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Running in a fairly straight line from the Bay of Biscay in

the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the Pyrenees Mountain Range is

sandwiched between Spain in the south and France in the north, with Andorra

making up the garnish in the ‘pancito’ or ‘baguette’ -depending on which side

of the border you’re standing on. I spent five days in July last year fishing

both the rivers and lakes of the central and western region of the Spanish

Pyrenees, a mere stone’s throw from the French border, and a mere amble from

Andorra, and if the truth be told, I really didn’t know what to expect.

Now it must be said that when it comes to beautiful scenery,

I am bit of a polygamist, and a pretty shallow one at that. I just can’t help

myself, I seem to fall in love at the drop of a hat, and I’m afraid that for

me, looks are everything, especially when

it comes to rivers. Lead me to a river that is discreetly tucked away amongst

majestic, snow-capped mountains, its banks and foothills sprinkled with wild

flowers like hundreds-and-thousands on a fairycake, its waters running as clear

as mountain air over a freestone bed, and the first exciting throes of a new

love-affair will instantly render me useless for anything that isn’t fishing

related. Go one step further and reveal to me the spectacle that is a hatch of

mayflies, and a suitably rising trout, and I am as good as infatuated.

And so by the time the sun dipped behind the western peaks

at the end of my first day in Spain, I was already beguiled by the stream in

which I stood and the 360-degree panorama of Pyrenean splendour that surrounded

me. The following four days of guided fly fishing in search of wild and

indigenous brownies only served to crystallise my feelings towards this

relatively unknown trout fishing destination.

Salvelinus Fishing Adventures is a well established fly fishing outfitter based in the village of

Santa Cilia, a small picturesque farming village, set on the banks of the

Aragon River. With a total population of less than two hundred residents, most

of whom enjoy daily afternoon siestas, to say that the village has a somewhat ‘sleepy’

feel to it would be an understatement. The lodge itself, once home to 15th

century monks, has now been converted into a very comfortable and well

thought-out fishing lodge, its attractive stone walls and floors and wooden

shuttered windows giving it a typically Spanish feel.

When it comes to lunch on the river, I’m typically one for

wolfing down a sandwich between false casts and gulping down a quick drink of

water whilst applying floatant to my dry. My attitude was changed somewhat

however, when I was called to lunch on the first day. Set in a small ravine

where a cool breeze ruffled the checked tablecloth and legs creaked under the

weight of the spread on top of it, the lunch that awaited us was like a

photograph taken from a country cookery book. I’m not sure whether it was the

Mediterranean pasta salad or the accompanying fine bottle of local Rioja that

did the trick, but my fishing definitely improved after lunch, leaving me

thoroughly converted to this continental style of fishing where eating is an

event in itself, leaving you enveloped in a warm epicurean fuzz of Huescan

flavours and spices.

Talking of spices, variety, the proverbial spice of life is available in great abundance too, and

when it comes to the fishing, this is perhaps the biggest Pyrenean draw card.

There are over 1,000km of fishable river and over 300 enticing mountain lakes

within a 50km radius of Santa Cilia, and all are inhabited by native brown

trout. In addition to the brownies, the upper reaches of several local mountain

streams are also home to Salvelinus Fishing Adventure’s namesake, the North

American brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalus) whilst other rivers and lower reaches hold both wild

and stocked populations of rainbows.

The remote mountainous upper-reaches of these stunningly

picturesque and gin-clear streams offer wonderful opportunities to catch feisty

little brownies and brookies in quite astounding numbers, almost exclusively on

dry fly. One particular mountain stream I fished was narrow enough in places to

be forded in no more than three steps. And yet, in pools no bigger than a large

bath, were incredible numbers of fin-perfect and achingly beautiful brook trout

of up to 14 inches. A sociable little fish is the brook trout; they seem to

enjoy each other’s company and tend to hang out in groups of five to ten fish.

Hence when a dry-fly is presented to a hungry pod of these voracious fish, you

might as well strike immediately as every fish in the pool perilously competes

for your Royal Wulff. Perhaps it’s a security in numbers thing, but on several

occasions, I managed to land no less than half a dozen trout in so many casts,

and all from a pool the size of a Ford Fiesta! In the same way that a mother

worries that her child might be bullied at school, I tend to worry that fish

this easy to catch might be taken advantage of by indiscriminate anglers who

think that all fishing ought to be like shopping from the fish counter.

Presented with the choice between river and still water, it

would have to take a pretty special pond or lake to get my vote over water that

gurgles and purls. The Pyrenees however, is one place I’ve been to where this

dynamic is turned on its head, and spectacular high-mountain lakes take

precedent, in my books, over their flowing counterparts. These are truly

magnificent flooded glacial valleys set against a backdrop of rugged alpine

wilderness and filled with sparkling waters as clear as crystal. Griffon and

Bearded Vultures soar both above you in azure skies and below you in deep

glaciated valleys as you trek your way along cliff edges and through narrow,

wooded ravines that are a natural larder of earthy forest mushrooms, chives,

garlic, mint and wild strawberries. Deeper into the towering mountains, and

above the 7,700ft tree-line, you emerge from the Mountain Pine forests, the

valley opening up before you to reveal a lake of vivid turquoise fringed with

haphazard wild flowers of almost every colour imaginable.

Before you’ve had a chance to string up your rod, good-sized

browns are spotted from higher ground as they languidly cruise along lake

margins and drop-offs making for perfect sight-fishing fodder. Carefully

presented and well placed terrestrials like hoppers and beetles tend to be met

with aggressive and assertive takes displaying no evidence of any scepticism or

alarm, which unsurprisingly suggests that these lakes experience low fishing

pressure.

Indeed by lunchtime I had brought several good fish (1.5 – 3

lbs) to the net, all of them giving a very respectable account of themselves.

Although there didn’t appear to be vast numbers of fish in these high mountain

lakes, the breathtaking scenery, low fishing pressure and sight fishing

opportunities far outweighed the sometimes-lengthy periods of inactivity

between fish. Normally accessed by helicopter, our six hour hike into and out

of the lake valley was an experience that I would happily repeat – with or

without a fly rod, and despite the respective shortfall in my Spanish – and my

Patagonian guide Marcello’s Pidgin English – he was nonetheless great company

on the long hike and a skilful and adept guide when we finally got to the lake.

Later that evening, having hiked back out of the valley,

Marcello and I somehow managed to stumble across a grubby little pub with a

bedraggled garden a few hundred yards from our agreed pick up point. Despite

the obvious language barrier, I’m pretty sure that Marcello could tell that I’d

had a good day as I sat on the grass with my head resting against my pack, the

last of the evening sun on my face, an ice cold San Miguel in my hand and a

maniacal grin plastered from ear to ear. “Ah… Halcyon days” I uttered as I

took a sip from my frosted glass. “Si,” responded Marcello with a smirk on his

face, “a hell-of-a-days.”

ENDS: