Brian Jones keeps a fishing diary and he was kind enough to show me what he had written about our fishing last Saturday. I thought it was very interesting, detailed and well-written and so I twisted his arm and asked him if I could reproduce it here. Being the gentleman that he is he gave me the thumbs up and so, without further ado, here it is:

Flybri – A recent fishing diary entry – 30th March 2019

Today I visited the Rio Guadalhorce with Paul Hogan near the village of Villafranco del Guadalhorce in Andalucía. It was a mainly cloudy day with glimpses of sunshine around mid-day with a forecasted maximum temperature of around 16°C. The wind was southerly 9 to 11 mph, fresh at times and feeling cool enough to wear a fleece over base layers. The barometric pressure was falling slowly by a millibar or two during the day.

After a good chat while enjoying a breakfast roll and coffee in the local bar we headed off to the river driving along the A357 road towards Malaga but soon taking an exit road and then a dirt track down to the river. We were delighted on arriving to find many gypsy barbel spawning in the riffles and shallowing tails of the river`s pools. There was a lot of surface thrashing and dorsal fin and tail wagging going on and it was a real privilege to be able to approach closely with Paul filming some of the action.

These spawners were clearly selecting the shallower, faster flowing areas where the strongest currents scoured the gravels and where silt accumulation was at its lowest. Here the developing eggs and future juvenile fish in the gravels would benefit from the increased oxygenation. It appeared also that the frenzied act of spawning itself removed much of any smothering silt still remaining as clouds of it became visible at times as it was flushed out and carried downstream in the current.

Other barbel were obviously not spawners and some could be seen feeding in deeper flows and along the pool edges with their heads close to the riverbed and mouthing the bottom with tails raised in the flow. Paul confirmed that it would be these feeding fish and others swimming in midwater away from the spawning areas that we would be targeting with artificial fly. I was most interested to discover how much these fish moved around. They seemed to be constantly on the go, cruising from deeper holes over nearby shallows and from pool heads right down into shallowing tails and back again. It was exciting to see so many good sized fish, between two and three pounds plus on average, in a relatively short length of river. Paul informed me that we were around 20 minutes walking distance below the river`s confluence with its Rio Grande tributary in which the water would be very clear. Here downstream on the Guadalhorce the water was a little cloudier but clear enough to allow excellent sight fishing although it could often prove challenging to get the fish to take firmly.

It didn`t take Paul very long however to hook a lovely plump barbel a few pounds in weight that went off like a train and took considerable skill and patience to get inshore before returning it safely and unharmed to the river after admiring its form. And what fabulous fish these barbel are, their deep yellow bellies and large fins contrasting sharply with their olive backs, and with their perfectly arranged scales sparkling with reflected light. We moved a little upriver to a lovely long pool, shallow on our side with high bamboo canes and other vegetation bordering the opposite bank. Paul advised me to keep well back from the river`s edge and make best use of the shadows extending from the far bank to spot feeding fish. He pointed out a small group of barbel not too many yards from the shallows on our side and insisted that I take the rod.

Fortunately, after a few practice casts in another direction, my fly, a red bodied tungsten beaded pattern tied by Paul, plopped in ahead of one fish. I saw it turn towards the fly. Its back creased the surface of the shallows as it took hold and I felt the weight and solid resistance of the fish as I raised the rod. Even though I had been made aware of the fighting prowess of these barbel I was truly taken aback by the sheer speed and power of this fish as it took off across the pool. I will never forget seeing its yellow flank rocketing downstream at incredible speed within inches of the far bank with the line scything the water surface beneath overhanging vegetation. I manged somehow to resist the temptation to touch the screaming reel before the fish, finally running short of rocket fuel, slowed and headed back into deeper water. There was no question of trying to bully this muscular and wide tailed powerhouse of a fish into the shallows. But eventually came the wonderful feeling of elation gazing at this fabulous and truly wild creature lying in the water at my feet and then the pleasure of admiring it briefly in my wetted hands before releasing it back into the flow.

I knew then that this fishing experience and the capture of my first ever gypsy barbel could not be surpassed on this day. It was with huge gratitude that I handed the rod back to Paul. My fishing was already complete for the day. That was my decision and I was more than happy just to accompany Paul for the remainder of our time on the river in spite of further invitations to have another go. And what a great day it proved to be – a fascinating river system, plenty of impressive fish, wonderful surroundings and great bird life – with herons, egrets, cormorants and ringed plovers to name a few, and migrating swallows now following these river courses on their long return journey north.

The fish however proved challenging to catch. I felt that perhaps the falling air pressure might be having an impact on their feeding behaviour. What did not help also was the arrival of a Spanish angler walking upstream through the middle of the river. This guy was out to make an impression. Suddenly seeing his very large and primitive form appearing from nowhere had me looking around in vain for the cave entrance from which he must surely have emerged. Amazingly he was carrying a fly rod which rather like his overall attire looked like it belonged to an earlier age. With him showing no sign of retreating, after walking right across the river to the far bank to land a fish that amazingly he had managed somehow to hook, we decided it would be wise to leave this beat to him. We guessed that the barbel and river birds would most likely do the same!

So, moving on, our next beat was further upstream where the two rivers joined. A short journey in the car and a sharp right turn off the next roundabout soon found us again walking the right bank of the Rio Guadalhorce but now just below the confluence. Again the barbel were in evidence in deep holes, moving up and downstream through fast runs and broader shallows. It was very rewarding for me to observe Paul`s expertise in approaching and presenting his fly to the varying barbel lies in the river. A deeply fished nymph saw fish turning sharply in the faster currents to follow the fly and a dry emerger pattern on the shallower flats tempted a few to rise to break the smooth flowing surface.

What wonderfully adapted fish these gypsy barbel are and in Paul`s book “Dry River” he describes movingly the very challenging environmental conditions that these fish can face during their relatively short lives and the toughness and tenacity they demonstrate in their efforts to survive the harsh conditions met in failing summer flows. One must greatly admire the determination they demonstrate to migrate rapidly upstream to recolonise and take advantage of newly submerged reaches and the recovering invertebrate life once the rains finally return. And also their in-born desire to move on upstream to find suitable river reaches in which to spawn in the swollen waters of early spring.

We did spend a little time looking at some of the invertebrates living beneath the riverbed stones in one of the riffle areas. It was interesting to find large numbers of Simulium (black fly/fisherman`s curse) larvae present, together with larger olive-green bodied Hyropsyche caddis/sedge fly larvae that would provide ample protein for barbel grazing among the stones of the faster shallows. These larvae also periodically release their hold on the riverbed and contribute to the invertebrate drift downstream of their usual habitat that provides food for fish on the lookout for this regular provision. There were also good numbers of small nymphs that would have required a hand lens to identify with certainty but whose presence again suggested that water quality here was satisfactory or better.

Had we been carrying some simple sampling gear I have little doubt that we would have found good numbers of burrowing species such as red midge larvae/bloodworms and aquatic worms amongst the silt at the bottom of quieter, deeper flows. The effectiveness of Paul`s little red artificial nymphs was very likely due to their similarity to these larvae whose red haemoglobin blood pigment enables them to live happily in less well oxygenated silty situations. It would be good at some future date to complete some kick sampling here to get a better idea of the range of invertebrates present both on the riverbed and in the invertebrate drift and get some clues to the types and colours of organisms that one might imitate when tying up suitable artificial flies. It would be good also to establish accurate base-line invertebrate data using standardised sampling techniques as knowledge of invertebrate diversity and river biology is everything when one is working to protect riverine habitats and to be prepared for the possibility of pollution occurring at a future date.

Almost before we realised it the day had flown by and we chatted again as we walked back to the car – about the fish, the fishing and the river, and of the importance of good water quality and the need to protect and conserve such a precious environment and valuable resource. A cool thirst-quenching drink later and it was time to go our separate ways. Of course it was a day I shall always fondly remember – the fishing, the gypsy barbel, the surroundings and most of all the great company that had made all this possible for me. Hopefully I shall return.

Thank you again to a new found friend!

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