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Longtime subscriber David Sandlin knows trout. David has made a name for himself as owner of some of Alaska’s finest lodges; including Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge. You can imagine it would take a real outstanding experience to impress a figure like David, and his recent trip with his wife to fish the Spanish Pyrenees Mountains for trout did just that. Here is what he had to say about their experience:
My wife, Cathy, and I bid on this trip, donated to the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust by Salvelinus Fly Fishing Adventures and Frontiers Travel, while we were attending the BTT Symposium in Ft. Lauderdale last November. I had never fished the Pyrenees, and Cathy had never visited Spain, so combining a week of fly fishing with an equal time touring seemed like a good idea, and it was.
The only available time for us was May, so we booked May 9. Salvelinus operates two lodges, one in the eastern foothills in the village of Arén and the other higher up in Santa Cilia. May is too early for the high country, but perfect in Arén.
We flew Atlanta to Barcelona, arriving early morning on May 10, and we spent the day touring the city. Of course, no visit would be complete without seeing Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, an architectural marvel. We then went to his home and also toured some other building designs. The view from the highest hill and the trips to the aquarium and the city market in the old historical area for tapas and beer made for a long but fascinating day.
After a restful night’s sleep, Salvelinus picked us up and we drove three hours into the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees to the medieval town of Arén. Here we met Ivan Tarin, owner/operator of Salvelinus, and his partner, Juan Antonio Allema, owner of the hotel/lodge and the local bar and restaurant that served as our home for the next seven days. The Arén Lodge has been in Juan Antonio’s family for over 300 years. Recently, the lodge was renovated with the added facilities of spa, sauna, massage room, wader area, fly shop, and a library/meeting room.
With Ivan, we walked around the charming village. It dates back to the 13th century and is well preserved in its original architecture of stone and tile. We traversed streets that looked just as they must have looked hundreds of years ago.
A magnificent dinner with fine wine and the company of fellow anglers from Jackson Hole made the welcome complete. We were shown pictures of some nice trout they had caught, including a monster 30-inch brown. I had no idea there were fish of that size in Spain. I’m getting excited.
On the first day, we fished with the guide Alberto. He holds a full-time job as a lawyer, but his true love is on the river. (I must interject here that Salvelinus furnishes Orvis waders, Sage rods, and a full assortment of hand-tied flies. We only needed to bring personal gear and a good wading jacket.) Alberto patiently worked the river with Cathy and me, but that first day we only caught a couple of smallish 12-inch browns.
The fishing is technically demanding; we worked both nymphs and streamers according to what the water called for. The hook is set at the very hint of a take. The river was clear and fast with medium-sized rocks and gravel. Wading was sometimes challenging, but safe with the sturdy shoulder of our guide available. The river itself is a tailwater, but the fish seemed to be evenly dispersed throughout the 20 or so miles we fished.
On the second day, I fished again with Alberto. Cathy hung back to visit the village and rejuvenate with a massage. Alberto and I worked hard and produced a couple of 23-inch browns, nothing really big, but late in the afternoon we looked down from a bridge into a large pool with several 30-inch-type browns and rainbows. Once again, I’m excited.
The third day, Ivan took us out, along with his apprentice guide, Terrence. The morning was unproductive. However, we had a grand lunch at a small village restaurant. The owner, Emile, served fantastic Paella. This is one of Ivan’s favorite places. Emile opens at five in the morning for coffee and breakfast and closes after lunch.
After a short drive, we arrived on a new section of the river. Immediately we could see several very large trout, probably rainbows, but could not get them to take. Then, about 6:30 p.m., we entered a split in the river. A huge brown took the streamer and the fight was on. Browns don’t usually jump, but this one gave a good accounting, and I thought it was well hooked. He won!
A few minutes later, another hard strike, and the battle resumed. I won! He was somewhat shy of 30 inches and weighed eight pounds, according to the net/scale. Now I’m fired up for tomorrow.
Ivan and I had lengthy discussions about trout feeding habits and our collective experiences around the world. Our conclusion was to fish first light. In the water by 6:00 a.m. This can be somewhat taxing, since the usual dinner hour in Spain is after 9:00 p.m., usually ending around midnight. An early dinner around 8:30 would preceed our next outing.
Weather was iffy for our fourth day, so we took the day to tour through the mountains, looking at streams that would be fished later in the season. As we rose higher in the mountains, it began snowing. A group of cross-country skiers passing in front of the car gave us a hint that we were too early.
The next morning, Ivan and I were on the river a little after six o’clock. The water was boiling with rising trout. Using a dropper rig, I hooked a nice brown, weighed him in at about eight-plus pounds, and then released him. After that, the fish disappeared. We worked up and down the river for the rest of the morning, but an early thunderstorm curtailed our day.
It was back to Arén, an excellent massage and cocktail hour with Juan Antonio. He makes a most excellent gin and tonic with Spanish gin, a unique tonic, and exotic aromatics. One could get accustomed to these. Cathy and I maybe should have had one less. Dinner was a full seven courses, all of which were unforgettable. We tried for an early to bed but 11 p.m. saw us just leaving the restaurant.
The last morning of fishing, Ivan and I were on the river before six. The big fish were there, but for the first few minutes, no takes. Then, high-sticking a nymph, a monster rainbow hit with a vengeance. This fish was well north of 30 inches and made several spectacular leaps all around me for 360 degrees. The hook set was solid, but this big hog just straightened the hook. What a show! These are the moments that make one come back. We caught other fish, but this one is burned in my memory.
The last night we had a special meal in the cellar to celebrate our adventure. Just as the folks from Jackson Hole had done with us a week earlier, we shared our experience with a new couple from England. They were fired up to begin their fishing adventure in the Pyrenees.
Cathy and I went on for the next week touring our way through great wineries with Sara Espuelas as our guide. She heads the touring part of Salvelinus. We visited ancient towns, vineyards and wineries across La Rioja, ate mind-blowing food, and finally arrived in San Sebastian on the Atlantic Coast, but this is a story for another time.
In summary, I would do this trip again in a heartbeat. The accommodations and food were superb, the hospitality unsurpassed.
Most of all, for the angler, it’s exciting. I had no idea we would encounter both rainbows and browns in excess of 30 inches and fat. The mere thought of trout that size has led me to all corners of the world. I will come back here.
For more info about Salvelinus Fly Fishing Adventures go to http://www.salvelinus.com/, call +34 696 164810, or email Ivan Tarin at [email protected]