Venture to Fuerteventura
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
If you’re anything like me, organising a family holiday is a tainted affair. No, not related to the stress of booking something to please all parties (practically impossible), or the world-ending drama of last minute mobile phone misplacement, the unbearable parting from Facebook or the inevitable pronouncement of boredom by the kids (despite the sweat and financial outlay). No. To me they are further complicated by an additional, compulsive, and selfish extra dimension; The need to find somewhere to fish whilst I’m there. Secretly, it’s the top criteria on my suitability checklist for any destination, much to the despair of my long suffering wife. Of course, being a flyfisherman potentially narrows the field even further, but as my biggest passion is saltwater flyfishing here in the UK, then proximity to more palatable family holiday destinations does present a little more flexibility.
I’ve been fortunate in the past to be able to chase down a wide range of tropical species in the Caribbean and Florida, but whilst going ‘DIY’ and incorporating such experiences into a family holiday certainly dramatically reduces the cost compared to bespoke angling excursions, exotic long-haul destinations are definitely not the cheapest option with a family in tow. For most Brits, it is destinations closer to home that form the mainstay of our annual two weeks in the sun and its fair to say the majority of fly fisherman travel to those places bereft of rods…and that’s a crying shame! Opportunities for fantastic sport abound across the Mediterranean and Canary Islands for those willing to invest a little time in research beforehand.
Most recently, I had an opportunity to grab a cheap break to Fuerteventura. One of the Canary Islands, Fuerteventura sits off the North West coast of Africa, and being only a 3.5hrs flight away, is a very popular and cost effective holiday destination for sun-seeking brits. The island lies in the Saharan sub-tropical desert belt. It’s hot, dry, and desolate for the most part. Born of volcanic activity, it’s arid and harsh landscape is composed of shattered lava-flows, ancient caldera, and monolithic, creeping sand dunes, scoured and clawed by relentless winds. Hardly evocative of prime fly fishing territory. But in contrast, the rich, deep waters surrounding the island are fertile indeed, and support a substantial marine food chain; good news for an exploring angler no matter what your discipline.
Going to the island was a fait accompli. It was cheap, it was close. So I set about looking at the available fishing. A little ferreting about online revealed that lure fishing on the island could be highly productive. Pelagic and resident predators like Albacore, Barracuda, Grouper and Needlefish all featured regularly in reports of shore catches, and though there were seasonal variations in species, the sport seemed fairly constant year round. What immediately caught my attention though was the mullet. I have a real obsession with catching mullet on the fly here. Our shoreline presents tremendous opportunities to engage with this ubiquitous and enigmatic fish, with all three species making highly viable targets for the observant fly fisherman. Fuerteventura, it seemed, had more than enough mullet to go at too. Apparently the shallow sandy bays teemed with feisty Golden Grey mullet, and the harbours regularly betrayed the enticing shadowy presence of huge flat-head mullet and Thicklips. That was more than enough information to seal the deal for me and ensure I had the luggage capacity for rods and reels, even if it came at the expense of underwear.
As with any new destination, the key to success is most often local knowledge. The angling forums bustle with discussions on holiday destinations, but Fuerteventura was largely conspicuous by it’s absence in the fly fishing threads. I did however recall an online conversation I’d had a couple of years back with Glen Pointon. The topic had actually been on Golden Grey mullet tactics for here in the UK, but I was sure I’d seen Glen talking about frustrating encounters on Fuerteventura, so I looked Glen up and dropped him a line. It paid off. Glen had been to the island several times since and had gone through the learning process the hard way, by trial and error, but had largely cracked it where the ‘GG’s’ were concerned.
In addition to Glen’s valuable insights, the next must (for any prospecting angler arriving on the island), was a trip to the tackle shop in Caleta De Fuste, fortuitously the town I was staying in. ‘Gone Fishing’ is an excellent shop, right on
the sea front and run by Aram, a man with his finger thoroughly on the pulse of the island’s piscatorial possibilities. He’s a mine of information to both locals and tourists alike, and whilst he’s no fly fisherman, he knows what’s feeding on what and where…critical knowledge. Aram explained that the bay out front was brimming with Golden Greys, and the rock marks off the cliffs were disgorging good barracuda, and ‘jacks’. Interestingly, a further chat a few days afterwards lead to him revealing that there were huge, and I mean huge, Thick Lipped mullet to be caught right in front of his shop…after dark. The opportunity didn’t present itself to me during my visit, but having seen the photos, I would thoroughly recommend giving it a shot, as the fish shoal in just a couple of feet of water on the flooding tide, an easy cast from the sand. Thick-lips aside though, my thoughts were on the Golden Greys.
Golden Grey mullet are not big as mullet go, generally topping out at 2-3lb in weight. But what they lack in size, they more than make up for in phenomenal speed and they are surprisingly aggressive, actively chasing dow
n shrimp and even fry, which form a regular part of their omnivorous diet. They will certainly readily take a fly, though are notoriously fast on the take, imbibing and rejecting a hook in a fraction of a second. Anyone planning on targeting Golden Greys needs to be of a patient and calm disposition, but the rewards are rich, for these fish will fight like bonefish and provide exquisite sport.
Glen admires a Caleta De Fuste Golden Grey!
As with all mullet fishing, the key is presenting the fly when they’re feeding. Fortunately with Golden Greys, their behaviour abroad mirrors that found around our own shores. Patient observation and a little exploratory wading will reveal fish moving in small shoals through the shallow sandy bays. The half light of early morning gives them confidence to move into calm water over clean sand, before the holiday bathers arrive. My go-to favourite fly for mullet in the UK by far is the Rays Mullet Fly aka the Mullet Bach, and this was my preferred option here too, but any grey shrimp pattern or even hares ear nymph, will attract attention.
The Rays Mullet Fly/Mullet Bach works in the UK and seems to know no boundaries
At this stage there’s something crucial about Fuerteventura that you need to know. I’ve mentioned it briefly already, but for the record…it’s windy. Really windy. Almost all of the time. In fact, if it was that windy in the UK on the shore, I’d generally be sticking the fly rods back in the car and heading home. But the difference here is that the wind has a prevalent direction which is generally North to South. It’ll vary of course, but that’s the prevailing direction, so down the long east and west coasts of the island its blowing along shore, and in the bays and on the headlands, it’s possible to position yourself to get the wind behind you, which makes casting much, much easier. Keep the backcast short and low, and shoot the line with a more upwards trajectory, letting the wind carry the line forward. A 6wt set up in these conditions is perfect and allows for excellent sport.
Wading here was fairly easy. In the summer months, the water temperature is perfect for wet wading but the smooth, exposed rock adjacent to the sand is extremely slippery due to a slick coating of algae, so care is needed. A good pair of trainers or wading shoes are advisable. If you can get studs on them, all the better.
So, armed with solid intel, my engagement with the mullet began and produced the numerous prerequisite near misses and lost fish which are routine for a mullet angler, before yielding a couple of pretty but unremarkable fish of about a pound. Good sport nonetheless. But I was beginning to fear my luck would not be allowed to develop. The wind was strengthening to proportions that were getting somewhat daft. Even the locals informed me that it was ‘particularly breezy’, and it was making spotting the fish incredibly hard. In the end, I made the decision to abandon my flyrod and head to the rocks with lures instead.
Now, before you stop reading, bear with me; this comes good in spades. Another chat with Aram revealed the most productive spots along the rocky shores, and a look at the map highlighted several options which just might suit a flyrod too from the perspective of the ever present blow, so early the following morning I chose to explore a rocky promontory just north of the town. A two minute walk from the car lead to a jagged outcrop, accessible but to be approached with care as it’s easy to turn an ankle and take a tumble here. The south facing side, wind behind, sloped steeply into a bay, with deep -blue, crystal clear water in front, fizzing white where the swell was shredded by the black basalt rock. Towards the end, the steep sides opened out and from the slightly elevated position I felt there was indeed room to back-cast, so reached for my trusty 6wt. I’d grabbed a few bass flies before I left home just in case, and heeding what Aram had said about green and white lures being a good colour, I picked out one of the trusty size 1 Olive & White DNA Baitfish Clousers I’d recently tied, my go-to bass fly at home.
Rolling the line out 25 yards put the fly into a clear area of rip where the current came around the rocks, and I began a fast retrieve, tracking the fly in the gin-clear sea. Strip, strip, strip etc…recast. Some movement in the roiling water caught my eye and I could clearly see some sizeable Garfish or Needlefish harrying something and I made a mental note to experiment with snake flies for them in future. Strip, strip, strip….recast. I was attracting a bit of an audience, with local anglers and passers by stopping to watch. Evidently a fly rod is not a common sight on the rocks here, as everyone else was chucking plugs or fishing bait on the local style rods, huge long poles. Strip, strip strip….etc. I drifted off a bit at that stage and recast. Strip, strip ,strWHAMMM! The utterly savage take was preceded by a nanosecond vision of a silver-blue blur rocketing out of the depths, before the flyline was ripped through my fingers at shocking speed.
A dawn chorus of singing clutch!
In just a few seconds the running fish was tearing backing off the reel against the clutch and my pulse was hammering. Thoughts of…’oh no…this has to be a ‘cuda – I’m going to get bitten off any second!’ flashed through my mind as the rod bucked and I tightened the razzing clutch further. The fish dived powerfully several times before running up and down perilously close to the sharp rocks in front of me. Eventually it yielded and I was amazed to see a stunning Palometa (also known as a Pompano or Trachinotus Ovatus) roll over under the rod. Palometa are a relative of the legendary Permit, and the resemblance in its appearance is obvious, as it seemed was its fighting prowess! It wasn’t a big fish in the scheme of things, about 3lb, but breathtakingly strong.
A powerful Palometa can’t resist the DNA clouser
It turns out that Aram’s mention of ‘jacks’ was referring to these powerhouse predators, mostly taken on shallow lures, and which turned out to have a serious penchant for a fly. In fact from that point even I forgot all about mullet and focussed all my attention on the scintillating sport these sublime fish provided. Attacking prey from below , the Palometa found the glittering DNA clouser, fished quickly a few feet under the surface, completely irresistible and it provoked frenzied attacks and searing runs.
As the tally racked up on my flyrod, with fish up to around 3.5lb, curious locals picked their way across the rocks to inspect the fly and gear, even filming the action on their phones. One well equipped gent explained that the Palometa loved to hunt on the edge of the fizzy water, picking off disoriented prey washed around in the bubbles, and my placement of the fly certainly supported that theory. From that point on, the Palometa and I danced a dance both morning and evening, and the smile on my face grew ever wider!
Palometa in the morning, Palometa in the evening!
Even the savvy local lure fisherman in the background started asking questions after this one!
Beautiful looking fish.
I returned home after every arm-bruising encounter to an unappreciative audience for my recounts, but that’s nothing new. I also came very close to landing Needlefish too, that plucked and snapped at the fly but somehow always managed to acrobatically shake free, so there’s certainly mileage there. Another species, Parrot Fish (or Vieja) also aggressively attacked the fly as it came over the rocks, visibly shooting up from 6 of 7 feet down in the gin-clear water, much as wrasse do back home. I suspect a smaller pink and white polar bear or tan & white clouser would prove irresistible to them
So, whilst my thoughts started on Mullet (and indeed they are a very viable target indeed here and would provide excellent sport), it was Fuerteventura’s stunning, silver-blue, jet black-finned Palometa that gave me a holiday flyfishing fun experience to rival any tropical flats I’ve fished. The island has proven itself a worthy flyfishing venue, and no doubt has yet to produce many more surprises. The reports of winter Albacore shoals slamming lures hard up against the rocks in November and December alone are enough to make me salivate at the prospects of a return trip.
For anyone looking for sublime and varied sport in the sun, a mere budget-airline hop away, the bleak beauty of Fuerteventura is a prime example of not reading a book by its cover!