The story goes that the Roman General Caesar had a gold mine somewhere down this stretch of the Mediterranean coast, or somewhere not too far inland.
The story goes that the Roman General Caesar had a gold mine somewhere down this stretch of the Mediterranean coast, or somewhere not too far inland. It was a good, productive mine but he had to close it down, long before it was worked out, when he was summoned back to Rome where he eventually took over as Emperor. A couple of thousand years later, the mine remains undiscovered. When fishing the Ebro, I've always asked myself if perhaps it's right there, in that cliff face, on the opposite bank of the river? It's strange how the mind drifts away whilst awaiting a run, and an encounter with a different kind of Spanish gold…
“Fancy joining us on a Christmas carping trip to the Ebro?” Paul Garner's invitation came at just the right time, giving me a chance to get away from the stresses of big-city life at the busiest time of the year. When I heard that carping comedian and St Ives fishery boss Gordy Howes was also coming I couldn't say no. I could use a laugh. Catmaster Colin Bunn in Mequinenza was to be our host and would point us in the right direction for the winter carp.
We flew into Reus airport via Ryanair from Birmingham. With Colin supplying all the major tackle and bait it was a painless operation. That's probably the first time I ever managed to get an overseas fishing trip accomplished with just a carry-on bag. Collecting the hire car was the work of minutes and soon the three of us were en-route for the mountains.
This part of Spain has really changed since I was last here. The roads are much better than I remember, wider and faster, enabling us to roll into the tiny town of Mequinenza little more than an hour after leaving the airport. We dropped our bags at Colin's lovely apartment, which was to be our home for the next few days, then snatched a drink in the Ebro Bar, grabbed some tackle and got off to the riverbank pronto. We were gagging to wet a line and with a mere three full days fishing ahead, we had little time to waste. When I say full days, what I really mean is dawn till dusk sessions. No nights in a bivvy for us this trip - instead we spent our evenings trying to empty the shelves in the Ebro bar then wobbling back to a comfy bed in our luxury apartment. Now that's what I call a fishing holiday!
Being December, arriving in these mountains just ten days before Christmas, we were half expecting some dodgy weather but we need not have worried. The skies remained clear for the whole trip, even if temperatures were a little on the low side. Colin had informed us that it was a little too cold to expect any of the giant catfish that have made this river so famous, so we were concentrating on the carp fishing.
Now I'm pretty sure that over the years, many people reading this have been to the river Ebro in Spain and caught carp by the dozen. Usually they are small fish averaging between 2lb and 5lb, right? Well, not any more. Ten years ago we used to complain that finding small, bait-sized carp for catfish livebaits was difficult. It was, and it's even harder now! The carp stocks are much lower but the average weight is much heavier. A small fish these days is a high double. An average fish is a high twenty and thirties are very common. Even forty pounders are on the cards with the chance of a real biggie surpassing fifty. These Ebro carp have grown on to become veritable monsters. Colin told me that the river record is now 72lb and that he personally recently witnessed the weighing of a mid-sixty pound fish.
Paul, Gordy and I have all fished the Ebro several times over the last decade or so but things had obviously changed since our last visits. Fortunately, road access to the banks has been much improved, making much more of the Ebro fishable but that didn't mean it was going to be dead easy. As with all fishing, the three rules of Location, Bait and Presentation have to be observed - and on any big water, location is always the main problem. This trip proved to be no exception. We fished the Monday afternoon without seeing any fish, other than a suicide roach approaching 2lb that somehow managed to take a 25mm pellet I presented at 40 yards. Big roach are the new catfish food it seems. Other anglers we met were also catching them to around 2lb 4ozs and bigger ones are present, or so I was assured. They are a great fish but not a lot of fun on a 3lb TC carp rod however, so if you fancy following in our footsteps, pack a travel-feeder rod.
Tuesday morning found us on a different stretch of the river on a stretch that Colin had recommended. Here Paul broke the duck with our first encounter with Spanish Gold - a mid-double common. Promising! However promises are not certainties and for the rest of the morning our alarms stayed silent. We decided to 'Make It Happen' by driving off to try different areas of the river. Fishing for a few hours here and a few hours there we combed the river for that afternoon and all the next day, blanking, before finally finding the fish, somewhat predictably, in the same area where Paul had caught the carp two days previously.
The first run came to my rods. It felt like a good one but before I could bring it to the surface the fish was lost to line cut by zebra mussels. Oh well. I was stoical about it. I retackled and recast. An hour or so later the same thing happened again. This time I was angry! Mainly with myself. Paul had suggested that I put on an abrasion-proof leader after losing that first fish and I was just too lazy to do so. Not this time. Thirty five foot of Quicksilver leader and a matching hook-length was recast to the 'hot-spot' and this did the trick.
The next run produced a huge common of 31lb 4oz - a new Spanish personal best carp for me. Meanwhile Paul was getting action downstream of me with a couple of fish to just under twenty pounds, and he had also lost fish to the razor sharp zebras. It's reassuring to see that even the top experts sometimes suffer from the same problems as the rest of us mere mortals. Gordy's first choice of swim had proved to be a dud so he switched swims to fish the one above me and finally found a couple of fish to match Paul's. If we'd had another day…
What a rewarding session. Not exactly easy fishing, but not really too hard either. Just right in fact. If we had stayed put after that first carp on Tuesday and just 'Let It Happen' instead of chasing rainbows we would have probably caught a lot more fish than we did but… Oh well, live and learn! Next time we'll know and perhaps remember the old adage that 'local knowledge pays, on those difficult days'.
If you fancy a winter pre-spring carp trip, you could do a lot worse than contact Colin on either his mobile in Spain: (+34) 620 605 113 or by
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org - or check out his website at www.catmastertours.com.
(And if he suggests a specific swim, please, take notice!)
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