This post is longer than usual! If you have twenty minutes to spare then sit back and read all about my last year in Spain. I won’t lie to you – it is a promotional article about my business and the trials I went through in setting everything up. Go and get yourself a coffee, return, sit comfortably, and read all about how I have created my dream – Sierra Brava Dreams!
Sierra Brava Dreams.
I have now been living in Spain for over a year. As year’s go it has flown by, it has certainly had its ups and downs, but fortunately it does look like the steep mountain I have climbed, to get where I am, has been worth it. I can now see myself staying in Spain for a long time to come.
I arrived in September of 2010 and apart from doing some fishing, I wasn’t quite sure what else I would do. I had got to the stage where I needed to start earning some money fast or I would be heading back to the UK; therefore I was on the lookout for a business opportunity. As it turned out I didn’t have to look far at all.
I suppose becoming a fishing guide was always the obvious choice and it would give me the chance to put my teaching skills to good use. There is a known saying with regards to teachers. If you teach something you’re passionate about, then you will always enjoy it more. As it so happens I love fishing, so how could I go wrong! Becoming a guide is not that simple however. Firstly you need to find a fishing location that offers good sport. Secondly you need to provide excellent equipment. Thirdly a means of feeding and accommodating your guests will be required. Finally you must provide a service that offers quality and value for money, always aiming to give your guests a ‘holiday to remember’.
Sierra Brava was a lake that struck the right chords with me from the beginning. I caught carp consistently and in my eyes the fishing was not difficult providing you had your wits about you. The carp are incredibly strong in Sierra Brava and they soon sort out the men from the boys. If you aren’t ready for their power they will smash you up or have you scratching your head, as you wonder how the fish made it to the safety of an Oak tree poking out of the water. There are thousands of these trees, in, and around the perimeter of the lake, but fortunately there are also thousands of carp. If you sadly do lose a carp then you normally don’t have to wait long for your next chance!
I now had my venue sorted for my business, and in my eyes, Sierra Brava is the perfect venue. It is the ideal lake for newcomers to big public water carp fishing. Fortunately boats are banned which means you can only cast from the bank; but at Sierra Brava, you can literally catch them from the margins, so the boat ban is a really good thing. Remote control boats are permitted, but again, they’re just not necessary. 90% of my carp have been caught within 50 yards from the bank and the other 10% were caught at longer range in the daytime when the fish seem to move further out into deeper water during this period.
Sierra Brava is a quite a barren place. The terrain can be quite savage in places and the water level drops every summer by approximately 4-5 metres. In the summer it is almost possible to drive around the entire lake, but once the higher water levels return, then access becomes much trickier. Last year I still owned my front wheel drive Renault van, so I very quickly realised that I was going to have to swap vehicles for a tough 4 x 4 that would prevent me from getting stuck in the mud. I hatched a plan and drove back to the UK, returning after Christmas with a superb Nissan Navara – the perfect tool for the job.
Whilst in the UK I also contacted some of my sponsors. I was now keen to make another change in my life; going from a consultant to a business that used their products for my clients. I returned to Spain with plenty of Trakker products, dozens of Sonik rods, and a plethora of quality fishing tackle that I had personally handpicked for Sierra Brava.
Choosing the tackle was a painstaking task in itself. After personally fishing Sierra Brava I soon realised that heavy duty tackle was not actually needed. Instead I chose rods that were more forgiving for close range combat, but were still able to cast in excess of 100 yards in the right hands. I combined these rods with suitable matched Shimano baitrunners. The rest of the tackle was chosen for the terrain. For example: Gardner Scud systems for rod rests, Kevin Nash Monster Coral unhooking mats to protect the fish, and Gold Label Tough for vital shock leaders.
One of the biggest challenges in my guide’s eyes was how to keep clients on the bank for the duration of their holiday and ensure they were happy the whole time and not wanting for anything. The fishing venue was taken care of, as was the equipment. The remaining obstacles were providing quality food and providing facilities for washing and going to the toilet. Sierra Brava is a public lake but it does not have public toilets or shower blocks; and the sheer size of the lake meant I could not be driving clients back to my house every time they needed to relieve themselves. Fortunately a fantastic plan came to me one night whilst I was lying in bed!
I needed a large trailer that not only could carry all of the equipment for my clients, but it could double up as a kitchen, and also provide other facilities such as a hot shower and a toilet. My technology skills were going to come in useful once again! Whilst in the UK I searched Ebay for second hand trailers and after losing out on some auctions at the last minute, I finally won the trailer I liked the look of. A week into January of 2011 I drove back to Spain in my new vehicle, towing my new trailer filled with brand new fishing equipment. Everything was gradually falling into place.
Once back in Spain and after moving into a new house that would sleep up to four clients, I got busy sorting out a website. An old friend from Bristol came up trumps and he soon had all my words and pictures laid out on templates and the website was starting to take shape.
Every business needs a logo, so yet again; I looked at my contacts from the past couple of years and was soon calling on the services of a graphic designer I knew. I had a clear idea in my head of what I wanted, and overnight this guy transformed my ideas onto paper. He was extremely professional and I am very proud of the end result.
Once the logo was handed over to my web guy he soon used the logo’s colours to finish off my website and www.sierrabravadreams.com was launched on the World Wide Web. I had to shell out a thousand pounds for the website and logo but take my advice. Pay the money and beware of cowboys offering cheap websites and cheap promises.
By February I already had a booking in my diary and another two sets of clients were soon to confirm their dates. Things were looking up but I still had my ‘uber’ trailer to convert. I had ordered a lot of equipment to fit inside, including two gas fridges, a host of plumbing accessories which I hoped would produce a hot shower (!?), and various other niche gadgets. With all of my parcels waiting in my rented garage it was time to lock myself away with my tool kit and begin work on my creation.
It took eight full days to get everything bolted down and working properly. The creative technology teacher inside of me did a sterling job; I even gave myself an A star! Allowing sufficient space for the fishing tackle, I self-contained everything to one side of the trailer and plumbed in the two gas fridges after fitting them into a tailor-made work/storage unit; storage for dry food products and wipe-free surfaces for preparing meals.
My biggest headache was creating a shower that not only fed water at a good pressure, but delivered hot water that could be adjusted for temperature. Armed with a 70L Fiammi water tank, a water pump, an expansion tank, and a portable boiler device, and yards of rubber hose and a showerhead, I scratched at the old grey matter until everything slowly fell into place. Providing 12v power to the water pump via a leisure battery ensured everything flowed as it should; and when combined with a powerful flame from a single gas ring that heated the boiler device, hot water suddenly ejected from the shower head. The Fiammi shower system is the same kind you might find in a posh caravan except I was going to feed the hot water outside to a large cubicle that would also double up as a space for the portable chemical toilet I had bought. The solution worked like a dream and combined with my gas fridges to keep drinks cold and food fresh, I could now confidently keep clients content for their holiday.
The majority of my fishing in Europe in the previous three years had incorporated the use of a boat. The boat was either used for dropping hook baits in position, for baiting up, for the playing of fish, or checking for features with an echo sounder. I now had a huge lake on my doorstep that offered fantastic fishing without the need for a boat. I have already mentioned that boats are banned at Sierra Brava and this never posed any problems for me whatsoever. Quite often boats can make the fishing more difficult as every angler starts fishing long range effectively pushing the carp, further and further out into the middle of the lake. Carp simply love margins and fortunately Sierra Brava is still one of those lakes where carp can be caught just a rod’s length from the bank.
I soon fine tuned my fishing style at Sierra Brava. My tackle set up always consists of a marker rod and a spod rod. The lakebed at Sierra Brava is fairly uniform in that it is hard, fairly rocky, and as I found out, the carp can easily be caught from open water. Therefore the marker rod is purely used for gauging the depth, and then the marker float is used as a guide for baiting up with the Spomb. Once the baiting up has been done, your rod, complete with hook bait, is cast so it lands to the front of your baited patch. Each rod is then clipped up and marked for distance, either using a permanent marker on the line, or the more traditional method of pole elastic. That’s it – it’s that simple, and now you sit back and wait for a take!
Incidentally I first started using the Spomb last year. I am not going to go into detail about the product except I will say this. I supply and sell them to my clients and I will never use another product for baiting up from the bank side!
I have observed many takes at Sierra Brava. One of the main things I often take note of is just how many fish other anglers seem to lose. Either they are not by their rods, or the baitrunner is set to lose, meaning the carp has taken yards of line by the time they pick up the rod. I have already mentioned the trees. Spanish Oak trees are part of Sierra Brava which is why you see one in my logo; but they can be your enemy, as well as your friend. I do occasionally fish tight to the trees but when I do, I fish locked up, and with the rod at a 90’ angle, so the bend in the rod cushions some of the take. Fishing this style means you are immediately in the side strain position once you have the rod in your hands. You will never ever stop a carp going for a snag with the rod held high in the air. It will just pull you forwards until the rod is pointing at the snagged carp. You must apply side strain, and by doing so, the fish has to eventually move left or right on a tight line, taking it away from the imminent danger. I never give an inch of line until I am sure I am winning the battle. Once the carp is in open water I will allow the fish to take line if it wants to, helping speed up the tiring process, so the carp is beat by the time its nose touches the spreader block of your landing net.
I used to play carp by back winding. The carp in Sierra Brava are a different kettle of fish and they deserve the respect they command. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to stay in contact by back winding and your knuckles end up getting rapped by the reel handle. I now use the clutch for the first 75% of the fight and when the fish is nearly beat, I quite often revert to back winding, knowing the runs from the carp can often be stopped by just using the rod tip alone.
I mentioned rods at the start of this article. I use 2.5lb t/c rods myself, but I equip clients with 2.75lb t/c rods. These are the Sonik SK3’s and they are well suited for the fishing at Brava. I have noticed that the mouths of the carp in Sierra Brava seem to be quite soft, and when combined with the speed that they take off when hooked; I observed many hook pulls from anglers using beefed up rods, especially combined with braid. Stop start runs can happen as the hook is pulled from the carp’s mouth during the run, or anglers heave into the fish with so much force, that the hook is ripped clean from the mouth resulting in another lost fish.
The technique I use and recommend to my clients when a run occurs is to gently take the rod from the rests, whilst allowing the fish to continue taking line. Then without flicking the baitrunner off, they apply gentle pressure to the spool with their finger, slowing the carp down gradually. Only when you are sure the carp has stopped do you wind the handle, disengaging the baitrunner. The clutch, that is properly set, can then take over should the carp suddenly take off again, which at Brava is the norm!
I have perfected my fishing style at Sierra Brava over the last year and I am proud to claim that I rarely ever lose a carp. As an example during my last session I had fourteen takes and landed thirteen carp. It was a fantastic session as not only did I catch my first 40lb carp from the venue, I also pushed the weight of my best Brava mirror carp up to 38lbs.
I am also pleased to report that all my clients to date have good track records with regards to fish landed; and out of the 100 runs they have shared between them (five clients), 75 carp have been banked including four personal bests. Most of the above losses were down to hook pulls during the fight, and not snagged fish, as I don’t actually allow clients to fish tight to snags unless they really know what they are doing.
I am going to finish off this article by telling you, not why you should come to Sierra Brava for your next holiday, but why I like the place so much. You can then make your own minds up!
I have fished many lakes covering France, Italy, and Germany. There are many lakes in Spain to choose from but I always fancied Extremadura as a region to live in. Extremadura is a rural area, it is beautiful, overflowing with wildlife and nature, and I have fallen in love with the place. I grew up in North Yorkshire and I love the fact I can walk my dog in my Spanish village, and within minutes be walking in open fields, with nothing but fresh air to breathe in.
I now have a very large and impressive lake (embalsa) right on my doorstep. I can be at the lake within five minutes. Learning the access routes to other parts of the lake took time, but was well worth the effort as it allows peace and quiet away from the more popular spots, and quite often better fishing!
The carp in Sierra Brava are just a small part of why I like the place so much. Because the lake it set around mountain ranges, you get amazing views, incredible sunrises, and dreamlike sunsets. The sheer range of bird life is breathtaking. I often see vultures and red kites soaring high in the skies, and combined with the other animals, it really is a slice of heaven. The carp do grow to impressive sizes. Peter Staggs caught a sixty pound mirror a couple of years ago, and James Harrison caught Ramona, the big mirror carp who is affectionately known as ‘tubby’! And there are many others. I will not lie to anyone. I will not claim that you will get fifteen takes in a day. I will not guarantee you will catch a personal best, but I will say one important factor. If you listen to the guide, you will have a better chance than anyone else on the lake! The fishing can be incredible but it is just like any other lake. Any lake can have its off days, and timing and a bit of luck can be everything in fishing.
As with all public lakes there is always the unknown big carp factor; but all of my clients who fished last year, and have booked for the coming year, are not just coming with big carp in mind. They know they have a chance of going home with a personal best, but the majority of my client’s book for all of the above, and more. They are safe in the knowledge that they will get an experienced guide who will get up at 3am to help them land a carp. They know their meals will be cooked fresh on the bank. And they know I will do my utmost best to give them what they came for – The Sierra Brava Dreams Experience.
I fully understand in these difficult financial times that money is tight and I am genuinely not interested in just taking people’s hard earned cash. However, I am interested, and totally committed, in giving clients a proper holiday in return for their money, and I have return bookings from last year, which is always a good sign that you are doing something properly and you’re on the right track.
Please check out my website for more details about Sierra Brava Dreams and I look forward to seeing some of you on the bank in 2012 or in years to come!