On Saturday I fished with my old friend Mark McCann. We have fished together on and off, along with my brother Sean, ever since we were schoolboys. Mark was over here in Spain while his wife Nicola was playing with the Irish croquet team against their Spanish counterparts. While all the ladies were out on the lawn the two of us sneaked away to see if we could manage to catch a few or two out of my local rivers.

First up we tried the Guadalhorce. The river was carrying some colour but it was possible to make out some fish and it didn´t take long for Mark to open his account. His fish, like those that followed, was taken on a small bead headed nymph and, again, like its successors fought with valour before we took a quick photo and sent it on its way.

The Guadalhorce is not a very big river and, when there are two fishing together, the best approach seems to be working a way upstream with one fisherman leapfrogging the other. There are fish to be found in most stretches but I tend to look for current, and in particular the spots where fast shallows enter slower pools. The fish we came across were pretty skittish, which is par for the course here, but they can be caught if you are stealthy and patient.

Mark moved on upstream from where he took his first fish and came across a few more but they didn´t want to play ball. This, again, can be par for the course!

Some way upstream I found a couple of fish tight to the bank in a pretty narrow fast run and managed to connect with one of them. The river at this point offers quite a lot of cover to fish and if the barbel had run hard downstream, or even hard into the opposite bank, I would have been in all kinds of trouble. Thankfully he battled it out in mid river until his energy was sapped sufficiently for me to pull him into the grassy shallows. This was a good fish, my best of the year so far, and I was very pleased to have taken him from a pretty awkward lie.

Some time before that fish was caught I looked back to see Mark downstream of me. He was surrounded by a large number of sheep who were showing a great interest in fly fishing. I was too far to hear what he said to them but, presumably, he was explaining to them the rudiments of the sport. Those sheep were gathered so closely that he would have been unable to demonstrate the fine art of fly casting for fear of hooking a member of his admiring audience with his back cast.

I have a lot of time for sheep. I love and admire them in the same way that I loved my own children when they were very small (I love them still of course, but now they are big!) Sheep seem so docile and amiable but they also strike me (I hope no sheep are reading this) as being remarkably thick animals. If you look into a sheep´s eyes you don´t get the impression that there is a lot of profound thinking going on behind them. I feel bad about saying this and of course I would never dream of saying it within earshot of any of them.

I was telling Mark afterwards how, a long time ago, when I played squash for one of the teams where I lived in New Zealand, the club members did a fund raising activity on a sheep farm. The idea was that the farmer would pay us all a few bob if we could help grab the sheep and drag them over to someone who would shear the wool from around their arses. (They tended to be bothered by worms or parasites of some kind in that part of the body). Our job was to grab the sheep by their front legs and walk backwards with them to get them to the guy who was doing the shearing. Of course the sheep, considering this an unacceptable affront to their dignity, were not at all keen on being manhandled in this way and made plenty of noise. Who can blame them? I´m sure that they bleated out the sheep equivalent of “get your hands off me you fucker!” But, to my surprise, they never even once tried to bite even though they had the motive and opportunity to do so and their dental machinery is more than up to the task, as countless cropped blades of grass will attest. Maybe biting us just never occurred to them?

After we had both extracted a gypsy barbel from the Guadalhorce we decided to try our luck in the Río Grande, a major tributary (at least when there´s water in it!) a few kilometres upstream. The Grande is much clearer than the Guadalhorce and so the need to be stealthy was even greater. We fished the “goat pool” and worked our nymphs in water we couldn´t see into but looked likely to hold fish. Mark had a strong pull from an unseen fish and he beached it successfully after a good fight. It was a very handsome fish indeed.

I thought that that might be it for the day but then considered the option of crossing the river upstream of the pool to see if I might spot from the opposite, more elevated bank. Just as I was crossing the river I thought I saw a dorsal break the surface for a second and just stayed put to see if there might be any further sign of the fish. I could not see any fish directly but the odd perturbation in the flow suggested that some fish were at home in the fast water and a speculative cast produced a hook up almost straight away. That fish went berserk and turned tail chasing off downstream into the sanctuary of the pool where he was landed in the shallows.

And that was that for us: two river and four fish. It had been a great afternoon and Mark and I couldn´t have been happier. After we had packed up at the car we made our way homewards along a track that runs parallel to the river. Before we knew it we were enveloped in a flock of sheep. I´m not sure if they were the same ones we came across earlier but Mark recognised a dog walking among them.

When he came across this particular dog he noticed that, unlike the enthralled sheep, the dog had shown a bit of bad attitude towards him. Worse still, it had shown zero interest in what he had to say about fly fishing or river craft which had been the subject of his lecture to the sheep. I suppose it is only to be expected. He had a job to do, that dog. He had to protect those sheep and look after them. He and the other dogs were clearly the brains behind the whole operation. As we drove away from the scene of that last encounter we discussed the cerebral capacity of those dusty ruminants. Sheep are pretty dumb we both agreed, but at least Mark´s lot are not now as thick as they used to be.

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Primed and ready for action!

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Mark´s first fish

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And his second! This lovely gypsy barbel came from the Río Grande.


This is my first about to go back into the Guadalhorce. You can see the snags on the opposite bank. Thankfully he remained in water that was free of obstructions until he tired enough to be beached.


The students show up at the side of the river.


Get up close so that you can hear better! The sheep are mesmerised during their lecture on the basic principles of fly fishing.

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Mark says that the grouchy dog that snarled at him is somewhere among this lot. He zoomed in on this picture and showed it to me but I can´t find it now!