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  and 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. Fortunatley, 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.

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.

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 #79 — Striped Mullet

The only mullet species I’ve ever hooked in the mouth was this Striped Mullet I caught on bread just before dark on the Guadalquivir Riverwalk in Sevilla, Spain.

Species: Striped Mullet (Chelon labrosus)
Location: Guadalquivir River, Seville, Spain
Date: July 13, 2016

My second European species was another mullet found in the United States. Not ideal, but I was happy. From what I’ve found online, this fish is actually raised for commercial harvest in Seville, Spain where I caught it.

***

Finding water that didn’t have just Goldfish in Europe was difficult. The construction of the Spanish Armada effectively deforested Spain, and their agriculture-first water policies have basically left a hot, dry desert with lots of dried-up riverbeds and lakes-turned-mud puddles.

It’s honestly a cautionary tale for how not to manage fisheries, but I digress.

The only place I found water to fish in Seville was the Guadalquivir River, a channelized river with a large, concrete-lined riverwalk.

Though it fails in so many other areas, Spain encourages street art, so the concrete is beautifully-decorated with graphic art at every turn. It makes for a unique, modern aesthetic.

Street Art is encouraged in Spain, and artists could be seen painting over inappropriate words and pictures with acceptable graphical displays like these during broad daylight.

***

When I finally had a chance to get to the river, I’d been able to find only corn and bread, so my bait options were limited. I tried casting out into the river in hopes of catching an Andalusian Barbel (the fish I’d booked a guide for in Portugal but struck out on that you can read about here). The river was channelized and had a tiled, concrete bottom as well, which basically made fishing with a traditional on-bottom setup hopeless.

After breaking off half a dozen times, I switched my attention to the mullet feeding on the surface.

Eventually, I coaxed one into biting my bread ball.

It was my first Striped Mullet.

I landed another shortly thereafter, but since Spain only sells fishing licenses at three or four regional offices in the entire country and fishing is not allowed at night, I decided not to press my luck.

***

Eventually, I found a pond with Crucian Carp x Goldfish Hybrids in a park in Madrid, but since it wasn’t pure, I didn’t count it as a new species. Maybe I should have? Read the unique story about handlining in a public park for those hybrid fish while fighting off turtles and ducks here.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #80 — Klamath Largescale Sucker.

Species #59 — Yelloweye Mullet

Species: Yelloweye Mullet (Aldrichetta forsteri)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2014

I’ve already told the story of this day in elaborate detail, so I won’t talk too much about this fish.

I’ve since caught a lot of mullet (three species in three countries outside the United States), and one thing mullet typically have in common is how difficult they are to catch. Since they feed on a variety of baits, the Internet will tell you there are a lot of ways to catch them, but most of mine came on breadballs and snag hooks.

So, when I ended up catching this Yelloweye Mullet in New Zealand’s Coromandel using a beef scrap, I was very surprised. Since then, I’ve caught exactly zero mullet on meat or fish baits, so I now realize just how lucky I was.

I told you this story wasn’t long or exciting. I simply caught a mullet fishing a beef scrap in a river. I kept it for bait and proceeded to catch nothing on the cubes of bloody meat that were supposed to make great bait.

Further, even identification was easy. It was a mullet with a yellow eye, so the first Google search turned up my answer.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #60 — Kahawai.