Species #78 — Thicklip Gray Mullet

This fish isn’t unique to Portugal, but it was my first European catch: Thicklip Gray Mullet.

Species: Thicklip Gray Mullet (Chelon labrosus)
Location: Lisboa City Center, Lisbon, Portugal
Date: July 7, 2016

Traveling internationally is a phenomenal opportunity. It’s even better when it’s free.

I was selected to travel together with a group of fellow teachers through the Center for Geography in Oregon (C-GEO), the state-level National Geographic affiliate, to learn about the geography of Iberia and then teach it in the classroom.

In short, I became a Teacher-Consultant for National Geographic, and I had an all-expenses-paid trip to Portugal and Spain.

Though these wouldn’t have been my first travel destinations, I’d never been to Europe before. In fact, I’d never even been to a country that wasn’t a former part of the British Empire (I’d only been to the USA, Canada, and New Zealand at that point), so I figured it would be a culturally-immersive experience.

***

Long before landing in Lisbon, our first stop, I researched fishing opportunities in the city. There is very little freshwater fishing culture in Portugal, and what was available was all in Portuguese.

That said, I refused to admit defeat and packed my rods.

Tragically, the inland fishing in Portugal is terrible. There’s little water and even less fish in that water, invasive Common Carp having displaced most of the awesome native species like Andalusian Barbel.

So after several attempts to find fish in the 10-plus-miles of walking we did every day, I was a little disappointed. The only places that had fish were tourist traps with Goldfish and other ornamental offerings not really ideal for fishing — especially given that night fishing of any sort is illegal in Portugal.

To further complicate matters, fishing licenses are only available from a Multibanco machine. This effectively means getting a fishing license as a nonresident is all-but-impossible. In fact, they only have one kind of fishing license, and you must have an account with Multibanco to buy it.

After trying to pay several locals to buy one for me, I eventually gave up and decided to just risk fishing without one. From what I could find online, fishing was barely regulated, and you usually just had to pay a small fine if you were found fishing without a license.

I risked it.

***

License (or lack thereof) sorted out, I moved on to bait. Since most species still surviving in Central and Southern Portugal’s fresh waters aren’t predatory — save for the widely introduced Largemouth Bass — I had to find bait. Worms were nowhere, and since the culture only really cares about saltwater fishing, inland tackle shops don’t exist.

My obvious choices were corn and bread, but American-style bread is almost impossible to find, so it meant trying to stick bits of pastries (the only bread I could get to stay on a hook) on baitholder single and treble hooks.

It was rough, to say the least.

Fortunately, there was an abundance of beautiful architecture to keep me busy, including the Torre de Belem.

Torre de Belem is a former naval watchtower near the Port of Lisboa.

***

The Euro Cup was in full swing during my visit, and Portugal was making a strong showing. They’d go on to win before I left the country, so that made the experience really enjoyable.

I watched one match on a massive, 50-foot outdoor screen maybe 200 yards from the river’s edge, and I was offered drugs more times that night than in the rest of my life combined. 21. I now know what meth, black tar heroine, cocaine, and and everything else you can ingest to kill brain cells looks like.

I took a quick break from the game and noticed a small, seemingly enclosed area with fish in it.

I would be back tomorrow with fishing gear.

***

When I finally found fishable water, it was in a small concrete diversion pond maybe 100 yards from the edge of the Prime Minister’s Residence. Armed guards were everywhere, and I fully expected to be arrested or shot at. Fortunately, I made it very clear I was fishing, made no sudden moves, and the one guard nearby kept an eye on me.

Not a great location.

To further complicate matters, the only fish I could see in the clearish water were mullet, a fish notoriously difficult to catch.

The final factor working against me was the 105-degree heat. Standing in direct sunlight, I was sapped of energy with every second in the sun.

After nearly an hour, I finally got one to nibble my  bread and set the hook. Bingo.

The guard kept looking at me and talking on his radio, but once he saw I had a fish on, he smiled and must’ve realized I wasn’t a sniper waiting to behead the government.

I lost that fish as I pulled it over the railing. I touched the leader, but I couldn’t get a picture.

After two hours or so, I opted to just snag the damn things. That’s easier said than done with light line while fishing 30 feet above the water’s surface for relatively small fish, but I finally got one.

I grabbed a quick photo, and the guard gave me a smile and a thumbs-up. I guess I wasn’t going to be shot or imprisoned after all.

The guard is just out of frame over my right shoulder.

Later, I’d identify it as a Thicklip Gray Mullet. A new species, sure, but unfortunatley one that is actually found in the New World, as well.

I spent another hour trying with bread again but to no avail.

The fish I caught seemed to be the only species present, and I didn’t want to push my luck, so I got out of there.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #79 — Striped Mullet.

Species #62 — White Sturgeon

If you’ve never fished for sturgeon, you’re truly missing out on one of the world’s greatest fisheries.

Species: White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus)
Location: Columbia River, Cascade Locks, OR
Date: February 22, 2015

If Hell froze over, it would still be warmer than the Columbia River is mid-winter in high winds. The type of bone-chilling cold that the Gorge can experience is excruciating for those dressed in anything less warm than a recently disemboweled TaunTaun.

I was there in the first place to target sturgeon, something I’d always wanted to do, and hoped to bring home a fish in the narrow January – March keeper season on that stretch of the river.

At the time, it was a slot limit fishery that rarely exceeded quotas before the season expired, and the slot was 38-52″ fork length, so you could theoretically walk away with a decent fish.

That is, if your frozen corpse didn’t topple overboard when winds changed from 30 to 40 miles per hour and the whitecaps started clipping your boat with extra fervor.

I was fishing with Northwest Sturgeon Adventures, and they were a solid outfit. They seemed to know what they were doing, and in lieu of the miserable cold, the boat had a zippable cover with a space heater inside. It wasn’t enough, but it was a nice touch that kept me from shivering away all of the calories I’d eaten that week.

The wind made bite monitoring very difficult, so the guy who drew the straw for the first bite failed a dozen or so times before finally giving up.

I was fourth in line out of four, but second and third were so cold, they deferred to me. I was the only one brave enough to stand in the cold and wait for a bite.

It paid off. At least, it would have if I could tell the difference between a subtle bite and wave action.

Following the instruction of the guides, I let three bites go undetected and didn’t even grab the rod out of the holder. On the fourth, I grabbed the rod, set the hook, and just missed.

Moments later, it was back, and this hookset connected.

The gear was very heavy, and the fish wasn’t huge, but I was ecstatic when the armor-plated monster broke the surface tension with its shark-like tail.

It was at least three feet long, and I was excited to see if it would a keeper or not.

The scale registered it at 12.5 pounds, and it taped to 40 inches. I was stoked! It was a keeper!

Then the “fork length” nonsense came to mind, and I realized it was two inches shy at the fork of the 38-inch slot length minimum.

Dejected, I vowed to at least grab a picture. Expecting that it would be worth holding like a trout, I grabbed it at the base of the tail and supported its weight with my other hand.

My hands were numb, so I didn’t realize the young dinosaur’s plates were slicing open my hand as I held it. After the photos and release, I realized my hand was soaked with blood.

In seconds, I’d learned to never hold young sturgeon that way again.

The picture turned out all right, but my hand did not.

***

Since my sturgeon wasn’t a keeper, I opted to go to a seafood restaurant in Portland that served sturgeon. The one I found, Jake’s Seafood, was okay. It wasn’t phenomenal, and I felt it was certainly overrated, but the sturgeon was pretty good even if the rest of the experience wasn’t top-notch. It reminded me of a drier, stringer halibut, but was still delicious.

I’ve yet to catch a keeper since fishing a primarily catch-and-release fishery in the Willamette and mid-Columbia that is productive because of the “let ’em go to let ’em grow” policy enforced there.

Sturgeon have become one of my favorite targets, and nothing fights like a massive sturgeon.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #63 — Fathead Minnow.