Lure Blog #10
It’s all a matter of perspective, 60% empty or 40% full, you decide?
Think of predator fishing in Spain and Catfish spring to mind. James Gardner and I have been visiting Spain for the last 15 years, at first we targeted the Cats but became aware on another fascinating predator that drew anglers from all across Europe, Zander. At the time James and I were so focused on the Cats that we didn’t give them a second thought but our friend and angling guide Gary Allen of Regency Angling [00 34 667 455 863] convinced us that we should give them a try. First we had to catch some bait; Bleak were presented on a ‘Drachkovitch’ system, a deadbait mount that allowed you to cast your deadbait repeatedly and retrieve it in “sink and draw”, to lure the Zander. Well this is all very well but you’ve not seen my pathetic attempts at catching bait, just ask James! We very quickly ran out of baits so had to resort to “gummy fish” lures that the continentals were using mounted on jig hooks. At first we were at a loss as to exactly what we were supposed to do with these soft rubber fish? But with a little bit of advice from Gary and many casts later we started to catch. At that time the Ebro held a good head of monster Zander over 20lb with doubles a regular occurrence, “if only we knew them what we know now”.
Fast forward to September this year, with my friends James Gardner and Gary Collins we travelled to Extremadura a rural region in Spain that contains several large reservoirs and within these huge expanses of water are several predators that keep drawing us back each year. Our main reason for fishing here is to experience genuinely “wild” fishing. The only rule is no night fishing, once you have your fishing licence you’re “free to roam” wherever you want. With no other anglers around to offer advice you try whatever you think might work. It’s so liberating to be in this situation not knowing if today is going to be a good or bad day, so you try everything. Some species we have in the UK but they don’t behave in the same manner, Barbel taking dry flies and Bleak shoaling on the bottom in 80ft for example!
Largemouth Bass are great fun to catch.
On this trip we visited two reservoirs; our first venue had an awful Algae bloom that stained the water a milky pea green making sight fishing for Barbel with our dries a complete waste of time. When fishing abroad trips are often planned months in advance, weather and water conditions can severely affect your fishing so it’s essential to have contingency plans. Plan ‘B’ for Gary and I was to try vertical jigging for Zander while James mooched off in another boat and try some “clonking” for the Catfish that are now present.
Clonking is an extreme method which involves striking a plunger like implement through the water’s surface the resulting “clonking” sound sends vibrations down through the water column which stimulates Catfish into feeding mode. As you watch the echo sounders screen you can watch Catfish lift off the bottom drawn to your baited lure which is positioned directly below the “Clonk”. As a fish inspects your offering you lift to “feel” for a take, or jiggle the lure to entice the Cat to bite and when it does “hang on tight”.
A hot and fruitless morning turned into and even hotter and fishless afternoon, Gary and I surrendered late in the afternoon and started throwing crankbaits into the margins in the vane hope that a Black Bass might save a blank? I was rewarded with a nice Bass about 2lb while Gary nicked a small Zander on a shad [Gummy Fish]. James also changed tactics late in the day and went up one of the feeder rivers, also resorting to crankbaits he snared a few nice Bass too. So a very tired trio hit the bar that evening for cold ones!
Next day Lee Parkes, who runs Spanish Safaris www.spanish-safaris.net joined us for some social fishing, a bit of a “busmans” holiday for Lee. This evened numbers up as our other “amigo” Mark Bryant had had to “bail out” at the eleventh hour leaving us one man down. Over the next couple of days we explored huge expanses of shoreline casting crankbaits, Rapala DT6 & 10 were the lures of choice but we did catch on other baits including Chatterbaits and Shads. The Bass really saved our bacon, each day catching more and more as we refined our technique and improved our boat control and casting accuracy, Gary?
I know I said cast close to the rocks Gary, but not that close!
We all caught plenty of nice Bass over 2lbs with the odd small Zander thrown in for good measure, James even managed a couple of Barbel. So although we had failed to catch our target species, Barbel, on our favourite method, dry flies, we had made the best of the situation and adapted.
Our last day and our host Patrice came out for a few hours to show us how he “clonked” for Catfish and to say we were impressed is an understatement. In three short hours Patrice managed to coax several Cats to take his baited “Bob Marley” lure, once hooked it was Gary’s task to try and get them into the boat which he managed after a lot of “blood, sweat and tears”.
Large treble baited with Goose livers for Catfish, note Patrice in the background with Clonk in hand!
Bob Marley does the trick!
“Hold it up a bit Gary, a bit higher, hold it closer to your chest”, great picture, by the way “you’ve been slimed”.
Gary Collins with his PB Catfish of 56lbs
The last thing you want to see if you’re a Carp, Barbel Bass or Zander.
All too soon we’re packing our gear into the hire car and heading off to our next location, would it be clear enough to see the Barbel? We arrived mid-morning and before we checked into our hotel we just had to have a look at the water. James and Gary were crest fallen, streaks of algae on the surface and no Barbel in the margins, fortunately I’d crossed the road bridge to the far side and from my vantage point had seen enough to confirm “we were back in the game” several Barbel were cruising within casting range with odd fish even feeding in the edge, bliss.
We eagerly unpacked grabbing a fly rod and flies and double quick we were at the water’s edge scanning the surface for cruising fish. We split up each taking a section of bank, it wasn’t easy but we did catch a few, but they were much spookier than usual? We pondered on why the change in behaviour, the water level was well down, 42% of capacity, with many of the bays and creeks that normally hold fish now “high and dry”. That evening we were much happier, a few fish on the dries and Lee Parks had re-joined us, this time with a boat so we could explore areas that were out of reach on foot.
The next few days saw us lure fishing from the boat for Zander, the 35 degree heat and lack of good numbers of Barbel along the banks made it too tiring to pursist with the fly fishing. We first targeted known features, the stanchions of the road bridge had previously been a “hot spot” but not this time. Next stop the “water tower” which produced several Zander for Gary and Lee while I struggled, too many lures to try, I just couldn’t settle especially as my companions were catching fish in completely opposite ways which was adding to my confusion. Gary even lost a B-I-G Bass from right under the legs of the water tower!
James Gardner with a nice Zed from the ‘Canyon’
In desperation the afternoon was spent cruising the “Canyon” an area closed off during the spring as a nature reserve. Extremadura is famous with bird watchers due to being on the migration route for birds that travel between Europe and Africa. Large numbers of “birds of prey” also inhabit this region, as we explored further into the Canyon we were treated to the sceptical of a dozen or more Griffin Vultures soaring above the towering cliffs that made up the shoreline. Eventually we left the confines of the Canyon and were now faced with a large open expanse of water that meandered down the valley to a rather small but very imposing Dam wall with its accompanying hydroelectric power station. The Canyon looked far more appealing so that’s where we headed to resume fishing.
I started casting cranks at the sheer rock faces hoping to catch Bass while Gary decided to jig soft plastics, vertically over the boulders that festooned the bottom, in search of Bass or Zander. At first nothing happened I started to lose interest even casting flies at the occasional Barbel that rose in a wind lane when suddenly Gary hooks into a nice fish! Up pops a good Zander followed shortly after by another, then Lee joins in the action landing a stonker, I hastily change tackle and start jigging too. First drop, I slowly lift and hover my ‘Tiddler Fast’ lure just off bottom, “wham” the rod tip slams over violently, I regain my composure and gain some line, peering into the deep clear water I get the first glimpse of my prize. I see a huge Zander with my lure firmly clamped in its jaws, as it surfaces I quickly grab it and its mine. It has the length to be a heavyweight but not the girth but what it lacks in weight it makes up for in appearance. After that we fish our lures with far more effort and enthusiasm.
Andy Lush with his big ‘Z’
The following days follow a similar pattern as we explored the Canyon and finally the “Basin” that lead to the Dam. It appears that the bottom in places is paved with Zander, fantastic FUN as the Zeds slam our lures. Catching fish in such shallow water, 20-30ft, is a novelty for us as back home on Rutland and Grafham reservoirs we regularly fish 50ft and deeper. These Spanish Zander fight harder too, maybe it’s the fact that we’re catching them in shallower water or maybe it’s because they’re actively feeding? Although we catch mainly near the bottom several are caught on lures suspended 10ft from the surface over 30ft of water! It was possible to catch casting shads as well as vertically but casting was dangerous loosing lures to snags that were everywhere, but you have to speculate to accumulate. Anyhow losing a few lures creates space in the tackle box for a few new ones!
Last gasp big “Billy Bass” for Andy
We usually visit Extremadura in the spring when the water levels on the reservoirs are much higher and the barbel fly fishing is fantastic. There’s no doubt the Autumn is far better for Zander though mainly due to the increased access but you run the risk of Algae blooms and low water levels. Next year we will have to decide whether we have our usual 10 day trip split between two waters or have two separate weeks one in the spring for Barbel and the other in the autumn for Zander? The dilemma then is how do we fit our Dutch Perch fishing trips in?
Tight lines, have fun
Andy owns The Friendly Fisherman in Tunbridge Wells [TN1 2PS], his shop as you would expect is full of everything a “lure angler” will need. Andy is available to offer advice on all things lure and fly fishing related.