As anyone that knows me knows, I am no longer a fan of the British winter. It is a season of wind, which prevents me sailing, and rain, which prevent my other fun, guiding pike on the fly on local rivers. That same rain, tends to accelerate the sediment making our coastline a rich brown, often taking a week or more to clear. And even if it does clear, on a usual year, not so much to catch. As such, I was fully intending to be away from mid December to early march.
However, on returning from the trip to Fuertuventura, to a covid ridden household, plus a very poorly mum in a care home in Essex, my plans to leave were cancelled. I only had one guy booked to go, my good friend John, from 10th to 17th, so I decided to honour that. And everything for the reason. What I thought would be some minor GRP work, and replacing a stuck spark plug, turned into a major overhaul of the hull (in time for 5 year out of water survey, which BIF1 passed). and a warranty replacement of a cracked cylinder head and a blown short block. A good time to be away.
Travelling seems to be something most people are still avoiding, due to the pandemic. Not for fear of the pandemic, but for the seemingly complex bureaucracy involved in crossing borders at the moment. However, Portugal is pretty much at the same level of relaxation, for the same reasons. Their initially slow vaccine rollout, was suddenly the envy of Europe once the task was handed over to a military commander to implement. In a country where national heroes are still wanted and celebrated, that guy will likely have many streets named after him. It saved their summer tourist economy, without which, those tourist businesses and the local services they support, would likely have finally given up.
On our first day we actually had to sacrifice any intent of catching fish, and give way to the socialist job creation scheme, that is the Portuguese civil service. It actually is very accessible if you are a Portuguese resident with a residency number from every ATM for things like your Fresh water and sea licences (two totally separate departments). But if you are a tourist, things are much tougher. Apparently there is a web portal, but I chose the old fashioned route of finding the offices. For the freshwater one, there was an office buried deep inside a national park. We had to pay 2.90 Euros each (locals go free) to enter the park, which made us take the 5km circular walk to get to the licence office.
Suspecting a scam, we actually found it amazing value. The walk skirts an aquaculture laboratory, where they are experimenting currently with Meagre, Dorado, bass and sole. And then a walk around a lagoon, past a freshwater lake, a rate thing this close to the coast, to the office. At the office, five people ensured the application for this one week licence took a full half an hour, but we were now legal to fish the many lakes, reservoirs and rivers, so time well spent. Onto the sea licence office. This reminded me of an embassy building, where John (I already had mine from last year) had to fill in a form simply to enter the building. This took half an hour. Another four people inside, and a further thirty minutes, and John was the proud owner of a sea licence also.
This bought us to Wednesday, and I had booked the services of Gone Fishing Potugal and the excellent guide Mark Privett. This trip, we wanted black bass, and to that effect he hooked up his 16' tinny, complete with 360 degrees live scan, and min Kota electric outboard with spot lock capabilities. The perfect vessel for easy towing on rough tracks, and easy launch and retrieve. Mark expertly pushed his Suzuki Gran Vitara through the prickly scrub and tyre ripping slate and very soon we were being pulled across the water, with just the gentle whir of the electric outboard, and our excited chatter, as the only man made noise to be heard.
Bass would seem to be bass in all environments. In these "cold" winter times, they shoal tight, and you can have much ground with zero fish in it, and then a hundred with plenty. So, you have to go hunting. We had a couple at the first stop, and then we pit stopped on another perhaps five or six spots, before it became apparent the very first place was the place to be. And here our creature baits and HTO sea minnows were happily taken. Smallls to mediums, the biggest perhaps around 1.5kg. John had the most, with nine fish. I managed six, and Mark fished with us the last hour to catch four, bringing the total for the day to nineteen. Pretty impressive fishing, with plenty more dropped as well.
When I was trapped by lockdown last year, I learned much about one particular creek. And I really wanted to take John there, to continue with his wish to catch new species. The spotted bass being the one we wanted. But on the morning, the wind was howling. Easterly. And the main event on the bass menu here, mullet, were none-existent. We headed west trying to find a spot to fish not affected by the wind, but on the open beach, the effect of this wind, which spews from the gibraltar straits and piles straight onto the Algarve coast., was big swells and heavy sediment in the water, including weed. Not fishable.
Following day, it was again out with Mark. This time, a bait session on the barbel on a flowing river. Gypsy barbel were the target, with a chance of the thick lipped Comizo, which can grow to stupid sizes. And indeed, a nice size one was the first fish landed, from what was to be a great session. Very simplistic tactics with corn on the hook, we ended up with no less than fifteen, fourteen gypsy's and that one Comizo. And right on last knockings I ran a creature bait around on a 5gm jig head, for my first ever lure caught barbel.
Following day, again the wind stopped us fishing my open water bass marks. So, we decided to go random, hunting down likely spots on Google earth and then checking them out in person. A real lot of fun, that saw us fish with lures, a huge irrigation dam, where we met local ladies working the vines, who then told us, after we had fished for an hour, that there were only carp to be found in there. And we fished some deep water reservoirs. But without that local knowledge, we blanked.
Which is why next day, we booked Mark for another session. John wanted carp on the fly. I wanted John to be happy. But where there are carp in the big waters, there are often bass also, which I discovered quite quickly, taking a lovely chunker in perhaps the most dangerous swim I have managed to find to date. I didnt stay there long, as loose scree and a drop off into fifty feet of water is not an ideal fishing platform. But the carp were not coming up to the shallows and the edges, I suspect due to the still chilly easterly.
We popped around a few places, before Mark decided to finish up on some especially deep water. And here we did score. Two chunky large mouths each, a cracking way to finish a great few sessions with a really good guide. I am not going to mention what we paid, as it all depends on demand, and January isnt rammed with sporting anglers on holiday. But I would say it was stunning value, and I would also say, as someone who has been guiding a long time now,. that Mark is the real deal. He isnt just taking you fishing.
That night, it was my friend Neil's birthday party at his house. It was also the first night the wind swung away from the East, becoming a light Northerly. I really wanted to get John his spotted bass, but also wanted to celebrate with Neil. So, we did. But I did it with coffee, allowing John to enjoy the excellent vino tinto. Which meant after the party, instead of driving John back to our excellent flat in Olhao, I took him out into the marshes of the ria formosoa. The wind change had really made effect, and two thousand mullet were sucking on the floating scum the new tide bought with it. And this in turn, bought the spotted bass. We only stayed for one, as we were not so prepared for night fishing in the clothing department, but it was happily John who caught it, so job done.
Next day, last day, after breakfast we had one more stab at the black bass, at the super deep water mark we had fished with Mark. But without our goaty bearded lucky charm (that's Mark) it wasnt to be. We did have a few bumps first few casts, but I suspect without a ripple on the water, and already bright sun, it was all too much after sitting on those same fish the previous day. We recorded another blank. Had we been with a guide, he would have had other venues for us, for such conditions. Such is the value of a guide, when you are out of your familiar zone.
And that was that. Lots of social interactions each evening also, with much fine dining, and of course, those amazing Portuguese wines. Weather was slightly chillier than expected, with that easterly sustaining all week. Had I not needed to get back to deal with boat issues, I would happily have taken this week also out there, as the forecast is much more for the open water bass fishing. But, hopefully BIF1 will be running much better than she ever has before, with the added bonus that, with settled conditions, it would seem we have a lot of herring right up to the shingle, and lots of predators in tow. As soon as BIF1 is back in the water and I am happy with her, and I have found some good fish to play with, more dates will likely appear on the ticker. Watch this space...