Monday, April 20, 2009
An unforgettable week on an unforgettable river, the whole valley home, or stopping off place, for an incredible variety of wildlife; Hoopoe, Bee eaters, Montague Harrier, Storks. Purple Heron, Two types of Egret and Swallow, Scops Owl and much more have been performing in the skies or providing a backing track to our fishing. Two species of Snake and Lizard plus Ibex and Lynx in the surrounding mountains share the bank, and then there is the river and its inhabitants. Fine weather and the holding back of cold snow melt at the barrages has instigated fish to feed, peaking when the river has been at its lowest.
Outside our hundred-year-old riverside apartments tucked below the castle walls, the river is fifty to sixty yards wide. A huge backwater where boats are moored provide some comfortable bank fishing. The river varies in depth from six feet to forty feet. On one stretch a few miles upstream where the river is forced through a narrow gorge it is reputed to be approaching a hundred feet deep.
It has a very fishy greenish tinge and once the snowmelt has passed is a good deal warmer than any river in the UK; the high summer temperatures rendering it unsuitable for any population of Salmonids throughout much of it’s length. It is world famous for its population of Wels Catfish; behind the dams at Mequinenza, Caspe and Riba Roja, and further down in the Delta they grow to over two hundred pounds and attract a huge amount of angling interest. Here in Mora a hundred and fifty pound fish is exceptional. The river did not hold a population of Wels Catfish until thirty or forty years ago when they were introduced by German anglers. As a non-native species they are supposed to be killed upon capture, but few are not returned. Pre conceived ideas about these creatures, borne out of previous captures that suggested a primitive animal that chugs around the riverbed, feeding nocturnally on anything that crosses their path, go out of the window on this river. These animals are intelligent, adaptable and opportunistic. From our apartment we have seen them feed on the surface at lunch time, cross the river with their dorsal fins out of the water and charge into reed beds to take ducks settling down for the night. They are one of the few fish that are able to swim backwards when hooked and can be quite choosy about what bait they are likely to take; in evolutionary terms the Cats in this river are only two stages away from sprouting legs and walking out of the water. This week we have caught four: three of around thirty pounds, and one of a hundred and eight pounds, all tempted on strips of Squid and Octopus.
There is some concern that this burgeoning population of Catfish may be having an adverse affect on the native population of Common Carp. These run to sixty pounds, the larger fish again cropping up in the more famous waters behind the barrages. The fish that we have caught this week to just shy of twenty pounds have been in superb condition. Carp living in a river are twice as fit and strong as their lake bound cousins in fitness terms as Sally Gunnel is to Dawn French, and are a superb test of angler and tackle. The stretch that we have fished is heaving with Carp. A greater threat to their numbers than the Wels Catfish are the large numbers of Eastern European workers who are accustomed to killing and eating Carp. Fishing with rods and hand lines with six or seven baited hooks, they are chased up and down the river by the armed River Authorities. We have seen many fish killed of all sizes stowed in the bushes this week, and have been offered money on several occasions for fish that we have caught and are about to return. It is a cultural problem that needs to be addressed if the Fishing on some stretches of this river is to stay as good as it currently is in years to come. Surveys have shown that there is a dearth of smaller Carp in some reaches, their low numbers blamed on the burgeoning number of catfish, the number of smaller fish falling to hand lines and pennel rigs must also be a contributing factor as must the possibility of large flushes of snowmelt washing away eggs during spawning time.
The river is inaccessible to the bank angler for considerable stretches, it would be interesting to see what fish surveys throw up in these wilder stretches, but how you go about electro fishing a river forty foot deep and fifty yards wide is beyond me. The view of the man who walks the bank and floats his boat most days of the year seems to be that there is not too much to be concerned about. There are areas void of smaller fish, and there is evidence of Cats adapting to other food sources. Imbalances are certainly inflicted by man pouring pellets into areas fished by the professional guide, and over harvesting by Eastern European workers. One mid river stretch has been tainted by Mercury from an industrial spillage and like many rivers it seems to be in desperate need of an affective management plan, although the sheer scale and productivity of the river would suggest that it is a reasonably robust environment that would cope with most that man can throw at it.
There are also large numbers of Barbel, Chub and Roach along with Ablet and Bleak that are relatively untouched and unfished for. It has been a unique and memorable fishing experience and one, which we hope to repeat in the coming years.