Dateline: April 5, 2013 – Gibraltar
Seems it never rains in Southern California, so by the laws of nature, it therefore has to rain somewhere else. That somewhere else is apparently … Gibraltar. Who knew these two issues were oddly connected? Free lunch at Taco Bell for the first person to email me with the answer.
(Pause to submit responses.)
As you undoubtedly knew, the guy who wrote that song, Albert Hammond, is Gibraltrian – one of the several amazing facts I learned during the three days in early April I went fishing there. And yes, the flight to Europe was on a 747, albeit eastbound. If you are too young to remember this song, please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqMEEvmfyQU to be unbewildered.
We should probably get the “is Gibraltar a country” argument out of the way. I’m going to count it. I generally go by the Traveler’s Century Club list, http://travelerscenturyclub.org/countries-and-territories/alphabetical-list, and besides, the place prints its own money and has its own passports. Sure, the British will say it’s British, the Spanish will say it’s Spanish, the Gibraltrians will say it’s Gibraltrian, and the Germans will say it’s inconvenient.
(The Royal Navy held Gibraltar and controlled the entrance to the Mediterranean for the duration of WWII. This was despite constant attacks by the Germans, less frequent raids by the Italians, and yes, you can look this up – a single incursion by the French.)
This trip was born out of bad weather, and it still suffered because of it. My original intention had been to visit Marc Inoue and go fish in Montenegro, but there was something about three feet of snow that made him rethink the whole idea.
Mark rethinks the whole idea. See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/serbing-our-time/.
So there I was, with three days to fish in Europe, and the weather was not cooperating. I realized I had to look south for relatively decent conditions. Perhaps Spain again? Portugal? Or … Gibraltar! Once I looked into this tiny peninsula at the mouth of the Mediterranean, the IGFA scored for me. There is an IGFA fishing club in Gibraltar. I emailed Michael Hernandez, the club contact. He responded right away and connected me with Lee Torres, who specializes in big tuna but knows the bottom fishing very well – and like that, I was set for a few days of fishing. The forecast did not look too inviting, but at least there wasn’t snow, and I knew the area had to have loads of interesting species.
I flew through snowy Frankfurt, on to Malaga, Spain, where it actually looked nice. Lee picked me up at the airport. When I first met him, I thought he must have been the guide’s son. Maybe it’s just me getting older, but he looked about 17, and I was stunned to find out he is a 32 year-old father of two. (Should we call him “Kid Rock?”) Lee is passionate about three things – his family, fishing, and music, and the next few days were spent in constant discussion about fishing everywhere he could think of, all to a Coldplay soundtrack.
The drive from Malaga to Gibraltar takes about an hour, and the scenery is lovely Spanish coastline the whole way. The Rock comes into dramatic view coming around a corner – one of these places I recognized from TV and books immediately and thought “Wow. I’m here. And I have a strange urge to buy insurance.”
The Rock, from near the Spanish border. This would be the last time I would see the sun for three days.
I checked into the Hotel Caleta. The room was comfortable, there was a nice restaurant, and most importantly, I was directly above the water, albeit five stories up. If any of you wonder if I fished off the balcony, you must be new readers – welcome!
I could drop a line straight off my balcony into the water.
This is not the first time I fished out of a window – see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/fishburger-in-paradise/. I reeled up several besugos, once to the bewildered giggles of the guests a few floors below me. I thus added Gibraltar to the list – country 76 – without leaving my room.
The room-service sand bream.
I have met a lot of guides who worked hard for a living, and Lee is right up there at the top. The prime method of catching big fish in Gibraltar is live squid, and getting live squid means middle of the night ventures in the harbor. Unknown to me, Lee was up at three in the morning jigging up a few precious cephalopods, then meeting me at 6:30 to spend a full day on the water.
Because Gibraltar has 28,000 inhabitants but only 14 legal parking places, none of which are near the marina, Lee picked me up on a scooter. I was not prepared for this, as I am a large person and was carrying gear. Lee sorted it all out and we made the very quick ride over to the harbor. Once we launched, the water was positively nasty until we got to the east side of the rock, which was protected from the wind and relatively calm.
Coming around the south point of the peninsula into the calm water.
Looking north as we come around to the east side of Gibraltar. “The Rock” is the second pinnacle, in the distance, and the white building lower right is my hotel. Every time I look at this photo, I wonder if I have enough coverage for my home and car.
Lee at the helm. Reach him at email@example.com if you are in the area.
We dropped down a couple of large baits, and while we were waiting for action on these, I fished some smaller rigs and caught the first of what would end up over 100 fish before dark. While it poured most of the day, Lee’s stereo is waterproof and we had great music the whole time.
The Mediterranean fairy basslet, my first catch of the day and a new species.
The first fish was a winner – new species. The next 99 were not new species, but let’s face it, it’s still fun to catch a bunch of fish. Because I am species-obsessed, we spent most of the afternoon chasing micro-critters in the harbor. I was initially thrilled, as I thought the blennies I pulled up had to be new, but Dr. Carvalho broke it to me, as gently as he could, that these were the same species of blenny I had caught on the “Rio de Disastro” trip. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/rio-de-disastro/.) Still, I was thrilled with the new country and one new addition to the list, and I had two more days to rack up a big score. We had dinner at Burger King – a treat in any country – and I went back to catching besugos from my balcony.
The next day dawned so gray it wasn’t clear it had dawned at all. Oh, it was vile out there, but we were still able to plough through to our protected spot. My first cast produced another new species, although I didn’t know it at the time. I caught what I was certain was a cusk - a bottomfish common on both sides of the North Atlantic. Indeed, I almost didn’t photograph it, but I thought it was strange enough to catch one so far south that I took one shot. Good thing I did, as this creature turned out to be a greater forkbeard.
The greater forkbeard, which looks a whole lot like a cusk to my untrained eye.
This is a cusk. See if you can spot the differences more quickly than I did!
The rest of day two was filled with solid fish - Gibraltar indeed has some great inshore possibilities. The highlight was a solid pink dentex, the same species I passed up seeing a wonder of the ancient world to catch. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/venus-visits-the-temple-of-diana-mars-goes-fishing/, and yes, Marta is still annoyed at me.)
A pink dentex – if I had known I would catch this here, I wouldn’t have skipped Ephesus.
I also got another forkbeard, and the seabreams, all in nice sizes up to 2 pounds, were excellent sport on light tackle. Lee worked his tail off, moving spots constantly and fishing from dawn until dusk.
Assorted seabreams. Great fun to catch, and they get a lot bigger than this. Jaime Hamamoto has never caught one, and this pleases me.
A bonus monster horse mackerel.
We had one brief break in the rain, but my hair was ruined by then, so I refused to pose for this photo.
On the scooter ride back to my hotel, as I shamelessly clung to Lee for dear life, I was stunned to see a troupe of monkeys by the side of the road. Then I remembered, faintly but insistently, that I had read about there being a population of monkeys on Gibraltar. I was quietly pleased I had retained something from elementary school, apart from the fact that elephantiasis can affect testicles. (Without question, the most popular library book in my elementary school was a text on tropical diseases.)
We stopped to look at the monkeys, and I took some photos. Lee warned me not to leave anything laying around, as the little beasts are quite clever and would likely borrow it and sell it on eBay.
Hint – I’m the one in the red hat.
Being a small monkey is a good life.
My Mom never picked fleas off of me. Maybe that’s why I have issues.
Day three was more solid bottom fishing. The weather was still not nice, but it had gotten a touch less foul. We had constant action – seabreams, serranos, besugos, wrasses, and also a variety of eels. Eels are cool.
This is a conger eel. Marta has caught a much larger one than I have. She made me include this tidbit or it was the couch for me. Is that extortion?
A Mediterranean moray. One of these once caused a boot print on my forehead. Long story. (Aren’t they all?)
Lee and I celebrated the trip with dinner at a local seafood place – the forkbeard was excellent – and we both finally got a full night of sleep, me less so because I cast from my balcony again until well past midnight, trying to scrape up at least one more species. Alas, it was not to be.
The next morning, Lee was kind enough to give me a lift back to Malaga so I could catch my flight. Of course, the minute I put the fishing rods away, the weather turned beautiful. (So if it stopped raining in Gibraltar, does that mean it started raining in Southern California? Naaaah. Couldn’t be.)
Of course it would look like this the minute I put the rods away.
Lee got me early, in a car this time. He was kind enough to give me an insider’s tour of the area – all the way to the top of the rock, where I was accosted by monkeys but also had a crystal-clear view of three countries.
Lee feeds my breakfast to the monkeys.
The same monkey stares me down. He had just used me as a springboard to jump from a van onto our car, which scared the heck out of me but amused the other tourists.
Bottom left – Gibraltar. Upper left – Morocco. Upper right – Spain. Center – guy who should have untucked his shirt.
Gibraltar is so small that the main road crosses the airport’s only runway. When planes land, they have to close the road.
We both smiled at the ironic change in weather, and the drive to Malaga was one long postcard. Sure, it was a long way to go for two species, but I had gotten to see a famous and beautiful place, made a new friend, and been jumped on by a monkey. Besides, I had most of April ahead of me, and with trips planned to Italy, Miami, and the Dominican Republic, surely there would be dozens of new species in store. Surely.