Theyíve been fact finding rather more than intensive fishing and Iíve notched up something like eight or nine thousand miles travelling in my search for really good waters. Iíve travelled with two Spanish friends and theyíve shown me all their secrets, built up painstakingly over many years. This being the case, I know youíll pardon me if I donít generally give actual names to lakes and rivers. It just wouldnít be fair. However, Iíll paint my journeys in broad brush strokes and you can fill the details in for yourself if Ė if youíve got that streak of the pioneer in you.
Iíve now visited one of the hottest tickets in town a couple of times Ė the still relatively unknown lagoons of the gigantic Comizo barbel. It was the Comizos that first brought Spain onto the European specialist anglersí map a few years back. Colossal barbel. Barbel the likes of which the world had never seen before. Barbel of well over twenty pounds in weight, some around the thirty mark. I believe Iím right in thinking that the first reports broke in Blinker magazine, the leading German fishing journal. I remember seeing the photographs myself in there and, like everybody else, they simply blew my mind. The race was on. Everyone wanted to know about the lagoons. Now theyíre Europeís worst kept secret but there are many still not in the know.
The lagoons are stunningly beautiful. Theyíre clustered just outside an enchanting Spanish village but they remain unspoiled, very green, surrounded by trees and thrillingly crystal clear. Gorgeous, gorgeous places probably best fished in April and May and again in October once the holidaymaking crowds have left the area pretty much alone. What is for sure, is that the Comizos arenít easy. Iíve talked to people whoíve had as many as five weeks on the water and still have to bank their first. Theyíre like carp but probably more wary and, apparently, definitely harder fighting. They only feed at nightÖand hereís the rub. For some years, night fishing, which means breaking the Spanish law, had been tolerated. Pretty much a blind eye had been cast by the authorities but, very recently, it appears that itís all changed. Whilst I was in the area, at least three anglers were ejected from the water during the hours of darkness and their tackle confiscated. They also face heavy fines. This could mean that the Comizos will be pretty well unfishable in the future unless things happen drastically to change the current climate of opinion on these wonderful waters. Of course, there are many other fish to pursue on the lagoons, species which can be caught during the daylight hours. However, itís the Comizos that make these waters so spectacular, so uniqueÖso just watch this space.
What is undeniable is that the Ebro is really becoming the catfish water of the new century. When I first wrote about it I probably hadnít quite realised how dynamic the fishing now is. On a couple of occasions we simply passed the Ebro, stopped off, did half a dayís fishing and still managed catfish runs Ė one from a big fish indeed. The original stocking has obviously paid dividends beyond anybodyís wildest dreams and thereís absolutely no telling just how good the Ebro fishing is going to become. My advice is that if you havenít tackled the Ebro already, get yourself along there. Itís simply stunning.
But Iíve got to come back to the barbel Ė my own favourite fish. Letís take Madrid as the starting point and move northwest to an enchanting river (they nearly always are in Spain) which is home to quick-water Comizos. Okay, they might not be the Leviathans of the lagoons but they still weigh in excess of fifteen pounds and probably reach twenty, even though the average is between six and eight. And if people think the lagoon Comizos fight well, you have no concept of what the river fish can do.
We also dallied with a river not far to the southeast of Madrid. Weíd heard good reports of barbel (we werenít sure what species) in the ten to fifteen pound bracket. Sadly, we havenít contacted anything quite like that in a couple of visits but we have landed one or two very rare Valencian barbel. These are very much like our own Barbus barbus but without the coral pink fins that weíre used to seeing in our British rivers. Iím not absolutely sure how big they grow Ė ours have been four or five pounds or so but theyíve still attracted quite a lot of attention and excitement.
Moving south towards Cordoba we come truly into the heart of Andalucian barbel territory. I just simply cannot praise these fish enough. They look quite, unbelievably, dazzlingly spectacular. Iíve yet to see one (and Iíve seen about fifty) that hasnít left me absolutely gob smacked. The vast majority have glowing yellow tummies but Iíve seen just a few sporting a deep, dusky pink. Crazily beautiful. And donít these Andalucians fight!? A five pounder feels like an eight-pound Barbus barbus. Get a ten pounder on and you think youíve got the Ouse record. Theyíre also very willing to feed during the heat of the day and they go well on simple baits like sweetcorn or even breadflake. In short, they just couldnít be more obliging.
Spain really is honeycombed with rivers and lakes: we tend to think of it as a large, dry, even arid country and to some degree this is true Ė especially in the centre and on the plains. But even here youíll find extraordinary waters. Iíve seen rivers as big as the Ebro that anglers have never fished Ė we once came across a shoal of carp Ė fish of between twenty and thirty pounds that covered an area the size of a football pitch. Whatís more, virtually all these waters are all but unfished. Okay, there is a growth in the Spanish carp fishing fraternity at the moment but itís still guestimated there are way less than a thousand serious guys. Your average Spaniard will just want to go out at the weekend with a light spinning rod to fish for a bass or two and enjoy the sunshine with his family Ė hardly putting serious pressure on these almost limitless waters. By the way, Iíve written about the bass before: if you are a British angler going over with carp, barbel or catfish in mind it still pays to stick a light rod in to use for a bit of bass fishing when the big fish go quiet. I promise you will never regret it. Itís like perch fishing gone totally crazy and, once again the fight of a bass is like a perch on acid, believe me.
Iím well aware that there are some British anglers who are sceptical about what Spain has to offer. In the main, these are carp fishermen who have the seemingly unshakeable conviction that the species canít grow very big over there. What do we mean by very big? Well, we all accept that forties are possible but the argument goes that because these are wild, not farmed, carp they donít have the genetic possibilities to become mega fish. I canít really comment about this in anything like scientific terms but I have no doubt from what Iíve seen and been told - that Spanish sixties definitely exist and probably larger. Thatís certainly big enough for me.
Iím not even going to speculate on the potential size of Spanish barbel as you hear so much contradictory information about all the different species. And anyway, there are just so many waters still to be fished properly that I think the jury must still be considered to be very much out. I guess itís going to take a good number of years yet before anything final can be written about the potential of these extraordinary waters. Iíve always loved a bit of exploration in my fishing and Spain certainly offers that. Moreover, you donít have to break your bank or your backside to get there.
DOS AND DONíTS
DO make sure that your licences are in order. Remember that each state has different regulations and restrictions and so always ensure that youíve got the right licence for the place youíre actually fishing.
Getting one can be a time-consuming process so build extra time into your schedule.
DONíT night fish. This is a very live issue in Spain at the moment and unless youíve got somewhere where you have been given express permission for some reason donít risk it. You stand a very good chance of ending up without your gear and facing a hefty fine too.
DONíT leave litter or break the rules. At the moment some British anglers are really getting us all a bit of a bad name over there. One or two quite disgraceful incidents have taken place and, if weíre not careful, weíll all end up being tarred by the same brush. Remember that at the moment weíre very much on show over in Spain and itís important to tow the line.
DO learn just a few Spanish words and donít forget to take a phrase book with you. Once you get off the beaten track to any degree whatsoever itís rare that youíll find anybody who speaks any English.
DO settle back and enjoy the Spanish way of life. The food is fantastic. The wine to die for. The weather an absolute dream. The countryside beautiful. The people very welcoming and generous if you treat them right. Appreciate that a couple of weeks in Spain is about more than simply catching a colossal Comizo: itís opening your eyes to a whole new culture and world. Enjoy it.