One of the problems that PR and I had when trying to catch a Mediterranean barbel is that not terribly much seems to have been written about them, and little specific guidance seems to be available. The sources of information that we consulted included John Langridge´s book on Spanish barbel and a few blog posts and snippets of information on the internet or short film sequences on Youtube. The simple truth was that this was to be something of a journey into the unknown. 

When we arrived at Álcala del Júcar we saw a bloke tackle up and start fishing from one of the bridges at the downstream end of the river that flows through the town. He was a conventional fisherman rather than a fly fisherman but he was helpful and informative. He took out his phone and showed us some pictures of some very fine fish that he had taken. In pretty short order we were reassured that we had come to the right place and that barbel could be taken on the fly at this time of the year.

It was the following day that we began to fish ourselves and that we came across a local fisherman who had been fishing this stretch of river since his own childhood. His name is Antonio. As it turned out, this had been Antonio´s first outing to the river since he had had a major surgery in which he had 48 cm of intestine removed. He had lost 8 kilos and spent the last several weeks convalescing. He told us that it was only in the previous couple of days  that he felt strong enough to get back on the river.

Antonio was like the guy we met on the bridge insofar as he was open with us and prepared to offer us some guidance that might shift the odds of success in our favour. This is no small thing in itself. I have come across locals before who were far from forthcoming, and it is not easy for newcomers, unfamiliar with the lie of the land, to find their feet on unfamiliar rivers or, as in our case, with an unfamiliar quarry. 

Antonio is a very capable fisherman. He told us of days he had caught 20 or 25 of these barbel and had taken fish to 7kg which is far larger than Paul and I thought they grew. At the time the fish were feeding on silkweed and his approach was essentially to long trot a silkweed bait through the main current. In the morning he caught a couple of fish this way and then he left the river, returning again in the late afternoon, when he caught three more. Interestingly, the fish took the silkweed but they were really feeding on the tiny nymphs and other invertebrates that were in it. The silkweed, undigested, was vented from the fish after a dizzying roller coaster ride through the alimentary canal.

The silkweed “season” finishes in about a month and the fish take invertebrates in a more predictable way which, of course, means that fly fishing will really come into its own. When this happens Antonio will fish on flies of his own tying right down to size 22.

When we were done for the day we joined Antonio for a beer and exchanged contact details.  Later still, when we were back at our base in the nearby town of Requena, and before our brains would be compromised by the influence of ethanol, we put our heads together and wrote down, in the back of a Bill Bryson book, the various things we had learnt from Antonio during the course of our conversations. Those scribbled notes about the river and the behaviour of the fish represent a considerable leap forward in our understanding of the Mediterranean barbel.

Antonio told me the next day that fishing on his local stretch of river had now given him friends all over the world. I am delighted that PR and I can be added to that list.

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This is Antonio with one of five fish he caught on the day we fished with him.

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It´s not as easy as he makes it look!