Dateline: July 10, 2011 – Cres, Croatia
I couldn’t fall asleep that night, and while looking out over the Slovenian mountains, I felt as far from home as I ever have. I recalled a couple of bad nights when I was a teenager and I couldn’t sleep because I had just had my heart broken, by the Detroit Tigers or Pam Scott, I forget which. I remembered my Mom telling me – “The sun will still come up tomorrow.” As the night went on, I really wondered if it would. But it did. It did slowly, almost reluctantly, but it came up. The first day without my Mom was Sunday, July 10, 2011 – my 48th birthday.
So what was I supposed to do? We had two more days on the road planned, with our next stop in Croatia. My heart wasn’t in it, but I didn’t know if I wanted to go home either – I knew that would just make it more real. United Airlines ended up making the decision for me – the next available flight was later in the week, so I picked up a fishing rod and decided to go as planned. As corny as it sounds, I know she would have wanted me to.
We started the morning with a quiet breakfast in the hotel, then got into the cars again. The Fungus was grouchy and kept turning up the air conditioning. We drove a couple of hours south and entered Croatia.
I started seeing signs for places like “Krk.” This may sound like a noise from a fraternity bathroom, but in reality, it is an actual place in Croatia. 400 years ago, the Turks swept through the area, looting, pillaging, and stealing all the vowels. The lonely vowels that survived this time of alphabetic terror tend to hide in large groups of consonants, resulting in words like “Sjlyrnrek,” or they emigrated to Hawaii and bred like crazy, resulting in words like “Jaime Hamamoto.”
The scenery was sublime – as we reached the coast, we were treated to sweeping views of the Adriatic on a perfect, clear summer morning. We drove through several beautiful resort towns on a winding coastal road, and then boarded a ferry to get over to the island. The Fungus got loudly carsick.
The coastline of Cres Island, once we got off the ferry and were driving over toward the harbor.
The harbor and bay at Cres.
The inner harbor – lovely homes, local fishing boats, and police thugs.
Our formal welcome to Croatia came when two overenthusiastic policemen decided that Guido was somehow illegally parked and fined him 75 Euros – cash -on the spot. Their arrogant and frankly boorish approach made me understand a great deal about the awkward level of cooperation between Croatia and Germany back in the early 1940’s.
Guido nearly goes to prison – for double-parking and possessing an unlicensed Fungus.
It took a while to get all the appropriate paperwork and equipment in order, and we discussed our strategy as we watched the wheels of bureaucracy slowly turn. We had two main targets: big bottomfish such as the Silver Dentex, and a shot at the huge Tuna that live in the area. I figured we might also get some of the large seabream that frequent the Adriatic. So we set out that afternoon with high hopes, on a glorious, cloudless, windless, hot Adriatic summer day.
Within 10 minutes, it was obvious to everyone except Guido that the fishing was going to stink. It was just TOO hot and still, and things we expected to bite were just shut down. But we gave it the old college try until the sun was down, and I was able to get a couple of new species.
The Mediterranean Needlefish. Closely related to the Needlefish I caught in Turkey in January – see https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/venus-visits-the-temple-of-diana-mars-goes-fishing/
Mediterranean Rainbow Wrasse – not a new species for me, but they always make a nice photo.
The Spotted Weever. Packs quite a punch for a little guy – very venomous dorsal spines. I am using my most cautious facial expression.
So it was that day one in Cres was a fishing disaster. The guys did their best to throw me a nice birthday dinner – the restaurant in the harbor was top-notch, but I am sure I wasn’t very good company. Still, there was always tomorrow.
The next day again broke bright, hot, and windless. This might sound great, but in reality, the sustained heat wave had really put the fish off the bite. But we were here, and so we went. Before we motored out, I spent half an hour fishing the piers, while Guido tried to teach the Fungus to sit and roll over.
As often happens, the harbor was some of the best species-hunting of the trip. I had seen some comparatively big blennies in the harbor the day before, and I came out in the morning armed with bread. I got to sight-cast and watch one pounce on my bait – great fun.
The Leopard Blenny. An herbivore named after a carnivore. Go figure.
I then got a nice little Mullet, also on bread. Mullet are a pain to identify, and I figured this one had to be the standard Thicklip. But just to make sure, I sent photos of this one along with photos of another mullet I had caught in Tel Aviv in 2010 to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho. To my delight, the Israeli Mullet turned out to be something else altogether – the Boxlip Mullet. A new species for me, discovered 20 months after the fact. In short: it was an Israeli fish inadvertently identified by a Brazilian scientist while trying to identify a Slovenian fish which was caught by an angler who is half Polish and half idiot.
The Israeli Boxlip finally gets its day of glory. Tel Aviv, January 2010. I caught a fish in Palestine just a few hours before this.
We headed out to sea, hoping to reverse our fortunes from yesterday. We didn’t. We bashed the bottom with baits large and small, we trolled interminably, we enjoyed the lovely weather and scenery, but nothing new would bite.
Marc enjoys a swim the Adriatic. There is another photo in this series in which someone else on the boat was treading water and holding their swimsuit over their head. I seem to have misplaced this photo.
I was disgusted, and I really felt for poor Guido, who came along hoping to get a few decent fish and ended up stuck in my family crisis. Like I said, he should have quit after he caught the Chubs.
Guido’s savage Croatian fish. It’s in the lower middle of the photo. Look closely.
Marc and Steve with more examples of Croatia’s “dominant pest” – the Brown Comber.
Stubbornly, I continued dropping small cut baits right until sunset, and the Fish Gods, in a small gesture of pity, gave me one last small surprise to close out the trip. While checking my bait, I was stunned to discover a small and beautiful goby – too small to even provide a noticeable bite – that was clearly a new species for me.
The rare Kovavic’s Goby. My theory is that it is named after St. Kovacic, patron saint of small Adriatic fish.
So it was not the best two days of fishing, although 5 new species did make their way onto the list. Croatia had certainly been a lovely place to visit – great scenery, and weather that was actually too good. But for me, it was a triumph just to get through it and be headed home. No matter where I visit, I always do look forward to heading back home, but it was different this time. I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in San Francisco, nor when I then headed to Michigan for the memorial service, but I knew it was going to be rough.
Sunset over some unpronounceable island.
Just as we were leaving the harbor at Cres, a family with two young children walked by us. The little girl wanted something, and she was crying her eyes out and yelling for her Mom. I knew exactly how she felt.