Dateline: July 20, 2014 – Dubrovnik, Croatia
When will I get the hint?
We had come here before and had weather that was TOO good. (Details HERE) We had come here before and had weather that was positively vile. (and HERE.) Could the Fish Gods finally allow me one decent weekend of big game fishing in the Adriatic? Would Stefan Molnar stop having horrible luck every time he accompanies me south on a European adventure? In less than 2000 words, we’ll know. (Obviously, I already know, but I still read through for the pictures.)
After Marc, Stefan, and I got back from Montenegro, we fished for a few hours in Dubrovnik harbor. Dubrovnik is a gorgeous place, a river valley with steep sides jammed with quaint old buildings and traditional liquor stores.
The estuary on a summer afternoon. At least half of the buildings are liquor stores.
Because these stores were so convenient, there may have been a few beers before dinner. And during dinner. The highlight, from what I can remember, was my capture of the savage rock goby, a new species.
The rock goby. Savage, by goby standards.
I also got some nice gilthead bream, but none on the right line class stuff, so no more records were set.
Sure, it’s a nice fish, but these things get over 15 pounds.
The guys spent their time casting lures for seabass – they both caught fish and we all had far too good of a time well into the night.
A proud Stefan’s first seabass.
A proud Marc’s umpteenth seabass. This guy can fish.
The next morning featured a very early wakeup call. As slow as we were moving, we were all very wound up to finally be getting out onto the Adriatic in conditions that gave us some chance to catch a really big fish.
Heading out of Dubrovnik to the open water.
We left Dubrovnik with high hopes. The weather looked great, although Marc warned us there was a storm to the south. With any luck, it would stay south and we could get a monster tuna and a spearfish. We got miles out onto the open water, and it was flat calm and beautiful. We set up a chumline and began chunking for tuna. Molnar didn’t barf, so you know it was dead calm. (Click HERE for what happens to Stefan when it isn’t dead calm.)
Marc works the chumline. The smell comes out of your hands after two weeks or 350 washings, whichever comes last.
While we waited for a big fish, I dropped a rig to the bottom and tried my luck. Quickly, I got my second new species of the trip – a Mediterranean hake.
The Mediterranean hake. Not exactly a tuna, but then again, I’ve caught bluefin before. Such is the perverted psychology of the species hunter.
I also got a beastly weever. The spines are poisonous, so if you catch one, let Marc handle it.
The tuna weren’t cooperating on the drift, so we set up to troll. I knew this could result in a spearfish, and I quietly rehearsed the strike in my head, especially the part where I wrench the rod away from Stefan. Trolling was quiet but I find the entire process maddeningly suspenseful, like going for a long bike ride right after eating a seafood burrito.
Somewhere late in that afternoon, as we stopped trolling and set up for another chunking drift, I noticed a gentle zephyr play across the water. Then there was a gust. And another. We watched the wind go from zero to 30 in about an hour, and when Marc looked at the weather report, he said bad words in four different languages.
Trolling off of one of the islands, just before the weather hit.
The storm had shifted north. Marc told us we needed to find shelter quickly or we were going to have a very bad time of it. We set course for Lastovo, one of the outermost Croatian islands, and by the time we got there, it had clouded up and was blowing close to 50mph.
This is how I remember things as we got to Lastovo.
We slipped inside the port – as scenic a location as one could hope for – and looked back. One glance outside the breakwater made it very clear that staying outside would be suicidal – waves were breaking over a 15-foot barrier.
This would be our home for most of the next two days. We were trapped, and the main part of the trip was basically screwed. The weather wasn’t supposed to last more than a day or so, but while the wind was blowing, we couldn’t go anywhere. We found accommodations, and after a beautiful seafood dinner, we headed to our rooms and slept.
Morning broke clear but still very windy. We had an excellent view from our hotel, and I surveyed the square mile or two that would be my home for the next day and a half. Molnar seemed to take it pretty well – for an occasionally tense German guy, he seemed strangely serene. I cannot say the same for myself.
The harbor at Lastovo. The are plenty of reasons to visit here, but none of them apply to me.
Taking a deep breath, I figured that there had to be at least one new species in that harbor. So I scoped out all the spots where I could access reasonably deep water – pretty much the end of the dock – and set to it. I remained there for most of the next 30 hours, with minimum breaks for the bathroom and occasional food, plus a modicum of sleep. I must have caught 200 striped combers.
A striped comber. This particular one was the 1000th fish (not species, just fish) I caught in 2014.
We met people from all over Europe who were in the same predicament, even if they weren’t on a schedule as tight as ours. Indeed, many of these people thought that staying here was a perfectly nice vacation and didn’t view the situation as a predicament. Shocking. They just sat around on nice boats, enjoying the sunshine, grilling lovely meals, chatting, and taking in the scenery. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??
Meanwhile, I parked at the end of that dock and fished hard. There wasn’t much variety. I got comber after comber, a few mullet, a scorpionfish, and some bream, but nothing new. Ironically, there was a new species in there, but #&%*!%# Molnar caught it. A sharpnose seabream. I have always wanted to catch one. Oh, I was sullen.
You have to be kidding me. This is Jaime-level behavior.
He also got a scorpionfish. It took me years to catch one of these. He got one in five minutes.
Molnar even caught an octopus. The child in his armpit is Phillip. Phillip never slept, followed us everywhere, and asked, by my count, 3,267 questions. This is exactly what I needed while I was desperate to catch Molnar’s bream.
Finally, we took a break for dinner. Even I have to admit that the dinners were special. The island had excellent seafood, and with nothing but time, we made a huge production out of the evening meal. Both nights featured huge plates of shellfish, mixed grills of local fish, and plenty to drink. There are plenty of people who would consider this to be a very nice vacation – boating to a beautiful location with good friends, having great food and a good bar, but let’s face it, if you think I was happy with this, you must be a new reader. Welcome!
Yes, I did take some of the shrimp before they cooked it and used it for bait. It didn’t help.
I’m not sure what’s in the shot glasses, but Marc poured the leftovers into the gas tank.
We talked fishing with Marc until the early hours. He was so passionate about this area and the beastly fish it had produced for him, and he was in pain that we couldn’t get the right days. He wanted us to get the fish more than we wanted to get the fish, and that’s a lot.
This photo haunts my dreams. If you’re planning a trip to Croatia, contact Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the 22nd, it was still brutally windy. I was beginning to wonder whether we were going to miss our flight out of Split on the 23rd. I dutifully went down to the pier and caught more combers. Marc kept an eye on the weather reports, and he thought we had a good chance to get out in the afternoon. It looked like it would stay sloppy for a week, but Marc told me that once the wind stopped, it would be fishable almost immediately. Right after lunch, just like that, it laid down. The wind dropped from 40 to a gentle whisper in less than an hour. Marc smiled quietly, and we were ready to depart in record time. Heading outside after 42 hours of confinement, I expected the sea to still be rough, but it had smoothed out to just a light chop.
We finally leave Lastovo behind.
We ran to an island a few miles north, and began fishing the bottom. Molnar caught a beastly scorpionfish, and I kept catching the striped combers, which apparently had followed me out of the harbor and would catch the plane back to Frankfurt and sit in my seat if they got the chance.
Molnar’s pig of a scorpionfish.
20 minutes later, I finally got a non-comber bite, and hoped as I always do to see something weird come up. I was not disappointed. Peering into the clear water, I saw a flash of bright yellow, then I said something I rarely do when I got it on the deck – “What the heck is that?”
Species #3 for the trip.
It was a cuckoo wrasse – a big one. And not only was it a cool-looking new species, it was also a world record. The day was looking up. I couldn’t help myself – I had been badly beaten up by the conditions, but had still pulled out some sort of victory. I yelled “Yo! Adriatic!” across the water to the bewildered glances of my boatmates, who had apparently never seen “Rocky.” We fished the bottom for another hour or so, then started trolling our way north toward the island harbor of Milna.
Sure it’s beautiful, but nothing is more beautiful than a spearfish.
We got to Milna just as the sun was going down.
Inside the Milna harbor. All of these places are worth visiting, especially if you’re not a fisherman.
Milna was charming, and featured a water’s-edge promenade loaded with good restaurants. The architecture was wonderfully quaint, although the 18th-century church needed some repairs. (They do say “If it ‘aint baroque, don’t fix it.”) Dinner was steak and seafood, looking over the harbor on a pleasant summer evening. Of course, I wolfed down my food so I could get back to the water.
We were joined for dinner by a three-legged cat. I got him his own salmon carpaccio.
The next morning, we got in a few hours of tuna fishing. We saw three fish on the depth finder – good news – but we had no strikes. Molnar handled it much, much better than I would have. While we were waiting on a bluefin, I fished smaller rigs on the bottom and picked up a lovely striped picarel – a final species with just a few moments to go in the trip.
This is what passes for excitement in my world.
We cleaned and packed our gear, had a nice seaside lunch in Split, and took a taxi to the airport.
Split, Croatia. Highest divorce rate in the Balkans.
I was inconsolable. Marc had done his best, but the Fish Gods had spoken. I had thought the spearfish was finally going to happen, and one twist in the weather had brought it all crashing down. But the bitterest experience in the whole four days was likely the sharpnose seabream, which may be why Stefan was not quite as foul as I was. Indeed, I could swear he had a slight smile on the whole flight to Frankfurt. I could also swear he got a congratulatory text from Jaime.
SPECIAL BONUS UPDATE – GERMAN PERCH FISHING
The week before the Adriatic mess, while I was still at my office in Germany, I got an unexpected fishing invitation. One of my co-workers, definitely not a fisherman, had arranged for me and Stefan Molnar to go out with one of his friends in a small local lake, about 10 miles from the office. There wasn’t much of a chance at a new species, but an afternoon of fishing is always a good thing.
Falko, who set the whole thing up. Not a fisherman, but a superstar at work and somehow popular with the ladies. Must be the hair.
Of course, I always keep an eye out for records as well as species, and I was thrilled to see that a bunch of line-class records were open on European perch. This lake was supposed to have big perch. How hard could it be?
Falko’s friend was named Karl-Heinz – a great guy. (And a pro-level fisherman.) He knew the lake down to the last rockpile, but we actually ran into another one of those situations where the weather was TOO good. Hot, bright, sunny, and still may make for a nice day to sit by the shore, but the gamefish tend to go deep and off the bite in these conditions. Still, we got out there and enjoyed ourselves.
But the fishing was difficult. And no matter how nice the day is, tough fishing makes me forget things like sunshine and nice scenery. But we were nothing if not persistent, and by the end of a pleasant evening, we had both caught a solid European perch – mine big enough to set the 12 pound line-class record.
A summer afternoon well-spent. That’s Karl-Heinz on the right.
So a big thanks to Karl-Heinz and to Falko for putting together a great afternoon on the water, and to Stefan Molnar for not catching any more rare fish right in front of me.