I came across a guy on the banks of the Río Grande on Christmas Eve who was looking after a large flock of goats. I asked him how many goats he had. He didn´t tell me. Instead he said “guess!” And so I did.


He shook his head. I had to try again.


Another shake of the head. In the end he realised that this game could go on a long time and he decided to put me out of my misery.

He had 720 goats.

I liked this guy and I think that he was enjoying the distraction of talking to a fella with a fly rod who was ambling on down the banks of the Río Grande. Goats are good company but, by all accounts, they are poor conversationalists. Inevitably he asked if I had any success to report and I said that I had had none at all. The river was looking beautiful and it was running clear but I had not seen a single fish despite having stalked several hundred metres. I even went to the lengths of wading a section “noisily” to see if there were disturbed fish that give themselves away as they turn and swim off in shallow water. Nada. He told me that the big pool beneath the road bridge was a popular spot with anglers but few fish come out of it and they tend to be small. That pool certainly looked great to me and it was deep enough to hide the bottom and would provide sanctuary in a river given to seasonal fluctuations in level.

The goat herder and I talked for a good while about this and that before it was time for me to continue my exploration of the river. I would say that men who look after goats are philosophical by nature, and so too are fly fishermen. We were certainly both sufficiently well disposed from a philosophical point of view to accept quite happily our respective numbers; 720 and zero.

The reason for my short foray on the Río Grande was that I wanted to see how the river was fishing for a friend who was planning on a day´s fishing over the Christmas period. Clearly he would be ill advised to fish the Grande, however pretty it was looking. My own visit would have been worthwhile even if only for establishing that. Next up was the Río Guadalhorce a kilometre or so downstream. Would that be a better bet?

When I got to the Guadalhorce I saw my first fish of the day tight against the near bank. This is a well known “lie” and it is possible that I caught this same fish in the past. I managed to hook him but we went our separate ways after a few seconds when the little nymph flew back to join me. Further upstream there were no fish to be seen except for a solitary character who was nuzzling around among the flooded grasses of the near bank. I could not cast to him because of the clutter of plant stems but managed to lower a nymph in front of him as he was busy feeding and gave it a gentle tweak to bring it to his attention. In murky, disturbed water timing the strike is always going to be something of a guessing game but I tightened at the right time and before I knew it he was on the opposite bank trying to tangle me in submerged branches.

Eventually he came my way and he let me turn him on his back to quieten him. Trout will often lie still if they are held upside down while being unhooked and barbel seem to respond the same way. Within a few seconds he was unhooked, photographed and then released again. I think he that this spirited fish realised that I had gotten him “fair and square” and, at a time of the when the fish are difficult to locate and to catch, he acknowledges that I had the measure of him on this particular occasion. It was just not his day.

Who says that only fly fishermen and goat herders can be philosophical?

There are 720 goats in this flock but some of them are out of shot and others, sneakily, are hiding in the bushes.

This fish was wallowing among the plants in the shallows. He was gracious enough to accept a small nymph that I lowered in front of him.