Trying to do something else I’m rubbish at
I’d snagged a big one.
The rod was bending and the reel slipping as I battled to try and pull it in, but this one wasn’t going to be hauled onto the beach quite so easily.
It was massive – and my line was stretching.
It may have been the biggest, but it certainly wasn’t the last…rock I would catch that day.
This week I was learning to fish from the beach with my brother-in-law Nuno and we caught a lot of surprising things.
Aside from all the rocks, I caught myself a number of times (usually fingers and arms, but on one notable occasion my own back), we caught each other, and we even caught Simon the dog.
But in terms of fish I’d be wrong to say it wasn’t disappointing.
I’d been eyeing up the brilliantly named Magic Hook fishing tackle store in Rogil in the Algarve ever since last summer when Nuno brought his spare rod on holiday and we took to the rocks for a dabble.
He even bought me a book in Portuguese on fishing secrets for Christmas subtitled “six mistakes that stop you catching fish.” (I confess I hadn’t read it).
But even beyond the challenge of buying the right reel and telescopic rod, fishing paraphernalia is such a confusion of choice and inexplicable small sachets of metal and plastic things that my one previous shop visit was quickly aborted in a panic of ignorance.
I decided to wait until I had a guide who knew his anzols from his chumbadas (his fish hooks from his weights) and how the missangas (beads) fit into the whole story.
And so it was with Nuno leading the conversation that I returned to Anzol Mágico and met Denis (pron: Dehn-EEsh) to spend some money…and I’d like to think that he didn’t recognise me without the crazy beard I had been sporting back then.
Fishing is a great idea.
We have eaten some amazing fish line-caught along this coast, and we often see guys perched on the cliff edge casting into the surf and occasionally hauling in something spectacular.
I imagine how it will go: greeting fellow fishermen in my amazing colloquial Portuguese while skipping over slippy rocks, nodding in mutual respect and discussing how much I’d get for my shoal while picking up tips for the next best places to go.
Take it from me, the colloquial Portuguese is the most realistic part of that daydream and it’s still a lonnnnng way off.
Currently it’s dourada season and golden bream is the big prize, but alongside all the little bags of things that Nuno had handpicked, I decided against buying the weighing scales as it would be both arrogantly presumptive and extremely bad luck.
Quite a few euros later I was the proud owner of a sack of lead, lots of string, a few random plastic and metal things…but worst of all, a naive sense of hope.
I remember Sunderland Football Club’s fanzine used to be called: “It’s the hope I can’t stand” – on the basis that winning would be great and losing would be fine, but amid all the usual disappointments, it was the possibility of winning which was the real killer.
Ana’s sister Maria-João and Nuno stayed with us for a couple of days on the way back to Lisbon from their beach holiday a few miles down the coast in the Algarve.
We had had a hectic week, and after architect meetings, town hall building applications, a panic over a brush-clearing fine from before we moved here, and a crazy day and a half painting (again), we felt we deserved a little break.
While Ana and João planned a chatty catch up on our secret beach in wonderful September sunshine, Nuno and I were strategizing over tide times and rigging options.
You may have realised this already, but I’m no expert.
As a child my dad would take me fishing with a bright orange line on a wooden frame off the end of Craster pier in Northumberland.
We would usually come home with some kind of flat fish – it was decades ago, but I do remember one which dad called Nelson after one of its eyes popped out as he clonked it on the head.
The last rod I bought was when I lived in South Beach, Miami in the early naughties and my folks came to visit.
I caught absolutely nothing, but dad couldn’t keep them off his hook…he even snagged a puffer fish which dramatically inflated itself while failing to kill anyone.
With that depth of inexperience, it took quite a few attempts for Nuno to teach me the various knots for connecting hooks and weights to lines in a strategic order and with an explanation that seemed to involve a lot of rabbits going down various holes.
My rabbits seemed to go up them instead of down and so my initial line-securing success rate was something of a lottery.
The next two days became a blur of frustration, fat fingers working with thin nylon, lots of confused rabbits, and puncture wounds both from barbed hooks and nips from the small crabs who didn’t want to be pierced, strung up and forced to swim with the fishes.
The smell of the worms was unique…although to be fair I think they are some kind of centipede – payback time for the scolopendra who got me last autumn.
I’ll be honest, despite twice swimming out to extricate my tackle from various sharp rocks, I did lose some line and a couple of weights and hooks which I couldn’t find amid the flotsam and jetsam the next day.
Nuno’s approach is that if you lose some line and accidentally pollute the sea, then pick up some plastic from the beach and bring it home as some form of balanced payment (if you can find any - Portuguese beaches are notoriously and fabulously clean).
The better you get, the fewer lines you lose and my knots are already improving with all the practice.
Hooking my own back was just funny. Hooking Simon set me off on a panic.
He’d been chasing the shadows of the weights and the baits as they swung from the five and a half meter rod, but then pounced on a hooked crab as it was about to be cast and was caught.
My panic made him panic as he tied to wriggle free and to tangle himself up in the fishing line.
But the hook was only caught in his mouth fur and Ana quickly and calmly freed him with a snip of the scissors.
He was the biggest catch of the day, but the highlight was when Nuno and I both appeared to have caught something big and reeled it in excitedly…only to discover we had caught each other’s line.
Regular readers will remember how much I have mocked Simon in the past for his hours of obsessive fishing which he learned on this very same beach and which is now one of his favourite things.
Hours and hours spent trying and failing to catch even the tiniest little fish: a source of great amusement for us all. The irony is not lost on me. And it didn’t cost Simon a thing.
Having bought an expensive new strimmer Ana tells me I have to work at least the same number of hours it would have cost to employ someone to do it for us.
Apparently I now also have to catch the equivalent number of fish to justify my expensive new hobby.
We are still debating whether that is at restaurant or supermarket prices. Are there enough hours in the day?
Simon has already moved on: from fish, to shadows of fish, to shadows of anything and from rock pools to puddles.
“There are no fish in puddles Simon.”
It appears there are no fish in the sea either.
But there are great freshly caught fish at O Sacas, one of our favourite clifftop restaurants .
We may not have caught it, but it tasted great, took a fraction of the time and gives us something to aim for.
“I think it was because the water is too clear and they saw us coming,” said Nuno.
Apparently you catch loads of fish in the dark or in the rain.
I can’t wait for winter and for all the fish upon which we’ll be feasting…once I’ve finished the book and learned all the secrets.