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"The Real Spanish Fly" - Ringing the Bells!

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An Asturias salmon from the last of the golden years at the end of the 90´s from the Narcea river in Spain An Asturias salmon from the last of the golden years at the end of the 90´s from the Narcea river in Spain

We are pleased to welcome a new columnist to Fish&Fly. Jose H. Weigand is a guide and fishing TV presenter in his native Spain and will be writing a series of articles titled "The Real Spanish Fly".

Text and photographs: Jose H. Weigand

It is a dark and rainy morning, mid march, back in the 50's. Several fishermen are on the bank of the river waiting for their turn to cast in a pool where several salmon had been seen during the previous week. Half an hour for every fisherman, depending on the number they have taken from a cap full of small pieces of paper. This is the daily draw for the free pools. Close to midday, the bells of the nearest church are ringing. Time for prayer? No, first salmon of the season has been caught. Campana is the spanish word to bell, and “campanu”, a local modism for campana, is the name for the first salmon caught. Everybody knows the season is now open.

Back now in our days, things has changed. No more bells for the salmon, mobile telephones are used to send messages and photos of the first Atlantic salmon caught every season. Only the first salmon of every river is allowed to be sold in a public auction, and here in Asturias it’s a regional event broadcast on TV. Most foreign anglers do not know that the northern rivers in Spain are the southern distribution limit for Atlantic salmon in Europe. More than 2.000 salmon are caught every season with the highest numbers in the Asturian rivers Narcea and Sella. Back in the good times, these 2.000 were caught in just one river. The Spanish record is from 1962, with a fish of 16.100 kg (35.5lbs).

Jose Weingard with salmonThe rivers are divided into free and private pools (regulated by the provincial administration) taken months before by a draw. Many of these rivers have some nice pools for fly fishermen but 95% of the salmon are fished with bait and spoons and killed. This is the last drama for a fish which populations are going down quickly. There is a real salmon crisis in Spain. If this tendency continues, maybe in 20 years the Atlantic salmon will be history.

Local administration should adopt new protective laws, restricting fishing and killing a fish caught before spawning, and even more, closing fishing for some years. On the other side the attitude of many of the riverside fishermen has to change for new laws to be successful. One of the last decisions restricting the total catch per fisherman to 8 salmon per season was a much talked-about event. Traditional riverside fishermen want to fish every day with no limit in catches, “the river puts the limit” is a common phrase used for those who don’t care for salmon as a species but as a target. Even tough commercialization has been prohibited several years ago; there is a black economy around salmon.

As fishing editor for the main fishing & hunting TV channel in Spain for more than 12 years I have made dozens of interviews with scientists, travelled to some of the best Atlantic salmon rivers in the world and checked how conservation laws work. Why can’t we do the same in our rivers? Political fear is the answer. Restrictive laws lose votes. At last however, the Asturias administration has adopted some new laws restricting the season in two months, creating new reserves for salmon, reducing the total catch for fisherman to only 3 salmon per season, and some others in what is considered the last step before  total salmon fishing prohibition.

This past September 22nd, Mr. Orri Vigfusson of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund has been with us on a TV special program called “Atlantic salmon crisis” in which he will share with us his long experience and suggest some important points to adopt. As he told me in one of our last conversations, “maybe this is the last opportunity for Spanish salmon….”

I would have loved to begin this column talking about Spanish fishing wonders, which there certainly are, but reality about an epic fish like the Atlantic salmon should be known in other countries. Today, I’m just back from Peter Power’s Atlantic Salmon Reserve in Kola, just the opposite side of this sad story, a perfect example of what we have to do, just let nature be.

Should the bells ring again celebrating the annual salmon run in spanish rivers or just announcing a funeral? Only time will tell.

Jose Weigand

Jose H. Weigand is Fishing editor at Caza y Pesca TV (http://www.canalcazaypesca.es) for the last 12 years, the main private fishing & hunting TV channel in Spain.
Fishing targets: all; from salmon to bluefish, trout to peacock bass, bonefish to seatrout
Countries visited for fishing: 31
For custom fishing trips to Spain you can contact Jose at:


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