Poor Man's Bones
Spanish angling writer and tv host Jose Weigand is riding the crest of a recent wave in fly fishing joining many others chasing formerly less glamorous species such as carp and now barbel too.
It’s still two hours until I finish my job at the office. A small backpack waiting below my desk with a cordura tube strapped to it reminds me this is my first bonefishing day this season, and I’m really close from the flats, less than an hour from Madrid…
No, I’m not crazy; I’m talking about poor man’s bonefish; our very own barbel and carp! I remember the first article I read about poor man’s bonefish in the US, praising carp on the fly. Then some others appeared with titles like “Talking trash”. Most of them presented carp and barbel like second or third category fish but a fun and cheap alternative to the highest category of the members of the salmonidae family. More recently “poor man’s bonefish” has been used to refer to the cyprinidae family species. The low cost of fishing for them compared to the real bonefish in the Caribbean, their adaptation to live in polluted waters and abundance were their principle issues. With the passing of the years this has changed. Now there is a legion of “trash” fly fishers in many countries with high numbers in Spain where there are three carp species and six barbel species well distributed through the territory. Videos with “fly fishing stars”, webpages, blogs, and articles now acclaim this new frontier in warm water fishing.
With the general decrease of the wild brown trout populations and the increase of stocked rainbow and browns, many fishermen are looking for some other natural possibilities and barbel and carp appeared as first targets.
Let’s think about their advantages. They grow big; in Spain for example carp have been caught up to 17 kilos and barbel more than 8 kilos on flies! This fishing is challenging, a stalking approach like with bonefish or permit fishing at least in the reservoir flats, a reflection of the reel, a broken branch or stumble with a stone and the fish are gone. Due to their excellent vision you need accurate casting exactly like bones and permit, placing the fly in the exact place, not too close because of their shy behaviour or too far in a failed cast.
Finally, fighting barbel and carp is fun. They get into the backing in seconds and big ones put your tackle to the test. In most situations a 5 weight rod will do the job with fish up to 3 kilos, but a better option is a 7 or 8 weight if you hunt big game. Floating lines are the norm but in the last years some fisherman are fishing with fast sinking lines in waters up to ten meters in places where carp fishermen throw their baits, including boilies, corn or some other seeds, using a boat or even better a belly boat. Nymphs, crawfish, baitfish and dry flies should be in the box for every situation. With the illegal introduction of prey fish like shad by unthinking fishermen, barbel and carp have changed their feeding habits just as they did with the American crawfish introduced by the Spanish administration in the sixties. During spring groups of barbel hunt baitfish like tuna after sardines. In this situation a streamer with similar colours will do the job, even a bass bug will provoke an attack. The massive hatches of flying ants after summer and autumn rains are the quintessence of dry fly fishing, with hundreds of fish taking ants on the surface.
Can any “second class” fish offer more? I don’t think so. So give a chance to the poor man’s bones, you will be surprised.
Text and photographs: Jose H. Weigand