that's absolutely full of them, both mirrors and gorgeous commons. What's more, the average size is very good indeed, despite the huge numbers. Most carp that I've seen or caught in the many Spanish waters I've visited had averaged between ten and fifteen pounds and, considering they're nearly all wild fish, that's very good going indeed.
But for the real specialist, there truly are monsters. Frequently these are found in the great central reservoirs. Huge waters that are often many miles long and many metres deep. Location can be a problem admittedly but once a group of fish is found sport can be hectic. And with big fish. Thirty pounders are certainly not rare and forty pounders are caught every week. But, once again, this is a very large country with huge untapped potential. There are probably only four or five hundred carp anglers in the whole of Spain so you can see you're very unlikely to bump into a heavily fished bankside.
General Franco, the fascist dictator last century, was a very keen fisherman and decided that Spanish waters should be stocked with black bass of the American type. The stocking went very well indeed and now a huge number of waters around Spain hold this very exciting species. Spanish bass tend to average out at between one and two pounds but seven and eight pounders are there to be caught, especially in the big, wild lakes that are rarely put under much pressure.
The Spanish love bass fishing. Their idea of heaven is to take a boat out on a nice warm Sunday and explore the lakeside margins, flicking a little spinner here or there or perhaps even fly fishing for a big one.
Black bass are infinitely entertaining. You find them close to any structure - sunken rocks, trailing tree branches, drop-offs, weedbedsanything that gives them just a little bit of shelter to mount an ambush on a passing prey shoal. And once hooked, you'll never forget the fight that a bass gives you. It spends as much time in the air as it does in the water and, under the Spanish sun, you'll never catch a more handsome fish in your entire life.
AND THE BARBEL
Wow! Now you're talking. The majority of English anglers thinking of barbel in Spain will think of those of the Ebro - fittingly called Ebro barbel - which average four to six pounds and occasionally get close to double figures. But here there really be monsters! And I'm not kidding. Nobody has really done more than scrape the barrel when it comes to Spanish barbel fishing. Believe me, there's a world of amazing barbel waiting for you out there.
So what have we got in the barbel line in Spain? Well, famously, there is the comizo barbel - a vast creature that is very barbel-like indeed but does look a little bit like a carp with its extreme depth. However, look at that long nose, big barbels hanging off the protracted snout and you know you're after the real thing. Comizos often grow to thirty or more pounds and nobody knows just how big they can get. Forty pounds is always a possibility. The only slight drawback is that most comizos tend to live in lakes and you need to adopt carp-like tactics to contact them. But not always. There are rivers that hold this fantastic species.
Then we have the Spanish common barbel, another fish that looks very much like our own species here. This can grow to thirty pounds in extreme circumstances, as can the small-head barbel, another fish that's widespread in Spanish waters. So there you are, two more barbel species both capable of reaching thirty poundsyou can't say that about the River Severn!
And now we come to possibly the most exotic of all - the Andalucian barbel. I've recently come back from a trip targeting this species and I can only say they must be one of the most beautiful fish that swims. The thing about the Andalucian is its extraordinary colouring. Imagine a big - and I mean big - barbel that's mahogany brown on top and buttercup yellow on its tummy and you get the picture.
Andalucians also grow to close on thirty pounds with eight to twelve pounds being a standard average. They fight magnificently and are one of the most cunning barbel I've ever tried to outwit. I just can't begin to tell you how dramatic this species is.
MY LAST TRIP
Imagine it - nearly two weeks being guided around Spain looking for Andalucian barbel. Beautiful lakes, fantastic rivers, good food and magnificent weather. It doesn't come better than this.
We caught Andalucians in a variety of ways. At one point we even found them taking floating dog biscuits off the surface carp-style. Mind you, they were probably more difficult to outwit in this manner than any carp I've ever approached before. Then we had one on a free line boilie, touch ledgered in the margins of a lake where a river runs into its head. We found another stream - an outlet from a huge reservoir where the bottom was paved with Andalucians of between five and fifteen pounds. Three good fish came in a couple of hours before a tropical-type thunderstorm drove us to shelter.
I also pursued Andalucians in an extraordinary manmade concrete drain running over thirty kilometres, from one reservoir to the next. Imagine it: fishing a water two metres across and half a metre deep and you get the picture. You had to use whatever cover was available to youbridges, tall grasses, pumping houses - anything to shield your profile from the fish. And when you hooked an Andalucian - I managed to bag three - they'd often take you a good kilometre or more along the bank before you could land them - woe betide you if a bridge came into sight! Exciting stuff.
I'm always sad to leave Spain but never more so than on this particular trip. We'd seen so much, had so much excitement and gawped at so many beautiful fish. Believe me, I'll be back just as soon as I possibly can.
DO'S AND DON'TS
Don't go to Spain in high summer as it becomes very hot, especially away from coastal breezes.
Don't try to book flights out around Bank Holidays. Spain is a favourite destination and you'll find that even charter flights are booked up months in advance.
Watch out when camping - scorpions, snakes and spiders can be all around when you're in the wilderness. Don't get neurotic though. Most will just give you a bad nip but it does pay to take care, obviously.
Please don't fish anywhere without permission. The Spanish, rightly, are sticklers for this and the bailiffs have very wide-sweeping powers.
Never night fish unless you have written permission. Night fishing is banned through most of Spain and you can get into serious trouble if you break this ban.
Do remember your suncream, sunhat and sunglasses. It can get blistering hot when you're out in the countryside especially if there's not even the shade of a cactus bush!
Do take all the sophisticated gear that you are likely to need. Most Spanish towns have only limited tackle availability.
Do be prepared to use lots of bait - Spanish fish are plentiful and hungry.
Do pack any fly gear you might have for the bass fishing. Failing that light spinning gear will do. It would be a shame to miss out on such fun.
Do try sangria-lemonade ice-mix when the going gets really hot!
1. I'm going to break the mould here to some degree and recommend that you make a trip to Spain with some sort of guidance. Spain is in the EU and is not alien in any way but fishing is often very difficult to organise. Finding the places can be difficult in itself. Rivers and lakes can dry up during hot seasons so you can have a great tip only to arrive to find a mud bowl! So, where do you start? In my view you can't do better than contact Peter Staggs of El Carpon. Peter is an ex-pat who left Plymouth years ago and who has lived in Spain for nigh on twenty years. His company will pick you up from the airport and take you to pre-baited waters. They will even provide you with gear. This is a very friendly, very efficient service that you'd to do well to consider using. Contact Peter on 0034 953 513 635. Anglers' World Holidays also provide journeys to Spain and are another worthwhile contact.
2. In many areas you need to produce a series of rod licences to prove you are a serious angler. Remember, the Spanish have to take a very complicated fishing test before they are allowed out on the waters, so this might seem a chore but you can see their point. If they have to study for a licence it is only fair we should prove our own competence, so dig out those old licences now.
3. Do check around for the best flights to Spain. You will pick up some bargains especially if you book well in advance. It's also worth looking at the new, cheap companies that are springing up - Go, Buzz, Easyjet and so on. Remember, you don't need a visa for Spain.
4. Do take care when you are driving in Spain. Spanish drivers do tend to whiz around this large country of theirs and you've got to have eyes on the back of your head for total safety. Remember some of the motorways do ask for tolls but fuel is very cheap at around 25p a litre.
5. Don't bother burdening yourself down with duty free items on the way into Spain. You'll find that spirits only cost £3 or £4 a bottle and beer is equally cheap. Groceries can be bought for half the price of anything in an English supermarket.
6. It's always nice to speak a few words of the local language so do make the effort to learn the rudimentaries before you set off.