A few years ago, whilst on a family holiday I experienced some unusual freshwater fly fishing on the sub-tropical island of Madeira…..
With the prospect of a two week cruise holiday to the Canary islands, Portugal and Madeira with absolutely no fishing, I started to research our stop-off destinations for fishing opportunities – just in case there was a slim chance of wetting a line! Madeira was our first landing place, and looked the most likely option.
When you think of Madeira you automatically think of big game fish – wahoo, tuna, sailfish that sort of stuff. Although a pure adrenaline rush if you actually hook a fish, for me this sort of fishing can be a bit tedious, time consuming and expensive in reality; so to my surprise when I googled ‘fishing in Madeira’ I discovered that the island also has rivers containing trout.
Digging deeper I found a guided fishing service located in Funchal, just outside the port where I would disembark. ‘Mad Trout Maderia’ was the name of the outfitter, and after a quick Facebook message I found they offered very reasonable rates for guided trips to the best streams, including pick up and drop off back to the port – just perfect for a quick holiday fishing fix.
The day came and we docked at the port of Funchal. A quick bus ride into the town center, and I was met by Joao Mata, one of the Mad Trout guides. Joao was easily identifiable in a columbia shirt, cap and polarized glasses. After a quick meet and greet, Joao ushered me into an unlikely looking vehicle for a fishing guide – a smart car.
We began our journey through the steep and winding streets of Funchal, until we passed through the city and onto the roads the encircle the island. The views as we drove were spectacular; the islands interior soared green and steep thousands of meter’s above us. Some of the roads on our contorted route went through extremely long tunnels dug through the mountains, and others on ledges high above the crashing sea. Glimpses of rocky rivers came and went as we drove. Joao explained we were heading to the north side of the island, which was the steeper side and more exposed to the prevailing moist Atlantic winds.
As our journey progressed we talked about the history of trout fishing on the Island. Joao explained they were introduced it the 1950’s, and rainbows and browns were initially stocked. The browns pretty much vanished and didn’t thrive, but the rainbows went on to flourish.
Although it should be technically impossible, the rainbows manage to spawn in some streams and are now reproducing naturally. This may be because the center of the island is high enough to get some snow in winter, and the water filters in and under volcanic rock so the many streams are cold enough to support salmonid fish above 200 meter altitude.
Most of the streams in Maderia now hold rainbow trout; they are able to spread due to the extensive network of Levadas – man-made water channels designed to carry water from excess rainfall in the interior to the agricultural fields that extend all around the island. Some streams are still kept stocked from a fish farm on the Island to provide some ‘trophy’ fishing, but the vast majority are wild.
There were plenty of nice looking rivers to be seen on our route, however Joao explained not all are easily fishable – apparently many are so steep and rocky that getting into the ravines can be very tricky, and you may find only a few yards of fishable water before a rock the size of a house completely blocks your path. So today we were heading to a prolific stream with decent access called the ”Ribeira do Seixal” at the north east corner of the Island.
Our final ascent took us into a steep ravine, with a recent landslip on the flank of the mountain side at the parking spot. Far above us green clad forest slopes rose into the clouds. The temperature this high up was surprisingly cool, with a stiff wind coming off the sea, funneling up the gorge. Thankfully it was at my back!
We reached the stream – it was fairly small, very rocky with gin clear water which took on a pure blue colour from the rock, and absolutely beautiful. Deep plunge pools and pocket water were the order of the day.
I had brought along two rods with me, a 10 foot 3/4 and 7’6 3/4 Airflo streamtec so I rigged up with the long rod and proceeded to tie on a jig nymph on a french leader with a 2.5mm bead. After a few fish-less pools I tied on a much heavier bug on a 5mm on a 12 jig hook, and the results were almost instant. In fact the first strike resulted in a palm size fish flying up and out of the water!
We hopped and scrambled our way up the ravine. It was strenuous stuff, and certainly not the sort of fishing if you are unsure on your feet. There was no need for waders as wading would have been near impossible anyway on the slippery boulders. At one point we scaled an old dam and skirted a Lavada. As we went trout after trout came to hand – most were only a few inches with the best being perhaps 8 -9 in length. All were truly stunning miniature gem-like fish, with an incredible variance in colour – some were almost black, others bright, with all shades in between.
I must have had a dozen or so on the french leader, with many more missed and spooked, when I hit a snag and lost the leader end and indicator. This was the perfect time to switch rod to the 7’6 3/4, with Airflo Super-dri Xceed 3 Weight line. Joao had suggested a big dry, as it was his favourite method and the most fun.
So, despite the complete lack of fly or rises I tied on a big klinkhammer. The results were instantaneous – from the word go the fish wanted the dry, and launched themselves from all manner of deep turbulent holes to get it, often in kamakazie attacks at the last minute, or even in groups. Many were missed and lost, but it was great sport and the much softer rod was much more fun.
As we worked our way up most likely looking pools held fish. The scenery was stunning, and the location was as unique and remote as anything I have yet fished in my angling career.
After around 4 hours I began to tire – the rock hopping was taking its toll! We worked our way back downstream, fishing the choice spots where we had spooked fish earlier. In the end I was creeping behind rocks and dropping the fly on a downstream drift into pocket – and the ravenous fish obliged. I had long lost count of the fish numbers by then, so I asked Joao ”How many do you think?” His reply – ”Forty plus .. Just like the line!”
We were done for the day, and began our descent from the mountains. Joao insisted we stop at a ‘poncha’ bar for a quick drink on the way back to warm us up – poncha being the true locals drink made with local sugar cane rum, honey, sugar, lemon rind and with orange juice. True to it’s name it did pack a punch!
Madeira is certainly something different, and the streams are well worth fishing if you find yourself on the island. I can heartily recommend services of Mad Trout Madeira – thanks Joao and the Mad trout team for a great day.
For details of Madeira fly fishing visit www.madeiratroutfishing.com