Ramon, our Salvelinus fishing guide, quietly slips into the water. He watches as numerous rise forms start to appear upstream of our position and motions for us to join him. Like Ramon we move slowly in our approach until he signals us to stop. “Ants”, he says and then he excitedly goes off about how big they are in his broken English. One quick look and we see what he sees, large black winged ants are covering the water and us. If these things could sting we would be in deep trouble
Winged flying ants are nothing new to us, we have encountered ant falls on trout rivers and lakes throughout many seasons generally in the fall of the year. One thing for sure, they always bring trout to the surface and today this small tail water fishery in Spain is not going to be an exception. Heads are everywhere, it’s like a feeding frenzy at a fish hatchery. From experience we know that this will not last long so we need to quickly take advantage of it. Flying ants vary in sizes from small 20 and 22s to huge – like the size 10 insects in front of us. Black, red, and cinnamon are the most common colors. Ants are social insects who live in colonies and are ruled by wingless queens. Winged ants will appear in reproductive form and leave the colony to mate, this frenzy will often attract ants from nearby colonies and you can end up with thousands of flying insects of which many which will fall on the water available to hungry trout.
This mating phenomenon may last only an hour for a day or two so it takes a little luck to encounter a winged ant fall. If you’re lucky, you will have a winged imitation in your box because the trout key in on the wing and can get quite fussy about it. It might be the reflection of the wing or the silhouette, or perhaps both, but the bottom line is you’ll catch more fish with a winged pattern.
Cathy’s wasting no time and already has a size 10 black super beetle tied on her 4X RIO tapered leader. I look at the beetle and she replies that it’s the closest thing she has to a winged ant, it’s black, has legs and a hi viz wing. She thinks it will work. Three casts later and her new Sage Mod is bent in half as a hefty rainbow goes airborne and heads for the far bank. Minutes later Ramon eases his net under the energetic rainbow. An hour later and the ants are gone but for a short time we had some unbelievable fishing to rising trout
Ivan Tarin is the manager and head guide at Salvelinus and runs his program from Hotel Casa Domenc in the tiny village of Aren, in the foothills of the Pyrenees and almost on the border with France. Over breakfast Ivan gives guide assignments to our Frontiers clients and informs everyone on which river or tail water that they will fish today. Our favorites are always the many spring creek-like tail waters, which offer dependable insect hatches and healthy good size trout. We rotate guides on a daily basis within our group and today we get to fish with Ivan on a small local tail water.
Our day starts with Ivan trying our new Sage MOD – he’s been salivating over the rod since we arrived. Hours later Ivan is still casting away and going on about how much he likes the MOD, but we all remain fishless. The water temperature is perfect, water level is spot on and there are a number of small caddis hatching but our casts go unanswered. Ivan tries nymphs and Cathy prospects with the streamer to no avail. Over lunch Ivan says he is optimistic about the afternoon, we think hope springs eternal, but don’t voice it
By two o’clock we question Ivan’s optimism and then we see a bent rod and his smiling face. “Fish on”, we hear and shortly later he lands a nice brown about sixteen inches. Cathy follows with a smaller fish and I think it’s going to happen. No dice. We continue to fish until nearly dark and finally give in. It’s back to dinner. There’s always tomorrow. It’s still been a great day.
Our friend and guest, Art Rorex, gets to fish with Ivan and they return to the same water that we fished yesterday. I think this might be a bad choice with the slow fishing that we had, but I am not going to question the guide. Cathy and I head to another tail water with our guide, Alberto, who is totally buzzed about how great our day is going to be. Sure enough we have a nice hatch, rising trout and perfect weather. Our biggest fish just exceeds twenty inches. What more could we ask for? That evening I am almost afraid to ask Art how his day went with Ivan, the last thing a trip host wants to hear is a negative report from a guest. But when I ask he smiles and holds up his his small Nikon point-and-shoot camera. I stare at an beautiful brown trout that looks to be about five pounds. Art is all smiles and says. “It gets better”, and up comes a nine pound brown, weighed and measured. In the background I see one of the pools that we fished yesterday, a pool that didn’t produce anything for us. I sigh. What a difference a day makes.
We are back with Ramon and headed to a much larger tail water that often in the fall holds some big browns that migrate upstream from a lake. We string up our fly rods and opt for 250 grain RIO sink tip lines. Ramon searches through Cathy’s fly box and chooses a large size 4, black Super Bugger. I plan to follow with a white leech. It’s cast and strip and move on. We search every likely looking piece of water mixing up retrieve speeds with no response.
Ramon is about to pull us out and go to plan B, which is a small freestone stream when Cathy hooks up. He gets a good look at the fish as it rolls on the surface and turns to me showing with the spread of his hands and by his expression that this is a monster. The fight continues down stream for about ten minutes and just as Ramon gets into position to net the big fish the line goes slack, the fish is gone. Angler and guide look at each other in disbelief and it’s a quiet walk back to the car. No one is saying anything so I have to ask, “How big do you think that fish was?” Cathy answers first, “It was a brown and I never really felt that I had control of that fish”. Ramon who looks totally dejected says, “At least ten pounds, but I think bigger.” Tomorrow is another day and another plan. Whatever happens it’s great to be here in the Pyrenees with Ivan and these exceptional guides. Not all of the fish are big, we catch a lot of small fish too, but the Pyrenees offers so much variety that a big fish is always in the back of our mind. Oh well, there is always next year.