Run to the Hills

Driving up the valley of La Neste in South West France, I was concerned to see the river high and coloured after recent rains. My wife and I were driving to northern Spain for a short break to celebrate my 40th birthday and, as part of the trip, I had booked two days of guided fishing on the renowned rivers of Aragon on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. The season had closed in mid-September in France, but the Spanish season runs until the end of October, so this would be my last trout fishing trip of 2022 – I was praying the conditions would be more favourable on the southern side of the mountain range.

We crossed the border through the AragnouetBielsa tunnel above Saint Lary. Emerging in Spain, the road descended along the valley of the Rio Barossa through beautiful birch and pine forests. The Barossa was clearly in better shape than its French neighbours, running full of fresh water, but thankfully still clear with the brilliant turquoise hue that only glacial streams have.

Joining the valley of the larger Rio Cinca at Bielsa, we turned westward and cruised along towards Jaca. Drinking in the spectacular autumnal views, occasionally catching a glimpse of the magical Cinca in the canyon below, we were full of expectation of what the next few days would bring.

Our accommodation was the wonderful Hotel Viñas de Lárrede near Jaca. Having checked in, we enjoyed an ice-cold beer on the veranda before a beautiful dinner. The trip had been arranged through Pyrenees Fly Fishing and my guide Adrian would be meeting me at 9am the next day. Such was my excitement for the next day I could hardly sleep that night, no different from when I was a kid and my Dad and Uncle would take me fishing somewhere special for my birthday.

The next day it dawned grey and rainy. After breakfast I gathered my gear from the car and waited in the reception for Adrian to arrive. He arrived early at 8:45, which I liked. We shook hands and I could immediately tell he was a great bloke – smiling, friendly and enthusiastic about the day ahead. Setting off in his car, he explained that given the recent rains it would be necessary to ‘run to the hills’ and head high into the mountains to find rivers in good condition – the tributaries of the tributaries. He assured me we would catch and, whilst they would not be huge, they would be perfect wild fish and plentiful.

The journey to the headwaters took over an hour – first, on immaculate highways following steep sided, wooded canyons; then, on a narrow potholed road that took us high up into the mist-shrouded mountains; and eventually joining a track that wound yet further through forests before emerging, above the treeline, into a plateau basin where a stream flowed beneath an imposing crescent of rugged peaks. We got out of the car and were met by a bracing wind and heavy cloud that threatened rain. Indeed, some early snow was even visible in the distance, jagged lines of white along the high ravines on the north facing slopes of the surrounding mountains. However, for now it was dry, cold and blustery, but at least dry, and I could not wait to tackle up.

Fascinating small stream fishing

Adrian explained the tactics – a ten foot four weight rod, a leader about the same length as the rod, and a buoyant and visible dry fly under which we could also hang a small nymph from time to time if we thought the fish may prefer a subsurface fly. This was all very familiar to me as it is exactly how I fish the streams on the French side of the range. On these small headwaters, fly choice is not particularly important from the standpoint of the fish – food is scarce, so they are usually fairly willing takers of anything that looks reasonably ‘buggy’. We started with a small olive parachute fly with a bright little orange wing post that would be visible in the rough and tumble flow.

A selection of the flies used in the course of the day – Parachute Olive and Perdigon Nymph (left, top and bottom), small Dyret (centre), larger Dyret and Beadhead Quill Nymph (right, top and bottom)

Almost instantly we were into fish, small wild brownies of five or six inches, that just could not wait to gobble the little dry fly whenever it covered a likely lie. Initially we fished a very narrow section where little or no casting was needed, it was more a case of dropping the fly beneath the rod tip into back eddies and next to undercuts, or controlling a short drift down a myriad of micro pools and runs.

We then hit a slightly bigger pool where a couple of fish, which were visible in the glassy tail, took without hesitation. After taking those fish I then waded into the centre of the stream and began slowly creeping up the pool making short casts to carefully cover every drift where a fish could be expected. More fish were taken before Adrian gave me the first of several great pieces of advice. He recommended trying slightly longer casts as the bigger fish in this crystal clear stream can easily sense your presence and will move off if you wade too close to them, so better to cover the prime lies from range if possible. This led to a couple of better fish perhaps nearer ten inches in length.

A particularly tricky fish was found in some deeper water on the outside of a bend. He had found a perfect spot beneath a small overhanging grassy bank and revealed himself twice when my dry fly drifted by his lie, slowly ghosting up to within millimetres of the fly, but each time refusing to take. We quickly tied on a small Perdigon nymph on a dropper which it took on the first drift through, but unfortunately I bumped him off on the strike and we did not see him again.

After a brief lull in the action, we then found a bunch of active fish in a fascinating section of the stream where a large boulder separated the flow in two. The bulk of the water flowed to the right of the rock and formed a swirling run where three more fish were taken in quick succession on the dry fly – first emerging from the turquoise depths to carefully inspect the fly before taking. The rest of the water trickled down the left of the rock through a narrow crevice and formed a mini-waterfall beneath which was a narrow, deep, almost static pool. A careful cast placed the dry-dropper rig right beneath the waterfall and almost immediately the dry fly dipped as another fish took the Perdigon.

We covered every inch of the water on a stretch of probably two or three hundred yards that morning and took at least twenty or thirty fish. By the time we had fished our way back to where the car had been parked, we were both cold and tired – it was time for a break and lunch. We retreated out of the elements to an old farm shed further up the valley where Adrian laid out a fantastic three course meal, complete with beer, wine and coffee. We talked fishing and shared photos of our catches, and Adrian told me about the guided trips that he runs via Viajes Pesca Mosca during the Spanish closed season to exotic destinations such Cuba, Argentina and, even, Mongolia.

One after lunch on a hometied Dyret

After lunch we continued fishing along the same stream and I was keen to try some of my own flies to see if the Spanish trout liked them as much as their French cousins do. I had tied up some small Dyret flies for the trip and they were gladly received by a bunch of hungry little brownies lying in a long, flat, windswept pool. Adrian then suggested we jump in the car and head back down the valley for something a little bit different.

Striking into a fish in the gorge pool

He had in mind a pool on the slightly larger river that our stream joined which could, in these conditions, offer the chance of a better fish. The pool was situated at the end of a gorge and Adrian explained that when the water is high the flow in the gorge is too intense for the fish and they drop back into the pool. We parked the car on a cliff top high above the pool and a number of fish were clearly visible in the emerald waters below stationed in some slack water formed by protruding rocks from the cliffs.

To get down to the river we had to walk upstream and cross a wooden footbridge. After descending a steep path on the far bank we then entered the water and waded downstream to the tail of the pool. From there it was shallow enough to allow us to carefully cross back towards the bank where we had left the car and position ourselves for a cast.

Adrian then gave me another great piece of advice. Whilst the pool was deep and appeared glassy smooth and even flowing, there were a lot of complex currents. In fact, the slack water where the fish were patrolling was actually swirling in the opposite direction to the main current. In such situation if you cast a straight line and deliver the fly on a tight leader the conflicting currents will immediately drag your fly in an unnatural manner. To solve the issue, he recommended lengthening my leader from 10 feet to 15, or even 20 feet, so that the fly would land with some slack in the leader allowing at least a few seconds of drag-free drift. It worked a treat and at least four or five of the pool’s trout were taken, again on the Dyret, before the rest of them got wise to our presence and skulled off back to the depths.

The last pool of the day

The final sport of the day was enjoyed in a lovely pool beneath an old stone bridge lower down in the valley. Adrian left me to fish the pool for half an hour whilst he attended to some administration with a park ranger – the fishing in Spain does seem very well organised and regulated, being as I understand, almost exclusively fly only and catch and release. The Dyret stayed on the leader and a beadhead quill nymph was suspended beneath. The sport on the dry fly seemed to have finished for the day, but another handful of brownies took a liking to the nymph before Adrian returned and it was time to pack up.

What a day – superb sport, great company and food, and all in some of the most spectacular surroundings that I have ever fished. To say I was looking forward to the second day was an understatement.

Amazing fishing for wild brown trout in stunning surroundings

2 thoughts on “Run to the Hills

  1. Andy gaines January 29, 2023 / 9:36 am

    Yes mate! Looks amazing 🙌

  2. Obie. January 29, 2023 / 3:55 pm

    Gorgeous water, looks like a fun trip! Thanks for sharing

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