We fly fishermen tend to delude ourselves sometimes and begin to imagine we are gifted observers of nature and that we have, through painstaking observation and craft, infiltrated the mysterious world of our quarry. At the vise we whip up near-perfect impersonators of the little bugs that drift downstream to the waiting fish. It is just a question of showing up at the river and success is preordained.

So, at least goes the theory. That´s the little narrative we sell to one another, we fly fishermen, and to anyone else who will listen. And it´s good too because it makes us all feel good about ourselves. 

In truth, it ought to be said, is that this is the way things pan out often enough but, if we are to be really honest, it is not uncommon for us to find ourselves standing in the middle of a river scratching our heads and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We have collectively written this beautiful script in which we play the lead role but none of the fish have bothered reading it and, as often as not, they don´t even show up for rehearsals.

PR and I tackled the Río Júcar as many of us would have done. The fish were clearly in the river (we had seen them from the bridge) and they were feeding from time to time. They didn´t seem to take anything off the top and so we both rigged up with a couple of nymphs and made sure enough they had enough weight to drift close to the bottom. Then we waded into the river and explored the seams that we felt were likely to hold fish. We cast our nymphs into those seams and runs, and into nooks and crannies, and then we took a few steps upstream and did it all over again. And this went on for a long time, without any sign of interest from the fish. That´s when the head scratching started.

While we were doing all of this a local fisherman, Antonio, about whom I have recently written, tackled up and went to business in the river. He knew exactly what he was doing and it didn´t take long for him to extract some of those fish we had come all this way to catch. There was none of this fancy-pantsy fly fishing malarkey. What Antonio understood, and what we didn´t, was that the fish were not picking off individual invertebrates but were eating silkweed from which they digested the tiny critters crawling through the fine fibrous strands. It was fragments of silkweed dislodged by the current that the barbel were looking out for, not bugs.

Antonio is a nice guy and he was very open with us. He answered our questions and showed us how to do things. While PR was picking Antonio´s brain I decided to rummage through my fly box and see if anything could be found that might pass as a bit of weed. These were desperate times! 

I did manage to find something that I would ordinarily be thoroughly ashamed to admit that I had conceived or tied up. It was made from a bit of pale green yarn and it was simply a ridiculous-looking thing.

If we return to the general business of considering what goes through the heads of fly fishermen, let me tell you something else we all do, although none of us is likely to own up to it: when we are skunked and the fish have turned up their noses at every sensible pattern we have shown them we might tie on some outrageous monstrosity in desperation. The hope is that, just maybe, there is a dumb fish out there that might think “what the hell is this?” and open their mouths so wide in an expression of astonishment that the fly might just flow in!

Well, that´s what happened to me! My stupid-looking yarn fly was given a few drifts under an indicator with a few small split shot to keep it well down and somehow one of those dumb fish we pray for showed up. Without a fuss it opened its gob and just hoovered this thing down.

And that was my first Mediterranean barbel! This was a fish PR and I had been chasing for some time. I would like to say it was captured as a result of great skill (and I probably will do in the future over a few glasses of wine!) but, frankly, it was not. 

I was over the moon. 

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Finally! A Mediterranean barbel

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The fish ran downriver and I had to follow it. Antonio was on hand with his net.

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The day my first fish we returned and I fished silkweed on a bare hook. I lost a fish because a hook broke and I retrieved my line to see the line knotted to the eye of the hook. I used another hook of the same kind to take this one.

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These are beautiful fish. In the hand they feel quite heavy for their length.