It’s late July 2013, and several friends and I have arrived in Mora La Nova, Catalonia, Spain. After a first flight for our then 18 month old daughter, we’re greeted by David White at the airport, owner of the villa we are staying in, and all round nice guy. We’d arranged with David to collect us from the airport and take us to the villa, which I have to say was great and meant we could relax as soon as we stepped off the plane. It also gave us a good opportunity to chat to David about the local area and he gave us a great insight in its history along the short journey. David and his wife Jane own and run Finca Alessandra, a stunning villa right on the banks of the River Ebro in Mora La Nova.
We chose this villa for several reasons. Our group consisted of two ‘hard core’ anglers and their wives, and three others who wanted to visit and see the local history, and relax by the pool, and of course our daughter Olivia. With a wide variety of interests within the group we needed somewhere that offered something for everyone, along with being safe for the little one, Finca Alessandra fitted the bill perfectly. For me personally I wanted to fish the river as much as possible, but at the same time I didn’t want to be too far away from my family and friends. With the fishing literally from the villa jetty, this was perfect!
Upon arrival we went out onto the balcony overlooking the river, and I have to say as an angler it was breath-taking.
It looked like a ‘proper’ river, wild, powerful and full of character. Peering over the balcony my heart stopped as we spotted carp cruising up the margins right underneath us. The balcony is some height above the waters surface, however in the crystal clear water the fish were easy to spot. Large catfish glided slowly up the river in the flow, very elegant for such large creatures. Often they were followed a few meters behind by carp, some of which we saw straight away looked huge! We couldn’t wait a minute longer and baited up a couple of spots we’d seen fish, and a couple of spots David had pointed out to us. We fished for a couple of hours, but being honest time was limited, and we retired for the evening and relaxed with a beer by the barbecue, excitedly chatting about the coming days adventures.
Up early the following morning and with only mild hangovers, we spent ten minutes on the balcony spotting fish. Again we could clearly see fish feeding, this time someway out in the river, just beyond a large weed bed. The cats gave themselves away easily as they turned on their sides to feed on our bait, flashing their green and silver colours along their flanks. It truly was magical to see. We baited up heavily again with halibut pellets, a firm catfish favourite, and a bait carp will also take. Though we went aiming for cats, we also put two carp rods out to see what we could tempt, and I also took the opportunity to take along a bait which was under test at the time for us to try at some point.
It wasnt long before we started to get amongst a few fish, Dom here with a battle on his hands with one of the first ones we caught. Interestingly we couldn’t tempt the carp to feed on the pellets at all, and wondered if our heavy baiting had drawn too many cats into the area for the carp to feed comfortably. It was a bit of a mystery as we were still seeing carp swimming through the weed close to the margins. It was time to get the test bait out. Like I have said, this trip was really all about the cats, but I’m not one to pass up on an oportunity to do some bait testing, and learn as much as possible about its performance and capabilities. So we baited up with a few boilies over two spots, one to the left past some weed but still fairly close in, and another off to our right under an overhanging tree.
By now we we’re catching cats consistently, so we decided as the day drew to a close and the barbecue beckoned, to continue the heavy baiting strategy for the cats, and scattered a few more boilies on the two margin spots for the now some what elusive carp.
It’s now mid way through our stay, we’re catching plenty of cats, and we’ve got it cracked, or so we thought. The cats just stopped coming. It was strange, we could see them from the balcony, roughly in the same areas, maybe a little further out in the flow, but we are not getting any bites. What was very evident, was the height of the river, it was some 2ft higher than we had seen previously. The Ebro has several dams further up river from our location, and they essentially control a massive percentage of the rivers flow. When shut the river drops dramatically, when open it rises with a spectacular amount of power pushing through. This was obviously effecting the fish, and where and how they were feeding. We stuck to our guns, and stuck to both baiting strategies, heavy with pellets out in the flow past the weed for the cats, and our two marginal spots with boilies for the carp.
The cats became difficult to hook, they seemed off the feed, and holding bottom in the powerful flow was tricky with the leads we had. We had a ledge just past the weed that we could cast a lead out into the flow and let roll back up to, which would hold it in the area we needed to be in, but still the cats we’re quiet. The carp however had found our bait in the margins and we had a quick hit of a few carp up to 28lb (at the time a villa record for a brief period) before the bait ran out and we couldn’t get them to take anything else! That’s the problem with test baits, you can’t buy more in the middle of rural Spain if you don’t take enough with you! Lesson learnt!!
We didn’t manage to get a good picture of the biggest carp as it was just on dusk, and with only our phones at the time it made taking decent images difficult.
The following day we decided a change of tactic was in order to get us back amongst the cats. We didn’t have any more of the test bait left, so all our efforts would be focused on the big cats we could see, but were struggling to hook into. We knew the heavy baiting was drawing the cats in and holding them, but not close enough, and we were struggling with the heavy flow out in the main body of the river.
We came up with a couple of cunning tactics. Firstly we went into Mora La Nova to get some heavier leads, however this proved difficult and we could only get 3oz straight leads. That will have to do, we’ll have six please. We tied the leads together in odd shapes using 80lb braid to form gripping points to help us hold bottom. Then we came up with a plan to use a trick that often pulled fish out of the bag in tough times in the UK, and that is to make a paste up out of the pellets. The theory was the paste would continue to hold the cats in our area, but would dramatically reduce the amount of actual food available they could eat. Effectively our baits would be sat in a soup of halibut pellet paste! The plan sounded flawless, so we set to it. We threw large balls of paste over the same spots, way up river to account for the flow, and used 6 pellets on the hair all wrapped up in a huge ball of the paste.
To say this tactic worked would be an understatement, we began to hook cats ‘on the drop’, before the baits had even touched the river bed, the cats were on them. Maybe drawn in by the splash of the large bait hitting the water, and sent into some sort of feeding frenzy by the strong smell in the water from the paste, but seeming lack of edible items, our baits were being pounced upon!
The only problem with this was we were running out of paste fast. Now I doubt many people have made paste from 21mm pellets, but let me tell you it is hard work. We needed to use our grey matter again, and came up with a cunning plan to take some of the work out of creating the paste. We put a sack of the pellets on the gravel, and drove the car over it several times. This broke the pellets up enough for us to throw them in a big bucket with some water and start working them into a paste. With plenty of paste made up, and night drawing in, we called time on the fishing and had a good nights sleep, excited that again things were falling into place nicely.
Morning broke on our last full days fishing and the cats came thick and fast. I’m unsure of the final count but we were well into double figures of fish, probably nearer to twenty for the day averaging between 30-40lb. There are no huge cat’s in this section of the river, and a 100lb fish is a real prize, so we were more than happy with our captures. (more in future blogs on really big cats!)
On the last evening David and Jane had offered to take us to a festival in the streets of a local village. It involved masks, fireworks, small streets and music. It all sounded very interesting, so we tagged along. I have to say it was like nothing I have ever experienced before, it was crazy! There were wooden trunks filled with fireworks being dragged through the streets with people taking them out and firing them in the air. All the time hypnotic, drum based music pulsated through our bodies, adding hugely to the drama and atmosphere of the whole occasion. The sound was amazing as it ricocheted back and forth through the narrow streets.
It was lovely to be part of a local, traditional festival, it really did feel special. Something I’m sure would be difficult to pull of with such aplomb in the UK, such feeling and such raw, almost savage emotion and freedom to go wild. It was a fantastic feast for the senses!
As the night drew to a close we headed back to the villa and invited David and Jane over for a drink which they accepted. We all chewed the fat into the small hours and reflected on a really special adventure in many ways.
We will of course, be back.