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As the latest recipient of a FREE fishing trip through this newsletter’s FREE Fishing Program, I eagerly anticipated fly fishing for trout with Salvelinus Lodge in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain this past summer. However, I also wanted to add-on a bit of personal exploration into the history, scenery, culture and food of the area, so I flew from San Diego to Atlanta to Madrid (about 16 hours) a week before I was scheduled to fish. I then took a fast and comfortable train from Madrid to Pamploma, where I stored my fishing gear while I traveled around northern Spain.

After a week of sightseeing, I linked up with Ivan Tarin in Pamplona. He is owner and head guide of Salvelinus Lodge, which has two bases of operation – the main Lodge in Santa Cilia, 1½ hours east of Pamploma; and a satellite operation in Aren, approximately two hours farther east. The main Salvelinus Lodge can accommodate six rods and four non-fishing guests. It’s located beside the Aragon River in the former winery and residences of the Monastery of St. Cilia. It has three floors and five bedrooms, each with a double bed or two twin beds; three bathrooms with sink, toilet, bidet, tub and shower; 24 hour self-service bar; TV; Internet service; dining room; kitchen; boot room; and a small fly shop. The furnishings are basic but comfortable and clean. Everything worked. One other couple and I were the only guests in the lodge that week.

The two guides I fished with were Ivan (who speaks adequate English) and Zach, an American who has been in Spain for seven years. Ana Garcia, a delightfully energetic pixy of a woman, is the cook, housekeeper and majordomo. Laundry service is available daily.

The Santa Celia and the Aren locations combined offer access to 1,500 miles of wild trout streams and rivers, plus more than 180 lakes. The Salvelinus guides are, frankly, paranoid about protecting favorite spots. I was sworn to secrecy about the names of the streams and rivers we fished, and they take pains to hide the purpose of the vans they use for transport. Their precautions must work: I didn’t see another fly fisher the entire trip.

Don’t even think about arranging a self-guided trip to fish in Spain. Fishing is controlled here by a nightmare of restrictions and regulations. Each day and each fishing water required myriad different licenses. Ivan gave me a fistful of licenses every day.

A day at Salvelinus starts with made-to-order breakfast at 8 a.m. You leave the lodge at 9 a.m. and drive for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to reach your fishing destination. Two hours is the time required to reach Aren, where you typically fish for the day then spend the night. When you fish a high mountain stream, you may hike for 30 minutes to an hour or more before you begin fishing. You fish until about 2 p.m., then it’s lunch time. Lunch is what you have asked Ana to fix for you that particular day, plus fruit, bread and cheese. Then, it’s siesta time. What a treat!

You start the afternoon’s fishing around 4 p.m. and fish until 7 p.m. or later. Back at the lodge, you have time for a quick shower and drinks in the bar before the evening meal around 9 p.m. The wine and food were plentiful and great.

On my first day of fishing, Ivan and I drove for about 20 minutes to one of the many tributaries of the Aragon River. Each canyon in the area seems to have a stream with wild trout in it. There were trout rising when we arrived, but they stopped shortly after we got there. The river was about 30 yards across at its widest with shallows between the pools. The fish were spooky. I tried a Parachute Adams, then a Chernobyl Ant, then other dry flies in the 14 to 16 size range. Ivan must have changed my fly 20 times that morning.

I had never seen a “striped trout” before. It is the Mediterranean variant subspecies of the brown trout (Salmo trutta). It has a light-green back with three or four dark vertical bands that circle its body, which makes for good camouflage especially over a rocky bottom. Both Ivan and Zach had told me that the striped trout were very fast strikers, difficult to hook and could grow up to eight pounds in these waters. I don’t know about the eight pounds, but the “fast” part was certainly true. After multiple strikes, I finally managed to hook a striped trout of about three inches which sailed past my right ear when I struck too hard.

That afternoon it started to rain. The weather can change very quickly in the Pyrenees. Ivan changed to a dry attractor pattern with a size 16 nymph dropper about 18 inches below it, and he fished utilizing what he called a “High Sticking” technique. This involved making a short cast right to the bank, then holding the rod tip up to eliminate drag. He would let the current drift the fly down and pick it up and do it again. He also showed me how to use a “bow-and-arrow” cast to get through the limbs, brush and tight places. I got about 10 strikes but was too slow to react. No fish landed for the day.

Salvelinus also offers fishing in high mountain meadow spring creeks for wild brown trout. My second day, fishing with Zack, we drove about 30 minutes from the lodge up a winding road into the Pyrenees until the road ended. We then hiked about 200 yards to a small spring creek running through a meadow. The scenery was stunning with the green valley framed by the snow-capped Pyrenees. Just over the top of the mountains was France.

The spring creek was only 15 feet wide at its widest. I fished a 3-weight rod, 4-pound tippet and Chernobyl Ants. The technique was to slap the fly on the water along the edges of the grass banks with a “splat”. Most strikes came on the first cast. I caught and released nine or 10 brown trout in the six- to 12-inch range and missed many more.

While bad weather prevented me from trying the helicopter-assisted, high-mountain lake fishing for browns and brook trout, another angler and his non-fishing spouse did sample it while I was there. They said the scenery was truly spectacular and you could sight cast for larger browns and rainbows. Ivan said catching 20 to 30 browns from 18 to 24 inches and brookies from eight to 14 inches is not uncommon. The high mountain lakes require about a four-hour hike or a 10-minute ride by helicopter. The cost is 900 to 1,500 Euros for the helicopter, which can take up to three anglers who split the cost.

On my third day, Ivan and I fished the Aren River area for striped, brown and rainbow trout. This absolutely beautiful river is about 30 to 60 feet wide, with pools about four feet deep. I used an eight-foot 5-weight rod that Ivan loaned me, as my 10-foot 6-weight was too long for the limbs and trees overhanging the river. I got a few strikes but did not hook a fish. That afternoon, we tried several other rivers, all to no avail.

That evening we drove the short distance to Aren, where I was introduced to Juan Antonio Pascual Annella, the proprietor of both the Hotel and Restaurante Casa Domenc where we spent the night and dined extravagantly. This was my most memorable dining experience in Spain; words fail to describe how good it was.

On my fourth day, Zach and I went high-mountain stream fishing for brook trout, hiking an hour up into the mountains, which were beautiful with glacier-scarred sheer cliffs and rocky outcroppings, snow still on the shady side of the peaks and cattle grazing in the high-mountain meadows. We fished pocket pools with a 4-weight rod and Chernobyl Ants, Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Adams and various other dry flies in sizes 14 to 18. I caught and released six brookies from six to eight inches. On a good day in the high mountain streams, it is apparently not uncommon to catch and release 10 to 20 brookies a day.

On my last day, we drove about 20 minutes from the main lodge to another of the rivers in the valley. No action. Switching to the dry attractor fly with the nymph dropper, I landed two brownies around 10 inches.

Overall, I did not have what I would call successful fishing, but I have never fished with more knowledgeable, hard-working and enthusiastic guides than Ivan and Zach. Their knowledge of the water, fishing techniques, choice of flies, interest and effort were excellent, as were their facilities, equipment, transportation and food. Upon my return, I talked to two Angling Report subscribers, Jere Ferguson and Harde Swanepoel, who had fished Salvelinus. Both told me they had excellent fishing and plan to go back. That’s fishing!

The cost of this trip, if I had not been invited to fish FREE, is 500 Euros a day ($717 at this writing), minimum two days; and 333 Euros a day ($478) for a non-fishing companion. Salvelinus also offers a Seven Day Fishing Package for 3,300 Euros ($4,733), with non-fishing companions costing 2,200 Euros ($3,156).

Would I recommend this trip to a friend? To a European, absolutely. To someone who resides in the Western Hemisphere? Yes, but only if you are already going to Europe anyway and you want the unique experience of fishing there. If your only interest is the number and size of the fish, this is not your trip. There are closer destinations where the dollar goes farther and the fish are bigger and more plentiful. However, you would miss the haunting history and beauty of the Pyrenees, the magnificent architecture, culture, food, wine and the friendly and beautiful people of Spain.

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