Less fishing happening at this point onwards. In part due to a local lockdown to stem the progress of Covid. Local rules telling us that from 31st, we needed to be indoors by 2300 hours, released again at 0500, and then three days where everybody needs to be indoors from 1300 to 0500. So, we needed to go early to the place where we were to spend New years eve. I was very flattered to be invited along, by my good friend and 1st class guide to real living here, Eugenia. She is of Ukrainian descent, and this gathering was not to be a Portuguese feast, but an authentic Ukrainian one. And wow, what a feast.
It was a fairly civilised gathering, with this infernal infection on everybody's minds I suspect. But beautiful both in the relaxed atmosphere, and also to hear the Russian language spoken again. It has been a while since I have enjoyed the poetic flow of expressed slavic language, but I remembered enough to loosely follow. Fun in itself for someone like me. The gathering was in an authentically renovated farm house, with history of the original dwelling dating back some 300 years or more. Very Mooreish influenced architecture. Huge spaces, big ceilings. Very airy, but warmed with huge logs burning in a suitably large wood burner.
The next day I suggest was traditional in many countries. Few words spoken, happy for the warming sunshine, whilst the coffee percolator is in a position of constant use. Slowly everybody slipped away, a little stunned by the prospect that the new year is already upon us. 2021. But actually, the fun is technically not over for my new found friends. Ukraine celebrates Christmas on the 6th January.
We completely missed the deadline for moving, but slipped away just on dark back to the designated lock down bolt hole here in Fuseta. Quite country roads, and a compliant nation not needing the police to tell them to go home, meant no problems encountered along the way. The Portuguese strike me as a far more sensible nation than us Brits. When their scientists and government say go home to stop this disease killing the elderly, they do so. Perhaps because family is still a strong and thriving ideal here.
A little more drinking of course, but I had been missing my fishing and so was up at 0600, with a clear head no less. Heading out, the half fallen tide still had some good pace. I walked out to a sandbar that gets swept hard, and just before sunrise a small schoolie found my mighty minnow. I fished on for another hour, just happy to be in the warming sun. Nights are touching zero here at the moment, with that polar vortex not just aiming at the UK for a change. The sun quickly turns things around though, despite the chilly breeze.
As I walked back to the car, I thought I would again try a spot in the river, where I had witnessed some good bass smashing bait in the middle of the day the previous week. I didnt hold out much hope, as the tide was almost at rock bottom, the water crystal clear, and sky without a cloud. Indeed, until the previous day when I had found an awesome extending landing net pole in the tackle shop in Olhao, I would not have been able to fish it, as any good fish hooked could not be landed. A drop net would have been the ideal. Sadly, I did try to fit mine in my suitcase. Alas, just too big. Hence the super extended handle. With a landing net that would handle a four pound fish no worries. And having not seen anything bigger than 2lb so far, I did not, at that time, realise it was almost an issue.
I set the pole to full stretch, just in case. Well, perhaps not even just in case. More, to see if it works. And perhaps a little bit more, some kind of pride in having found such an item. It reaches a good, perhaps, 18 feet on two locking mechanisms. Just perfect for this spot. I think, as things turned out, this pole and I, were destined to meet. Starting to think now more about an amazing prawn toastie served in the cafe around the corner to where I am living, I was finger on but miles away, when something tweaked the lure. Instinctively, I raised the rod to an immensely angry fish, that was most certainly more than 2lb.
About eighteen things shot through my mind at once. Anybody with me as a facebook friend will appreciate I do rather set myself up with these trips. The Algarve in mid winter, has never been an anglers paradise in any way shape or form. The absolute last place you want to come. Except... Although numbers are down, big breeding females are in these systems at this time of year, 30 percent of the reason to come here. The other 60 percent is the combination of relaxed and beautiful people, amazing gastronomy at stunningly affordable prices. So, the fishing really is an excuse to be here, rather than a full on fishing expedition. And yet, of course, anyone interested in coming next year wants to know there are more than schoolies in the system. And here I was, with a proper fish tearing around, hugging a very unfamiliar river bed to me.
Any snags might have been laying down there. Some ropes perhaps. Tyres. Happily, with a lot of pressure from the HTO N7099, I managed to stop his belly rubbing and get him up in the water. Here, he sensed that I knew best, and reduced his efforts, enough for me to reach my super long landing net and carefully, using the attached arm brace (did I mention the attached arm brace) got the pan down into the water. Where suddenly, it looked very very small.
I hadnt really taken into account how far down this big fat breeding female was. The pole was perfect length, the net, more suitable for a 2lb roach really. I allowed this big old girl a few more circles, as to perform the netting without the story ending with "and with a kick of her tail, she was gone", she needed to be very well behaved indeed. First attempt, I stupidly found myself in a good position to attempt to net from the tail end. With the very predictable result that it spooked off for another three circles under the rod tip. I needed to fold the fish into the net, but with the steep angle it was impossible to flatten the net to the water, that I might lift it up centrally on the fish. As I was desperately trying to solve the problem, my guardian angel intervened. The fish turned, swam into the net, and panicked, as a fin caught in the mesh. This caused her to thrash and push her weight against the bottom of the pan. A quick lift, she folded, and I had her.
A very quick weighing, and some terrible selfies, and I returned her to the net and lowered steadily back to the water. She made three swift gill movements, expelling bubbles of air, and kicked instantly back into the almost still water. More bubbles, and straight back to the deep central channel where she began her experience. Wow. All 8lb 2 oz of her, and my new Portuguese target to beat. Which I am assured is viable here and now. And with local guide Mark Privett of GONE FISHING PORTUGAL keen to link up and do some exploratory stuff outside of his usual routines, to take advantage of the lack of clients due to the tourism here being effectively suspended, Im feeling confident to be seeing more fish of this calibre.
Then home, to rejoin my lockdown bubble. Some nice red wines on the roof terrace. Great company and conversation. In the evening, Octopus salad for the four of us, delivered by a newly established local company, that I feel anybody who has an interest in Fuseta will need to know about, regardless of lockdown catering. Absolutely stunning eating. And everyone shattered. We tried a drinking game, but, sadly, it petered out as everybody was just a little finished with alcohol. We settled for watching "Minions" on Netflix and an early night.
And then this morning. Thick frost on the ground. Car recorded zero. A single schoolie, for a couple of hours of very very cold effort. Final day of lockdown though. Hoping that, from tomorrow, evening patrols will resume, which inevitably, are more productive. Watch this space....