Being an avid Huchen fisherman, it was only a matter of time before I would visit Rio Tormes in Spain. The river is known as the Danube salmon's only refuge outside of its natural range in the Alps. In the 1970ies Huchen were stocked in many countries, but only in the Rio Tormes, did they find a constant new home. The first fish were stocked there in 1968 and reproduced for the first time in 1972. I was wondering what the Spanish Huchen habitat would look like.
When I got there the second weekend of April this year, it was far too warm. With 26°C the temperature was more than 10°C warmer than usually and there hadn`t been any normal rain for more than a year. I stayed in Alba de Tormes, the only larger town closer to the fishery. It remembered me of my childhood times when everything was quiet and peaceful. I did not spot any large supermarkets or malls, no fast food restaurants, and even gas stations were difficult to find. I recognized no huge tractors and no intense agricultural use of the land, too. Every second village is named after a saint and the Christian character of this area was omnipresent. Probably because of the still very natural environment, Rio Tormes hosts one of Europe"s most endangered fish species, the Huchen. But the Rio Tormes is not only known for its Huchen, but above all for its large endemic brown trout, which are preferably fished there with dry flies. And they grow huge there, some up to 7 kg!
A Tailwater Fishery in the Heart of Salamanca
The Rio Tormes is located in the province of Salamanca, inland about a 2 hours drive from Madrid. It is a hilly, rural area, that gets very hot in summer. The fact that brown trout and Huchen can live there at all is thanks to a 15 km long reservoir that is fed by snow from the mountains visible in the distance. Rio Tormes is therefore a tailwater fishery. This means that the water temperature below the reservoir is usually between 8 degrees in spring and a maximum of 12 to 14 degrees in summer, i.e. ideal conditions for salmonids. The stretches of interest for fishing are between the dam and the village of Villagonzalo.
So there is plenty of water with a perfect temperature that hosts the largest of all trout in Spain. They are all endemic browns and even the large ones can be caught on dry flies. This is thanks to a habitat that does not change much and is stable for a long time of the year. There is no change in the water level during the day. The river is easily wadeable and can be crossed at many places. Due to irrigation, the water level is higher in summer. Like most tailwaters, the Rio Tormes is perfect for dry fly fishers but you can also fish a nymph or a streamer. Some parts are even open for spin fishing and large parts are protected by a catch and release management. The Huchen refuge is closed for Huchen fishing most time of the year.
Rio Tormes is divided into different fisheries also called "Cotos". The first Coto starts below the huge dam. It is called "El Corrón" which means "gush". As it starts below the dam the water can be quite cold in the beginning of the season and the fish will go for the dries a little bit later than in the beats below. El Chorrón has the second-highest density of trout of all the Tormes fisheries. The coto below is called "Galisancho". It has the highest trout density and especially the part below the tributary that comes from a fish farm holds enormous browns. This is the fishery most anglers try to get a license for. The Alba de Tormes fishery follows below. This stretch is slow-flowing, wide and uninteresting in terms of salmonids. There are also carp and pike that live there. Pikes are considered as an invasive species in Spain and have no closed season and no closed range. Further below there are the fisheries Villagonzalo 1, which is probably the third best in terms of trout, and Villagonzalo 2 - the Huchen refuge. Between the well-known cotos that can only be fished with a license, there are some cotos that do not require a license at all and where the public can fish and events may take place.
Mass Hatches of Insects
The Rio Tormes is known for mass hatches of insects. The best time to take advantage of these hatches is between mid-May and early to mid-June. At this time, really big brown trout can be caught with dry flies. They haven`t seen that many flies of anglers and are less spooky. The longer they are fished the easier they are chased away. Later in the season, the vegetation in the river increases more and more. While it is then possible to hook large trout in the gullies between Flooding Buttercup fields, landing them is difficult as they quickly flee into the weed fields and break the line.
Elevated water level, proliferating aquatic plants, and selective fish
In the summer, a lot of water is released for irrigation, making it impossible to reach some good spots. In addition, the fish then also become very selective. It is then practically impossible to land a large brown trout with the usual leader thicknesses of 0.12 - 0.14 mm there in summer. The problem with the weeds gets even more serious. The big trout feed between weed vanes and if you hook them they run right towards good cover. So most fish are lost in the weeds. However, the fishing can be spectacular and the hatches are plentiful.
A Slightly Different Huchen Habitat
In the Alps, the Huchen lives in large pre-Alpine rivers, some of which are bordered by steep rock faces and often flow through gorges. The habitat of the huchen on the Rio Tormes is completely different. The river meanders slowly through fields of buttercups, is sometimes barely one to one and a half meters deep, and also alternates with slightly deeper places. While the huchen used to be found in various areas of the Rio Tormes, its occurrence is now limited to Villagonzalos 2, partly because the huchen would exert significant feeding pressure on the endemic brown trout. Nevertheless, I was able to spot about ten different huchen by flying a drone over parts of it. The population density thus seems to be quite high.
Up until a few years ago, the density of huchen was much higher. However, agriculture and associated changes in water levels have caused the population to plummet. While the huchen used to be so numerous that it was considered a worthless companion fish, similar to bream (according to local anglers), the remaining huchen are coveted targets for anglers. Hucho spawn at Tormes in February/March. Hucho fishing season is short. It can only be fished here from mid-May to July, after which it is over. The coveted tickets can only be obtained through a lottery. This takes place in September each year. Only those lucky enough will be allowed to fish for them in the Rio Tormes in the following year.
If you intend to fish Rio Tormes for the first time, you should do so with a guide. The guide knows the good spots and instructs the client on how to approach and cast fish. He also knows the promising local fly patterns. As a rule, only slowly wading upstream is fished in order to approach the rising fish as unobtrusively as possible. It is only through the guide and the associated hotels that it is possible to obtain the coveted licenses. These hotels buy licenses, which they then use to do business with customers. It should be noted that the few authorized accommodation providers do not necessarily have licenses for all areas, but only for certain ones. So it's not possible to go to the Tormes, book accommodation through Booking.com and think you can fish there. Not even close! It is necessary to secure a license in the year before. The Rio Tormes is a coveted water because it is home to the largest trout in the country.