Dateline: April 14, 2013 – Lodi, Italy
Uncle Beef? What kind of a kid calls me “Uncle Beef?” If this had happened in the USA, I might have been strangely pleased, but because it happened in Germany, I could only write the whole thing off to difficulty in pronouncing the foreign word “Steve.” But still, Uncle Beef?
The offending toddler is actually known to the 1000fish readership, as she is none other than Lisa Molnar, the adorable if artistically underwhelming eldest daughter of 1000fish regular Stefan Molnar.
Lisa Molnar. Beautiful child, mediocre artist. See below.
Stefan, you may recall, is the inventor of the “Five gram rule.” See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/the-five-gram-rule/. I got to spend an evening with Stefan’s family on an April business trip to Germany – the food is always spectacular – and it was during this dinner that young Lisa presented her artistic impression of me.
I don’t have pointy ears. And I don’t have dark hair. This looks like Spock’s ne’er-do-well younger brother, but try explaining that to a 4 year-old.
Still, I had to at least act grateful, even if I don’t think she captured my true essence in her art, because I was borrowing her father for three days to go fishing in Italy. The target was another inadvisably rare salmonid – the marble trout. Our host would be an old friend – Enrico Ghedini, the Italian sportswriter and all-around good guy who I met in Slovenia two years ago. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/guidos-fungus/)
People wiser than me always talk about life as a journey rather than a destination. I have no idea what this means, but the journey from Germany to Italy, which took us straight south through Switzerland, was gorgeous. During the week I was locked up in the office, something wonderful had happened – spring. The rotten weather was gone. Things were sprouting, and my nose was running constantly. I like to call this “the Sudafed season.” As we passed through the Alps, I even faintly recognized a few spots – my father lived in Milan in the 1970s and we vacationed up in Switzerland. These trips were the first time I had ever been out of the country, and they started a passion for travel that has seen me darken the doors of over 80 countries.
Some lake in the Alps.
Some Alps and a lake.
My alpine dream house. If you look closely, you can see a little girl in pigtails interrupting a football broadcast.
Stefan and I left Walldorf around 10:30 in the morning, and while we did not drive at Guidoesque speeds, we avoided major traffic and were past Milan around 6. Most of our conversation consisted of me saying “Your daughter is a bad artist.” and Stefan responding “No she isn’t.” We got off the main road and started the always-indefinite process of navigating through the Italian countryside, where much of the signage is still awaiting repairs from Vandalism. I capitalized that on purpose – many of their signs were stolen by the original Vandals and haven’t been repaired since, resulting in 1500 years of lost tourists.
Electronics were no help on the back roads – there is something difficult about trying to get an American GPS that has been programmed in German to read names in Italian. Fortune would have it that one of these country lanes had a small canal running along it. So there we were, near our destination, with an hour or so to kill, and there was water nearby. Needless to say, we were late for dinner.
And it was actually a new species! The Italian bleak – like an English bleak, but it takes dives in soccer.
The area was dotted with various ruins. In the background, the tall smokestack was our navigational guide the entire weekend.
Enrico wasn’t too upset at us for being late. When he called us, he said “You’re fishing in the canal, aren’t you!” It was marvelous to see an old friend. A well-known Italian outdoor writer, he had invited me to fish in Italy repeatedly, and we never seemed to hit the right season. Well, this was the right season, and Enrico had arranged two days of access to a fish and game reserve, in Lodi just south of Milan. My father used to take country drives in this area, invariably resulting in speeding tickets and my sister getting loudly carsick.
Enrico hosted us for dinner and we talked fishing nonstop. And oh, what a dinner, in a tiny restaurant tucked away in a farmhouse, not even marked on the outside, where we were treated like family and drank chianti and grappa until the late hours.
Morning came more quickly than we planned, and we headed over to the reserve. It was the kind of place I have steamy late-night dreams about. A large working farm that hosts bird hunting, it is also criss-crossed with canals that are positively jammed with fish.
On our first stop, I could see the trout as we pulled up. I raced out before the car came to a full stop, began casting, and immediately hooked up. It was a solid rainbow, around four pounds.
The rainbows were spectacular, but I was focused on a marmorets – the marble trout.
Stefan and Enrico ply one of the creeks.
Stefan got a beautiful rainbow, then another. He was absolutely thrilled with the fishing – he loves throwing lures and there were big, hungry fish everywhere. We saw a few marble trout, but these were more wary and did not bite.
After an hour, we moved to a canal that held only marmorets. They were everywhere. They would even half-heartedly follow a lure now and then. But they weren’t biting. Enrico had warned me that marble trout were skittish, but would I need to rely on another huchen-type miracle to catch a fish? I kept at it and had one decent strike, but as the sun got higher in the sky, I realized I might have to wait until evening. Stefan and Enrico went to another canal to try for some other species, and left me and an Italian guide, Carlo, to fendi for ourselves.
Moments later, I saw an impossibly large shadow in the water on the far bank, a shadow roughly the size and shape of Michael Phelps. I only saw it for a few seconds before it eased back into the milky water. Turning to the guide, I frantically pointed and gestured to show a big fish. “Carpa.” he said. This was no carp. I was at a loss for a response, because I do not know the Italian words for shark or submarine. Heck, I don’t know the Italian word for ravioli. So I had to wait until we found Enrico.
Enrico and Stefan showed back up about an hour later. Stefan had caught an American bass, something he had failed to do in America. I told him “If your daughter drew a picture of that fish, it would look like E.T.” He replied “No it wouldn’t.”
Stefan failed to catch a bass in some of the best water we have in California, and then he catches one in Italy. Oddly enough, they are not native in either place.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Enrico. ”There are submarine-sized animals prowling this canal.” I told him. He smiled. “Ahhhhh, the sturgeon.” he said. “Sturgeon, you say?” I responded as I whipped together the heaviest leader and largest hook I could find. The guide had some paste bait, and I quickly rolled up a grape-sized ball onto the hook and cast.
Moments later, the rod tip twitched. I fed the fish some line, then set the hook as it came tight. It was a solid fish, but not the monster I expected. As it came into view, everything became clear. It was a marble trout – which somehow had decided to eat the bait rather than the beautiful lures I had been throwing all morning. So I had my marble – a beautiful fish and one of the more exotic trout – and even if it was on homemade power bait, I was pleased.
I should have brought it home. Marta always wanted Italian marble in the kitchen.
We then took what I thought would be a brief break for lunch. I only made this mistake the first day. The Italians know how to cook, they just don’t know when to stop serving food. I was still digesting the feast from the previous evening, and what I thought would be a simple meal turned out to be multi-course ritual that took some three hours, and while this was not exactly prime fishing time, it was still fishing time. “Oh, wait, now they bring the pasta, oh, wait, now they bring the pheasant, and the wild boar, and more pasta, and the pre-dessert, the main dessert, another pheasant we found hiding in the sideboard, and the fruit.” The food was wonderful, but as much as I love to eat, I have gone on Power Bars and Red Bull for days on end when the fishing is hot. Sure, you may think it’s sacrilege to visit Italy without experiencing the cuisine, but I must point out that I knew Paris had Wels catfish before I knew it had an art museum.
I had been aching to get back to the sturgeon, and as soon as we were excused, I raced, or waddled, back to “submarine creek.”
There were big animals in this tiny creek. Big animals.
The bait was down no longer than 15 seconds when my line shot off to the left. I let the fish go for a moment and then set the hook – the result was complete chaos, like a malfunction on the Disney log ride. The sturgeon jumped clean out of the water, drenching us, and took off at high speed down the canal with me in hot pursuit. After about 15 high-spirited minutes, the beast came to the net and I had landed an unexpected trophy.
Sure, it’s 6000 miles from its native range, but so was I.
I then walked over to a side stream for one of my favorite activities – light-tackle micro-fish hunting. Armed with a tub of maggots and some pre-snelled #28 hooks, I began prowling the edges of a stream confluence, and soon I had a regular little school at my feet eating the baits. In under two hours, I caught north of a hundred fish and added a new species.
The microfish spot.
The Italian Roach. New species. Counts the same as a marlin in my book, and costs a lot less to catch.
For the late afternoon, I was back on the marble trout and sturgeon. There are both white and Adriatic sturgeon in the creeks, so I was hoping for an Adriatic to add to the species count. But even though I got four more sturgeon, they were all the white variety that we have back in California. Still, getting a bunch of 60 pound fish in a stream on pike tackle is nothing to complain about.
I had forgotten how beautiful Italy is in the spring, and indeed I forgot again by the time the next photo was taken.
Yes, I caught five sturgeon in a day. I am unlikely to repeat this – ever. Even my best day, in combination with Spellman, was three – which means I caught three.
Just as the sun set, we had another session on big rainbows – Stefan landed one over 7 pounds.
Damn these guys are tall.
Sunset over the fields. It was a lovely evening, made even more lovely by the fact I had added three species in 24 hours.
Ignoring our already-full stomachs, we headed out to eat. Dinner was predictably impressive - I think I gained 12 pounds, and I slept with satisfied dreams of finally getting the elusive marble trout.
We rose early on the second day, then slept in a bit and rose at less early time. Heading over to the reserve, we fished for a couple of hours. The highlight of the morning was Stefan landing his first sturgeon, and he too got a marble trout.
Stefan’s first sturgeon. Another fish that lives in California that he didn’t catch there.
Stefan adds a marble trout to his list. And he got his on a lure rather than some sort of undignified paste.
As noon approached, we realized that we had caught pretty much everything we were going to at the preserve. It was time for a change of scenery, and for us to complete a secret mission that would take us six hours out of the way. But at this very moment, about 600 miles to the north, some ill-willed microbes were hatching a secret mission of their own that would potentially derail our entire plan.