Spanish Road Trip | Ian Hirst
Spain has some of the largest waters in Europe. The vast reservoirs (embalses) and lakes were dammed in the ’60s during the Franco dictatorship period of Spain’s colourful history. These vast inland seas are used to supply the city’s water requirements in the various regions of Spain.
Some were stocked with carp earlier than others, and it is these waters that hold the larger specimens. Finding out which ones is the first challenge. There are numerous difficulties and obstacles that carp anglers are confronted with when fishing these waters.
From my experiences, I can hopefully give you an insight into the trials and tribulations of one of my most recent Spanish carp-fishing road trips.
I am fortunate in that I have made many friends in Spain over the last 14 years since I started to fish for carp in this country. I grew up in east Manchester, and my next-door neighbour, Gary Thorley, was also a keen angler. We fished together as youngsters, and our passion for carp fishing has grown stronger over the years; it shows no sign of diminishing. Gary and his family moved to Spain in the late-’90s and settled in a town called Delores in the southeast part of Spain.
We plan our trips around our day jobs, and mine always start with a flight to Alicante. Gary picks me up and off we go. I have a set of tackle in Gary’s purpose-built lock-up, so I tend to just take hand luggage and camera equipment when I book a flight; booking it in advance or during the low season is relatively cheap. My bait is sent well in advance via the international couriers, which is cost-effective when compared to paying for hold luggage on the plane. I send a bit of bulk out once a year.
We have travelled to many regions and fished many different and often difficult waters. However, this trip was to target the huge Embalse de Orellana in the Extremadura region of Spain. It can be found on the west side of Spain not too far from the Portuguese border.
Gary had recently purchased a new van, much larger than his previous Belingo, so we didn’t have too much of a problem cramming in the gear, which consisted of two boats, food and water for a week, cooking gear, bait, tackle, motors, batteries, etc. Such can be the remoteness of the areas we tend to fish that we need to ensure we can survive for the time we are on the bank.
We hadn’t even left Alicante airport when the Guardia Civil pulled us over. They wanted to know where we were heading and what we had in the van. When travelling at night, especially in the more remote areas of Spain, you can expect to get pulled over for a routine check from these boys. On this occasion, our passports and documents were checked and they let us go on our way.
Numerous coffee stops later (I do love my coffee), a phone call was made to another friend of ours, Craig Reid. He runs Extrema Fishing Spain, based in Extremadura. Craig has been in Spain for a long time, originally running a guiding business on the Ebro before moving to Extremadura around 15 years ago, and he is a font of knowledge.
The water levels fluctuate drastically on these waters. Extremely hot weather means the farmers require more water for crops, so combine this with the natural evaporation and it’s a loss of 20-30ft in a couple of months. That may not sound a lot, but when you take into consideration the volume of water in the Orellana, you realise how significant it is. For example, it holds around 5,000 hectares at any one time, which is a lot of water. The scale is hard to comprehend, so another way of looking at it is that if you were to walk the entire bank when it’s full of water, you would be looking at a walk of around 100km. The whole approach to this type of fishing can be alien to many UK carp anglers.
The wilderness and the unknown is what appeals to me. To go fishing and not see any anglers, and no noise often associated with busy UK waters, is pure bliss. Sound travels across the water’s surface, and you can hear a twig break half a mile away on the opposite bank – you are in amongst it. Vultures soar above during the day as they search out the warm thermal air as they scout the land for carrion. The night skies are unpolluted from street lights and houses, and the stars are clear and numerous. Look up for a minute and shooting stars arc across the sky. It’s so spectacular that it can put you in a trance.
Google Maps is great for getting close to the water, but a knowledge of the tracks leading to the water’s edge is vital. We arrived at the water feeling a bit weary. It was late in the day, the light was beginning to fade, and a 20-minute off-road track had led us to our destination. We left the van, loaded the boats, and headed off down to the lake. By this time it was dark, but we knew where we wanted to be so it wasn’t an issue.
As we headed across the lake to the far side, a mile or so downstream, I noticed a large flock of birds on the water, and it looked as if they were standing in shallow water. As we got closer, the outboard motor prop hit the gravelly bottom. We hadn’t used the depth-finder because we had fished the area a year or so prior to this session. The gravel bar that the birds were standing on was the same bar on which we had been expecting to place our baits.
It was pitch-black by now. We walked the boat out into deeper water and headed for the opposite bank, which had a steep gradient and deeper water; we arrived 20 minutes later. As we got closer, we could just make out a large object from the bank, and as we got closer still, we realised it was the roof of an old farmhouse that hadn’t been exposed to the world for some time. The roof and side walls were clear of the water, but it would normally be covered by 30ft of water.
Undeterred, we set up a couple of rods for the night, and slept under the stars. The bank was precarious, to say the least, with jagged rocks everywhere. I cleared a path to the rocks as best I could for the night, knowing that a bit of hard manual labour would be required the next day. I had a lead about and found 18-20ft of water at about 100 yards to my left. A nice flat clean bottom gave me some confidence that I was in with a chance of a carp feeding on the area if any were around.
I was using the new Triple-N boilie, which is a trio nut blend mixed with quality birdfoods and refined milk proteins, coupled with a creamy liquid attractor. This gives the boilie a sweet and creamy/nutty back note, and it smells superb. Bait-Tech boffins have added a carp feed stimulant sourced from the world of the koi carp farmers. I have caught everywhere I have taken this bait.
A Triple-N hardened 18mm dumbbell was Hair-rigged on a Size 4 curve shank fished blowback-style, and 25lb Camotex dark camo hooklinks completed the simple rigs. I didn’t want to put too much boilie out because I intended to get the boat out the next day, and search for spots using the depth-finder. A hundred or so 18mm boilies went out with the throwing stick, and Gary and I sat back with a chilled beer. It felt good to be back.
We had been talking quietly for half an hour when Gary spotted something dash under the rod pod. It then sounded as if someone or something was turning over rocks by the water’s edge. The moon rose and lit up the area, and it became apparent that our visitor was indeed an otter. He or she blatantly lay on the roof of the exposed farmhouse crunching crayfish. We watched and discussed the fact that this otter may have forced the carp to evacuate the area.
I hit the sack and drifted off. I had been asleep for a couple of hours when one of my rods burst into life, and a real one-toner broke the silence. I tried to put my boots on as I skidded and slid my way down the bank to the rods (you can’t walk calmly to the rod when it’s going into meltdown) and just managed to stop myself before I plunged into the water. The carp stripped about 60 yards on his first run. I pumped it back, and despite a dogged scrap, he was mine. These carp haven’t seen a hook before, and they go ballistic when hooked.
Daylight was soon upon us, so I retained him while I had a coffee. As the sun rose, it became apparent that we were intruding on the spot where the otter obviously liked to bring his prey, as scales, bones and crayfish stools were easily found. I took some stills and returned the carp. For the record, he was 29lb 15oz.
As the day wore on, we searched the water via the boat, looking for suitable feeding spots, and this enabled us to place bait and rigs beyond casting distance. The otter made a midday appearance, which really put us on a downer, as he was all over the place, searching the lake relentlessly. We fished the night without a single bleep, convinced the otter was having a negative impact on the fishing. Prior to this trip, I had never seen an otter on the Orellana in all the years I had fished it. A move was on the cards.
We loaded the boats and headed back to the van, loaded up, and headed off to another part of the lake. We were undecided on where to fish, but eventually we decided on a spot that allows night fishing. This area is about a mile and a half of bank, so there’s plenty of space and water to yourself. We decided we would do one night, and if we didn’t spot or hear carp crashing during the night, we would move early the next day. The only thing we saw and heard that night was foxes and more otters.
Our local contact, Craig, told us that the high pressure and full moon had killed the fishing and nothing was coming out. Gary and I had a chat and decided we would head north to another large chunk of water called Buendia, which is southeast of Madrid and a 4½-hour drive. The journey to the Orellana had been the best part of 6 hours, so we were clocking up the miles – and it was only day 3!
As we arrived at our destination, the Embalse de Buendia, the light was fading. It was noticeably cooler because we were at higher altitude. The scenery in this region is spectacular. The reservoir itself is huge, and the water covers a surface area of 8,194 hectares, forming part of a series of reservoirs that feed the regions of Cuenca and Castilla La Mancha.
I have fished this water in the past; in fact, the past winter I had fished it with Gary and we both caught huge Comizo barbel. Snow was on the roads during that trip, and the water temp had been too cold for carp, but the barbel has been active; these fish are serious predators in these waters.
We loaded the boats and headed off up the lake, as we had targeted a huge bay well away from the nearest tracks to the lake. We hoped that our luck would change. As we drifted quietly into the bay, I noticed a carp close to the bank, and I was happy to see it because I knew others would be close by. We set up the brolley shelters that night because heavy rain was forecast.
I used the same opening-night tactic as I did on Orellana. One hundred or so Triple-N boilies went out into 30ft of water, within casting distance. The rods were baited with two 18mm matching hard hookers, as we didn’t know if the crayfish would be a problem.
All the travelling, and loading and unloading vans and boats had caught up with us, so we crashed out quite early. That was until Gary had a run, which, unfortunately, he lost. I woke again as the heavy rain battered the brolly, which I hadn’t pegged because the ground was rocky. I had placed a few rocks on the inside on the inner flaps.
Just then I got a screamer of a run, so I dashed to the rod in the pouring rain. Gary still slept because the rain baffled the sound of my receiver. The wind gusted and the carp fought hard, another wild one which hadn’t been hooked before, and was giving its all to avoid capture. As I got the carp ready for the net, a sudden gust of strong wind lifted my brolly shelter and it took off over the ridge at the back of us and out of sight. My bedchair and gear were getting soaked, but I didn’t really care at that moment because I just wanted to land this carp. I didn’t want to get a hookpull through rushing it, which would have compounded my anguish. As soon as I netted the carp, I ran off in search of the brolly, which was in a bit of a sheltered valley on the other side of the ridge. Thankfully, it was at the water’s edge and not in it!
The carp was a stunning mid-20 mirror; the scale pattern on the Buendia carp are a thing of pure beauty. I know people say size doesn’t matter, but when you are fishing and catching in these surroundings, it really is true.
I was rejuvenated that morning, and I set about getting some bait in. Bait-Tech Natural Hemp and Natural Maize is cooked in the can in its own juices, and is a convenient way of carrying super-fresh bait without freezer facilities. I added plenty to a 17-litre spod bucket, along with around 5kg of 15 and 18mm Triple-N boilies. The boilies had worked again, with two carp on my first nights on both Orellana and Buendia.
The instant attraction of the bait had proven tself yet again, and confidence was high.
That day we were back out in the boat to get some serious bait in. We placed bait and rigs at around 130 yards distance in 40ft of water. It was hot during the day and carp could be seen in the distance. Gary rowed out in the pouring rain to try to catch one, and had a take for his efforts, but unfortunately it came off. He was having no luck.
I was surprised to only get one take just before dawn, as fish could be heard crashing over the bait for most of the night. Nevertheless, I was happy because I landed another stunning common carp.
Next day I topped up the bait with another 5kg and added a few litres of CSL liquid to the mix. I hoped the extra scent trails in the water would draw even more carp and hopefully get them competitively feeding.
It was our last night, so we enjoyed a nice bottle of Spanish Vino Tinto with the curry that Gary had knocked up. He’s class when it comes to the menu del dia (menu of the day), and uses lots of fresh spices and herbs to create some tasty grub.
You guessed it. The carp turned up in numbers that night, and right into the morning as we were packing up in the pouring rain. I caught one, marked up the rod, whacked it back out onto the spot with my 13ft 3½lb TC rods, and it would go again. Sod’s Law that they arrived on the last day, but this is often the case on these wild waters. The more bait that goes in, the more carp it seems to attract, and more often than not, the bigger carp tend to show up a day or two later, once the competitive feeding kicks in.
We did a bit of filming and took some stills, before packing the gear down in the heavy rain. One day it was baking and the next it was Manchester weather. We were soaked by the time we made it back to the van, and the strong wind made it extremely difficult to get back with the fully-loaded boats. We were rowing hard to assist the electric outboard (no petrol motors allowed), and eventually we made it.
After a quick change into a dry set of clothes, we were back on the long road south. It had been another eventful trip, as they always seem to be. Hard work and effort is often required to track down these wild carp, but the immense satisfaction you get when you catch one can’t be surpassed. I arrived at the airport and was soon mid-air on the plane back to Manchester, and I was already planning my next trip!
I have put together a short video, posted on YouTube, which gives an insight into this Spanish session, so check it out: Ian Hirst – Spanish Road Trip.