Dateline: October 10, 2011 – Portoroz, Slovenia
There are times when my social and fishing plans clash. As you can imagine, it is not usually difficult for me to choose between the two, but in Slovenia this past October, I was truly put to the test. I was forced to make a choice between catching fish and being thought of as rude, and if you have any doubt about which way I went, you’re probably a first-time reader. Welcome!
It was breakfast time on the rainy morning after the Bosnian adventure, and we were discussing options for the next couple of days. These were, in no particular order – go back to Germany and get rained on, stay in Slovenia and get rained on, or go somewhere else and – say it with me – get rained on. Fishing did not seem to play into the plan – Croatia was definitely out, as the winds down there continued at gale force. Freshwater fishing options seemed to all be impossible. It was miserable weather in Ljubljana, and Marc’s attempts to find a boat on the Slovenian coast had been fruitless.
The sun rises over a snowy Ljubljana. Although the sky may be a lovely red, there is great truth to the old Polish sailor’s saying “Red sky at morn, you’re screwed.”
We were almost ready to bail out, when a friend of Marc’s came by the hotel and told us that the weather on the coast was actually much better. He recommended a few spots, and I practically left skid marks on the floor heading to the car. Hang on, said Marc. We should have a cup of coffee with this guy. Coffee? When we have located potential fishing? Marc explained it was something of a local social requirement, and I sat there while they chatted, trying to be on good behavior, while an hour dragged by and precious species were going off the bite.
We ended up driving to Koper, a popular seaside resort town, to meet with another one of Marc’s friends. The weather had actually turned decent – still breezy but the sun had at least made a showing. This guy was a local fisherman, and he talked us through his idea for shore fishing – a shot at some Leerfish and big seabreams a few miles south in Portoroz. We found the place on a map, and I was pretty much up out of my seat and ready to go. But wait, Marc said. We should have a cup of coffee with his friend. You know, to be polite.
Coffee? COFFEE? We have 5 possible hours of fishing and we are going to stop and have COFFEE? I was polite for the first little while but slowly became petulant as the time dragged by. I considered faking a seizure, but decided that it wasn’t worth risking a brush with the Slovenian healthcare system. (I’m sure the care is very good, but the language barrier could have tragic consequences, especially as the words for “seizure” and “sex change” sound fairly similar.)
We finally escaped and got to a grocery store, where we bought some shrimp and squid for bait. We then headed off to where Marc’s friend had told us to go. Briefly and grudgingly, I noticed that we were surrounded by lovely scenery – a view that never gets old – looking out over the Adriatic to Trieste and the Alps beyond. After going through a complex parking ritual, we realized that we were on the shallow side of the bay and that access to fishably deep water was about a mile away. I set to walking and the half an hour went by like 30 minutes.
We reached a pier in Strunjan near a charming little restaurant and I set up shop. The fishing started well. The first time I dropped a sabiki, it came back up with a wriggling, silver creature that turned out to be a Sand Smelt.
The savage Sand Smelt of Slovenia. It may not be large, but it’s highly alliterative.
My goodness. After all that heartache and wandering, after all that pointless coffee, I’d finally caught a new species. For the next few hours, however, I had to rest on those tiny laurels while nothing but minute Seabreams bit my hook and Guido managed to scrape up a few Needlefish.
Giudo, Guido, Guido. Show us the fish. It was actually less small than this photo would indicate.
Marc, seeing that the good stuff was not biting, set himself up comfortably in the restaurant, and soon, local friends and relatives materialized. It was strange to see a large group in the off-season – quite a change from this summer when everything on the shoreline was packed. The weather was pleasant enough for October, a bit of chill in the air but sunny, and they all talked and had a few drinks and enjoyed themselves. Now and then, they would call to me – “Come have a coffee with us, Steve.” I don’t even like coffee. I muttered bad things under my breath and pretended not to hear them. Guido went and joined the group – et tu, Guido? I fished by myself and scraped up two more new species – the Tentacled Blenny and Doderleini’s Wrasse.
Two local kids, Massimo and Luigi, admire the Tentacled Blenny. I haven’t seen hair that perfect since Martini Arostegui took off his hat. See https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/the-hair-apparent/
The best eyebrows since Brezhnev.
Doderleini’s Wrasse. I was actually ecstatic about this at the time.
Undisturbed by fish, Marc and Steve enjoy the Adriatic shoreline.
Looking across the bay to St. George’s Cathedral.
Not that this made up for the less-than-stellar fishing, but the place was beautiful, with magical view across the bay to the 12th-century St. George Cathedral in Piran, and the full moon appeared as the evening went purple and chilly.
Moonrise over the Strunjan lagoon.
That evening, we sat down for pizza in a harborside restaurant. The owner was a fishing buddy of Marc’s, but the staff said he wouldn’t be in until later. We ate pizza and pondered the ugly prospect of another day struggling on the shoreline. Marc’s phone was ringing off the hook with calls from his contacts across the region who were trying to find us something to do. The Croatian weather reports came back so dire that I was concerned all their remaining vowels might be blown out to sea. Just then, a large, dark-haired man ran up to the table, gave Marc a big hug, and, with breathless excitement, rushed us all into the back of his restaurant. I was expecting to learn what REALLY goes into the pizza, but instead, he showed us a truly wonderful surprise in the walk-in fridge. A tuna. A big bluefin, weighing somewhere around a hundred pounds, caught just a couple of miles off the coast. And the weather seemed to be improving – now all we had to do was find a boat.
Marc must have made calls all night. He always seems to be thinking a couple of steps ahead, and by morning, he actually had located a possible boat for us. Like everything here, it was a friend of a friend sort of thing which I did not fully understand and did not try to, as I was more concerned with just getting out and going fishing. Even if we didn’t catch a beastly tuna, I would have a shot at some bottom critters well offshore and I was excited.
We worked our way through Portoroz to the harbor in Piran, and there, after another bizarre parking ritual, we met the boat rental guys, friends of friends of someone’s cousin’s cellmate. It was a fine boat – the three of us would fit nicely. The weather had stayed calm, and even though the barometer had been less stable than one of my unmedicated relatives, we were finally going fishing. But then these guys invited Marc to have a cup of coffee.
Coffee? COFFEE? No, no, no, no, NO! We have a precious boat for 5 hours only and we are going to stop and have COFFEE? In these circumstances, I wouldn’t have stopped for dialysis. So they had coffee and chatted, for at least 90 minutes, while I made a show of staying over in the harbor and catching minute seabreams and wrasses, just to make a point.
A minute wrasse. If you look in the background, you will see some less-dedicated fishermen wasting their day drinking coffee and talking.
They waved at me occasionally and invited me over to have coffee with them, but I stood my ground and dropped subtle hints like “I’ll have a Red Bull with you AFTER we come back from fishing which is what we are supposed to be doing right now.” They smiled back and gave each other bewildered glances. The culture here is just more laid back than I am used to, but then again, New York City is more laid back than I’m used to.
We finally got on the water about 2pm. Although I didn’t notice it at the time, when I looked at my photos later, the scenery was lovely. From the boat, it was clear how close together everything in Europe really is. We could look back at Slovenia, or look south to Croatia or north to Italy. We Californians have a hard time relating to that, as the nearest foreign country – Bakersfield – is about 6 hours away.
Looking past Piran and Portoroz, Trieste is in the distance, and behind it are the Italian Alps. If I turned around from this vantage point, I would see Croatia. And if the earth was flat and it was really, really clear, I might see Libya.
We didn’t get any tuna that day – not even a tuna bite. But it was a moral victory to even get on the water, and although people usually claim moral victory when they lose on the scoreboard, there was a scoreboard victory to boot – out of the many interesting bottom critters I caught, one of them turned out to be a new species – the Tub Gurnard.
The Tub Gurnard. I have no idea why they are called that. I didn’t catch it in a tub, not that I would be morally opposed to something like that.
The Tub Gurnard, an otherwise homely creature, has beautiful pectoral fins.
We tried to catch some Leerfish along the old city walls and by the cathedral, but nothing would bite. The air got cold in a hurry as the sun slipped behind the spire, but the sunset was postcard-perfect.
I am going to keep coming back here until I catch something dignified.
We had a beautiful seafood meal in the harbor that evening, enjoying the moon coming up over the Adriatic and planning future adventures, during which, it was hoped, the Fish Gods would stop messing with me.
The moon rises over Piran.
The next day, Guido and I rose early and hit the road for Germany. We made one stop for UMF – unsupervised man food – at a Burger King somewhere in Austria. I was in a hurry to get back to the office and plunge into some of the work I had let pile up over the past couple of days, so I was unsubtly rushing Guido out of the place as soon as the Cheese Whoppers were consumed. He stopped, and said “I would like sit down and have some coffee first.”
Coffee? COFFEE? We have 5 hours to drive back to Germany and we are going to stop and have COFFEE? I was really working up a head of steam when Guido smiled ever so slightly. He was messing with me.
I immediately reminded him that no one likes a smartass, and that no one should wear dark socks with shorts, and we raced back to Walldorf as the Fungus snored in the back seat.