The Pool

Next pool Alejandro would say when it was time to move up river to the next likely holding spot of a wild zebra troot. And so went the hours spent among the grandeur that is the Spanish Pyrenees mountains… slowly walking upstream to the next pool, casting dry flies to wild fish.

My recent trip to Spain was a magical experience… one that I don’t think I will ever forget, but I wanted to write a more in-depth post to capture all of that magic. And perhaps if someone out there happens upon this post – they might be inspired to make their own trip to the next pool.


Tourista en Gran Via, Madrid.

The path to The Pool was quite a journey… and one that happened because I work at a fantastic company that allows me to travel around the world to meetup with colleagues a few times per year. Sometimes we travel to places were fishing in alpine streams isn’t an option ( oh hey Orlando Florida! ), but this trip’s destination was Madrid Spain.

I had never been to Spain before – outside of work trips, I have not traveled around Europe at all. So like any proper angler, once the destination was announced, I set to Google to see if there was any opportunities to pescar en Madrid. My initial searches didn’t yield much information about urban angling in the city, but I did stumble upon an outfitter in the mountains to the North that looked simply divine: Pyrenees Fly Fishing.

Fly Fishing in Spain is like a dream: we are in Spain on the sunny side of the Pyrenees. Surrounded by the best rivers, lakes and streams for fly fishing in Spain. These rivers and mountains constitute one of the most well protected natural paradises in the country.

Pyrenees Fly Fishing
Dreamy.

With a piqued interest in this dream – I began emailing with head guide and co-owner Ricardo to learn more about the fishing opportunities. As it turns out the time when I would be in Spain was when they start operations out of small town called Biescas and fish in high alpine streams for wild trout. Pyrenees Fly Fishing also manages the entire booking experience for guests – from transportation, to lodging, and of course the guided trips.

I had never booked an “all inclusive” trip like this before, so I was a bit nervous, and of course had dozens of questions. Ricardo was fantastic throughout the process and answered all of my queries in a timely manner. After getting approval from the crew at home, I was stoked to tell Ricardo that it was time to book it.


Biescas

Getting to Biescas starts with a train ride from either Barcelona or Madrid to Zaragoza. The first leg of the journey for me involved yours truly missing his first ever European train ride. Fortunately my minimal Spanish and a very friendly agent from Renfre was able to book me on the next train which was only one hour later.

Ricardo met me at the train station, and we were on our way to Biescas which is about 90 minutes to the north of Zaragoza. It was great to learn more about Ricardo and his operation, and hear about the fishing plans for the next few days. Ricardo also has experience as a climbing guide in the Pyrenees, so was able to give me a great tour on the way to our destination of all the major peaks.

First view of the Pyrenees

Biescas is a quaint little tourist town at the foot of the Pyrenees. My arrival in early June was still considered the “shoulder season” for the area. Gone were the crowds of winter sports fans, and the major rush of summer visitors had yet to arrive.

There were still a good number of tourists sitting outside the numerous bars enjoying tapas and drinks when I arrived, but many of the small buildings had their window covers up – the town was most definitely taking a siesta before summer.

After giving me a few tips on restaurants, and helping me get settled into my very nice apartment, Ricardo let me know that my guide Alejandro would be there to pick me up at 9am the next morning. Sleep did not come easy that night, I was just too excited to head up into the mountains and experience the dream.


Day One.

Alejandro was outside of the apartment waiting for me, well before 9am – it seems someone else was just as excited to get up to the river too. This was Alejandro’s first guide trip of the “high mountain” season, and being a true lover of all things outdoors, he was ready to get on the water too.

Before hoping into the car to head to the river, Alejandro offered me a variety of refreshments – and I had just enjoyed a cafe con leche and a croissant so I didn’t need anything, but really appreciated that touch.

A chair to sit in and put on waders and boots?! Feelin fancy.

After a lovely drive through a number of quaint villages, and up a river canyon, Alejandro fetched a key to let us drive up to an amazing alpine meadow. He set out a chair for me with my boots and waders, and got to setting up the tackle for the day. The grin on my face at this point was massive. I couldn’t believe I was actually in the Pyrenees mountains, and was about to go fishing.

After putting my waders on, I wandered over to the bridge we had just crossed and checked out the crystal clear alpine stream we were going to fish. Immediately I was able to see some nice large trout swimming around. The stoke level reached a new high.

We walked downstream from the car a little ways, and made our way to the first pool of the day. A 4# rod with a furled leader was equipped with a mayfly dry, and a perdigon dropper, and Alejandro encouraged me to walk slowly, and approach each pool with a bit of stealth. While the fishing was not on fire that morning, it didn’t take long for my first zebra trout to come to hand.

It was quite obvious to me that my dry-fly casting was a bit rusty. I primarily nymph and streamer fish so delicate targeted presentations on a small clear stream took some re-adjusting to get used to. But eventually I tidied up my casting scene, and we worked our way up the stream until lunch.

The fishing was great, but really the location and views is what really took me to another place. I read somewhere once about the stages a fly angler progresses through. I believe there was 3 or 4 distinct phases that went something like:

  1. Actually catch a fish using a fly. Which is mind blowing when it first happens. It just seems unreal that a fish would eat a hook covered in feathers!?
  2. Catching LOTS of fish. Wanting to get out on the water as much as possible, and quantity, quantity, quantity! I distinctly recall this being a measure of success for me.
  3. Catching BIG fish. Around home for us that is chasing steelhead, or heading to the coast for salmon. I still enjoy the thrill of catching large fish, but it isn’t something that pulls at me nearly as much as it once did.
  4. Soul Fishing. Or Zen. But to me, this is about the place, the full experience. It is a zone. It is a plane above normal reality. It is hard to explain, but when you feel it, you will know it.

High in the Pyrenees that first day, it was quite obvious the place was a soul fishing shangri la for me. Indeed there were fish, at times many fish being caught, but the whole experience in those moments is what I will never forget. My soul was shining.

I was half way around the world from home, my guide and I didn’t speak a ton of a common verbal language, but we both were obviously passionate about the soul of fishing in a wonderful place. Pure bliss.

As if the experience had not been amazing enough yet, I was in for yet another treat when Alejandro prepared our lunch. Each morning the guides at Pyrenees Fly Fishing stop by one of the best restaurants in Biescas to pickup a gourmet 3-course authentic Spanish meal for lunch. Alex had me finish fishing a few more pools as he got things setup for the meal, and it was divine.

The first course was a mushroom rice dish, followed by a super tasty fish in a tomato and pepper sauce. Wine, beer, coke, water – drink options were abundant, and dessert – oh my. A slice of chocolate cake bliss with fresh cinnamon whip cream. I had been in Spain for 7 days at that point, and this was the best meal I’d had yet.

After lunch we headed to another nearby valley to fish a different river. This stream had some larger pools, which contained bigger zebra trout, which were much more active in the warmer afternoon sun. A hatch of a large mayfly that reminded me of Callibaetis was coming off, and the fishing was on fire.

I asked Alejandro what time we were headed back to Biescas, to which he replied “We fish as long as you want Mr. Timmy.”! I lasted till about 6PM and we headed back to town. Alejandro bid me a buenas noches, and said we were going to go hiking the next day to fish… which I thought things couldn’t get better from the first day – but hiking and fishing is my jam.


Day Two

Dark skies filled the western sky as we drove away from Biescas on day two. Alejandro mentioned there might be a bit of rain that day, but the lightning bolts dancing around the clouds were a bit of a surprise to both of us. Much like here in Oregon, Alex said thunderstorms were rare so early in the day.

As we turned North into the mountains again, the storm loomed directly ahead, and right over our destination. Large rain drops began to pelt the car, as we turned off the road right before the border crossing with France. I was hopeful the storm would pass, and the river would be unaffected – regardless I was excited to just go experience the hike!

Fortunately as we finished our drive up to the trailhead, the skies began to clear, and blue dominated the sky to the West. It appeared the soul fishing gods had smiled upon us for the day.

The goal for the day was to hike alongside yet another crystal clear alpine stream in pursuit of Fontinalis – brook trout – that were abundant in the river. Alejandro informed me he had hooked a 50cm brookie there the summer before, so that information made me hike a bit more briskly into the alpine.

Yes please.

On the hike in, I bent down to pickup some trash on the trail. Alejandro patted me on the back and said “Thank You” for my small act. The shared passion for the outdoors and conservation was a strong bond between the two of us, and I found it quite awesome and reassuring that a kindred spirit on the other side of the world cared deeply for his amazing wild places.

Before we hiked down to the stream to begin fishing for the day, Alejandro pointed out some wildlife across the canyon from us. Being an avid hunter and gatherer, he was always showing me the animals and plants of the area – which I really enjoyed.

The stream for the day was deeper in a small canyon with towering peaks above. Many gentle runs, and deep splash pools at the base of waterfalls all provided great habitat for brookies. Before long we were getting into fish once again.

Found fontinalis!

While we were indeed catching fish, Alejandro mentioned that the fishing was a bit slower than normal for that water. Perhaps it was the storm that had bumped the stream up a bit, or that the water was still quite cool – either way the fish made us really earn it during the morning session. And at times we also had to earn access to certain pools with some fun scrambling.

The obvious ascent gully.

Once again a permanent grin was on my face this day. This was not only soul fishing again, it had a lovely adventure twist to it. A hike into elevation, narrowly missing an intense thunderstorm, and scrambling between waterfalls to fish water that sees very little angling pressure… It simply does not get better than that.

Due to the long hike in on this day, lunch was a bit more normal to what I’m used to on the river – sandwiches! The added bonus here was it meant our meal didn’t take as long to prepare, and we got back to fishing pretty quickly. The higher we ascended into the glacial valley, the better the fishing got.

Above 2,000 meters, a magical fishy cirque

We “topped out” for the day in an amazing cirque ringed by peaks near or over 3,000 meters high. Eager brook trout were rising to almost every cast, numerous fish were caught in each run. I asked Alejandro to snap some photos of me fishing in this spot, because I didn’t want to forget the feeling. On my first cast with him taking shots, I caught a fish. My soul was full, and I just sat back and soaked it in.

While I wish I could have camped in this magical spot and fished for days, but it was getting late and we still had about an hour hike back to the car. While walking back, I stopped to take a photo of the amazing view, and Alejandro took his phone out to “make a picture” too. I smiled knowing that he too was in awe of the beauty, and delighted with the day we had just spent high in the Pyrenees.


Last Day

When scheduling my holiday with Ricardo, I opted to squeeze in one final half day of fishing prior to being dropped off at the train station in Zaragoza. I second guessed this choice because I probably could have made it home in one day without spending a night in Madrid prior to my flight if I opted not to fish. But, as soon as we arrive at the final fishing destination, I knew that extra half day was a grand idea.

The river on the final day was nestled in the valley on the other side of the mountains we had been near the day before. But on this day, we were back to pursuing the more elusive zebra and brown trout, in some waters that do get fished a bit more frequently.

When we arrived at the first pool, Alejandro reminded me to be a bit more stealthy than the day before, and before long we were landing fish again. This river had some of the most amazing pools I had experienced on the trip, and I hooked into the largest fish of the trip too. Two of the bigger fish broke off, but I was able to land one amazing fish that was my largest for the trip.

Grande Zebra

As the hours flew by, we began to be more selective with the water we were targeting, and only were fishing the best pools. At that point again I was just amazed to be there, be in the moment, living the experience. Catching fish was just an added bonus.

Finally Alejandro said this would be our “last pool” because I had a train to catch after all. When we got back to the car, and while I was taking more photos, Alejandro was prepping my favorite meal I had while in Spain – pig cheek. Mind and taste buds blown, once again.

Another final delightful desert, and some coffee, and it was time to being my long journey back home. As if the full stomach and elated soul were not enough, Alejandro let me pick out six flies to take home with me. Not sure if this is a standard part of the program, or a thank you to me for not snapping off dozens of flies – either way it was such a nice touch and a great souvenir.

πŸ”ˆon! experience the chill.

The Road Home

Gracias para todos! I said for probably the 100th time to Alejandro when he dropped me off in Zaragoza. Regardless of the language barrier, I’m not certain if I could have told him how much the prior few days had meant to me. The experience, the culture, the places, the fishing – it was all sublime.

Within a few hours I was back on the crowded streets of Madrid among throngs of tourists. Towering mountains had been replaced by buildings, and the hum of crickets transformed into the madness of city sounds. I stood there and touched the fly that was stuck in the bill of my hat that had fooled many a brook trout the day before and smiled. Soul fishing is made that much more profound by the daily bustle of life, and in that moment I made a promise to myself to return again to the Pyrenees someday and fish with my new friends again… I know my soul needs it.


I wanted to thank my awesome wife Becky for encouraging me to do the trip. I was away from home almost 11 days during one of her more stressful times of the school year. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Also thank you to my employer, Automattic, for allowing me opportunities to experience cultures of the world through my amazing colleagues, and through trips like this.