Gobies In the Afternoon

Barcelona, Spain, has quite a few goby species that haunt protected areas. Several awaited me.

Steve Wozniak (NOT the Apple guy) is a man on a mission: to be the first person in the world to catch 2,000 different species of fish. (He was already the first to 1,000, so his girlfriend set the new goal to keep him out of the house.) You can read all about it here. As of this blog post, Woz has caught 1,181 species.

Dateline: January 24, 2013 — Barcelona, Spain

He was a sailor. I am a fisherman. But we made it work, even though the best fishing of the day happened well after we returned to the dock.

After the trip to Slovenia — the one that came eight minutes from disaster — I returned to Germany for a few days in the office. After that, I flew to Barcelona for three more days of meetings. Of course, I always try to fish everywhere I go, but I found special motivation while checking a photo album before I left home.

I had gone back and looked for photos from my last trip to Spain — a rather debauched Macromedia distributor conference in June of 1999. I made a terrible discovery, and I don't mean the picture of our finance guy being sick on his loafers. Although I went fishing in '99, and although I definitely did catch a fish and add Spain to the list, a photo of this beast was nowhere to be found. This was back in my film camera days, and despite hours of poring over negatives, I couldn't find photographic proof that I had angled in the land of tapas and Julio Iglecias. This was a wrong that needed to be righted.

Sunset over the Barcelona skyline. According to a local source, the church on the left is not a church at all, but rather, is the Montjuic Exhibition Center. No wonder they looked at me funny when I lit candles in the lobby.

Normally, Barcelona has mild weather, even in January, but Europe was in the grip of a nasty cold spell and even Spain was downright chilly. Not Slovenia-type frigid, thank goodness, but colder than it should have been. Further north, places like Paris and Frankfurt were snowed in, and many of my co-workers never made it to Barcelona.

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The view from my hotel room, and yes, I immediately went out and fished the two piers on the left.

It was a beautiful town, even if I had to wear a sweater and jacket to walk around at night.

Some monument which is a tribute to someone who did something at some stage in the past.

(It's actually a monument to Christopher Columbus, who may have "discovered" the Americas. Of course, the idea that someone "discovered" the place must have come as news to the people who already lived here, but regardles, Columbus had a much better marketing effort than the Norwegians. This discussion led to hilarity when a very tired Marta briefly mixed up Leif Ericson with Leif Garrett. She claims this was an attempt at humor — we'll let you decide.)

In each place I visit, I hope to have some sort of unique cultural experience. Being a Hemingway fan, I had wanted to see a bullfight in Barcelona. This was not out of any primordial blood lust, but merely in the hope that the bull would win. Guys in tights and red capes make me mad too. (No, not you, Martini. See Elvis Has Left the River for an explanation.)

Unfortunately for my itinerary, this ancient tradition was eliminated a couple of years ago after a lengthy campaign led by animal rights activists and the bulls. (Of course, some bulls just refuse to play — it worked for Derek Rose.) And so, instead of death in the afternoon, I was left with fishing in the afternoon, the most exciting part of which, as it turns out, involved ... gobies.

Setting up the trip was harder than I thought it would be. All the normal sources — IGFA, Marc Inoue, standing naked near the harbormaster's office — had not panned out. There were certainly charter boats in the area, but these guys all seemed to operate under the idea that I only wanted to troll for big game that isn't there in January and that I am filthy rich and would not worry about paying 2,000 Euros to go fishing for something that isn't there in January. I went to my last — but often best — resource for emergency fishing charters: the hotel concierge.

When properly motivated, hotel concierges can find almost anything, and Paulo at the Hotel Arts was magnificent. Quickly grasping my bizarre requirements, he searched frantically for a boat that could just go out and ply the local rock piles for whatever might be biting. The next day, he waved me over to the concierge desk in the lobby. He told me "I think I have found you a boat. But I need your honest opinion — this guy is an excellent sailor, but not a fisherman. Do you know enough about fishing where you can tell him where to go and what to do? He is a very nice guy and would love to help you."

I said "You had me at 'boat.'"

So he put us in touch. The skipper's name was Francesc Gutierrez, and he responded to my email immediately. I could tell even online that he was very friendly and interested in going out with a fisherman — and he was also very honest that this was not his normal assignment. We organized for him to bring some bait, and I told him I would do the rest. While my co-workers were out on the town that night, I was holed up in my room peering at Google Earth for likely spots off of Barcelona.

Morning came, and the weather, while cold, was clear and crisp. We putted out into the chilly dawn, perhaps the third time in my life I had been on a sailboat. It was breezy, but the mountains protected us from the worst of it and the conditions were fishable all day — a fast drift, but doable.

The breakwater at dawn.

We motored about 5 miles to the east and I set up. I asked him for the bait, and shame on me for not being specific. He brought — one squid. I realized I would have to make it count, so I cut fairly small strips and hoped I would catch something I could use for more bait.

Francesc navigates us out into the Mediterranean.

It didn't take long to correct the great Spanish fish photo issue. As we drifted some rocky patches in about 100 feet of water, I started getting bites and soon caught an axillary bream, known locally as a "besugo," and a red porgy.

A red porgy, or "pargo" in local parlance. These are found on both sides of the Atlantic, which annoys me, because I would prefer that there were different species to catch. Francesc took this particular one to his mother for her dinner — pargo is one of her favorite meals.

I had to keep resetting my line due to the fast drift, but I still was able to pull up a nice variety of Mediterranean species — nothing new, but it was great to be on the water. Francesc gave it a very full day for me — he just seemed to love being out there, and he seemed astonished that there were fish to catch in places he had sailed over so many times.

A horse mackerel — another ubiquitous critter which makes excellent cut bait. This species once saved a trip for me in Istanbul - see Istavrit not Constantinople (a.k.a. The Trojan Horse Mackerel).

A "pout" or "bib." I seem to catch exactly one of these in every European country where I fish.

The Spanish flag snapper. (It doesn't live here, but I thought I'd throw it in to see if you're paying attention. See Slinging Fish in Singapore.)

Francesc spoke great English, and we carried on a pleasant conversation the entire day. His main business is running sailing excursions, especially in the warmer weather, when he takes small groups out for sightseeing and lunches in some of the charming smaller towns outside of Barcelona.

Late in the afternoon, we motored back toward the harbor, getting a lovely view of sunny — if chilly — Barcelona.

Francesc at the helm, all smiles all day, and very happy to play fishing guide for a few hours. If you're in Barcelona, you have to look this guy up — info@vell-mari.com — or +34 620 911 426.

Returning to Olympic Harbor.

I was faintly bothered that I had not gotten a new species, but I still had one idea left to try. The moment we docked, I grabbed my trusty tiny sabikis and some leftover squid, and began hunting the pilings. Although I had no red cape handy, I knew that the success of my trip depended on facing down one of the most savage of harbor creatures — the goby.

This part of the world has quite a few goby species that haunt protected areas. I had caught some of them, but several more awaited me. I went to that special, focused place in my head, and went mano-a-finno with the pier creatures. The first few I got were red-lipped gobies, a species I had caught in Monaco, but the fourth catch was a winner — the slender goby, new species No. 1180.

A slender goby. Fifteen more ounces and it would have been a world record.

The drama was not finished. After going through a few black gobies and another redlip, I caught the creature below. It turned out to be a yellowhead goby, species No. 1181, and I can't consider the day anything but a huge success. Ole!

The yellowhead goby. Thanks to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho for quick identifications!

After about an hour of goby hunting, I packed up and said my goodbyes with Francesc. He was no more a fisherman than I am a sailor, but as a team, we created a memorable afternoon. Marta wants to go to Barcelona very much, so a return trip is likely, and I am certain we will go out for a tour with Francesc — but only if I can troll. (I can only hope she doesn't mix up General Franco with the DeFranco Family.)

No bulls were harmed in the making of this blog.

Steve

Steve and Francesc, as Steve heads for the hotel and a huge plate of paella.