There are nine species of barbel in Spain which makes it something of a European hotspot. The UK by contrast has only one (Barbus barbus) which is not found in Spain at all. John Langridge and I have fished for my local gypsy barbel on many several occasions on my local river, the Guadalhorce, and his book Fishing for Spanish Barbel is the definitive guide on the subject of Spanish barbel.

Interestingly, of the nine species we have here, seven belong to the genus Luciobarbus “pike barbel” and only two, the Mountain and Redtail barbel belong to the genus Barbus. John points out in the introduction to his book that it was once thought that Spain´s barbel come from the north, descendents of Barbus barbus and were cut off by the rise of the Pyreneese, but the most recent scientific understanding is that most derive from the south, from the larger and more powerful Luciobarbus species of North Africa and Asia. This may appear surprising but it is worth remembering that in deep time the Mediterranean has dried out and even today loses more water to evaporation than is supplied by the rivers flowing into it. It needs to be constantly topped up by water entering from the Atlantic through the Straits of Gibraltar. Around six million years ago Africa “bumped” into Spain and this effectively shut the door between the Mediterranean and the the Atlantic. As a result the Mediterranean, starved of the replenishing water from the Atlantic became an enormous desert. One of the extraordinary consequences of this kind of carry on was that the distant ancestors of species now widely separated would once have swum together in waters that have long since disappeared. This seems to be true of barbel and, surprisingly, it is also true of the turtles I meet on the riverbanks of the Guadalhorce whose most close relatives are found in Morocco.

Of the nine species of Spanish barbel I have caught only two; the Gypsy barbel Luciobarbus scaleteri and the Guadiana barbel Luciobarbus steindachneri. I think I may also have caught a small Comizo barbel Luciobarbus comizo but I´m not sure about this and have no photograph to check.

Paul Reddish and I have recently returned from Valencia where we were hoping to catch the somewhat elusive Mediterranean barbel Luciobarbus guiraonis. This was a species Paul was keen to catch and to add to his growing list of Spanish barbel. I think he has clocked up six species now and so I have some catching up to do! In the end our old buddy L guiraonis lived up to its billing as a somewhat elusive critter and we went away empty-handed. We did briefly catch a glimpse of a couple in the river Turia which was something at least!

This particular species of barbel, as well as being pretty limited in distribution, is a fairly committed bottom feeder and so might be a little more difficult to take on the fly. They do look up from time to time though and Paul unearthed some footage of them feeding on small dry flies or emergers and of one subsequently being taken on an artificial fly. Unfortunately they were not disposed to do this while we were there and we were unable to tempt them on the little nymphs we offered in the deeper stretches of the river.

And so our quest for the retiring Mediterranean barbel must be postponed for a future time. We had a lot of fun chasing after it and no doubt will return to Valencia one day to have another go.

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This is a gypsy barbel with the very characteristic yellow belly.


This is a Guadiana barbel from Extremadura. It took a little foam ant tied by Colin McLachlan. I would like to show you some pictures of some other species of Spanish barbel but I will have to go out and catch some first!