The morning dawned with mist still shrouding the mountains towering above the small Pyrenean town where my wife and I were staying for a few days of hiking and fishing. Walking through the narrow streets in search of croissants and strong coffee, we dodged large puddles, left by a violent thunderstorm that had woken us during the night. The town was slowly coming to life – the market traders were setting up their stalls in the square, the old men were gathering outside the bar-tabac to read their newspapers and enjoy their first cigarettes of the day, and thankfully the boulangerie was just opening.
Once fortified with caffeine and patisserie we continued our morning stroll. The sound of rushing water could be heard long before we reached the small footbridge crossing the river that flowed through the town centre. Transformed overnight by the deluge, the inviting, crystal clear waters we had admired the previous day were now an angry, grey torrent. However, higher up the valley, beyond the last villages before the Spanish border, I could imagine a mountain stream that would have been revitalised, rather than overwhelmed, by the rains, and its inhabitants reinvigorated after a long dry spell that summer.
Driving up the valley of La Neste in South West France, I was concerned to see the river high and coloured after recent rains. My wife and I were driving to northern Spain for a short break to celebrate my 40th birthday and, as part of the trip, I had booked two days of guided fishing on the renowned rivers of Aragon on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. The season had closed in mid-September in France, but the Spanish season runs until the end of October, so this would be my last trout fishing trip of 2022 – I was praying the conditions would be more favourable on the southern side of the mountain range.
We crossed the border through the Aragnouet – Bielsa tunnel above Saint Lary. Emerging in Spain, the road descended along the valley of the RioBarossa through beautiful birch and pine forests. The Barossa was clearly in better shape than its French neighbours, running full of fresh water, but thankfully still clear with the brilliant turquoise hue that only glacial streams have.
Joining the valley of the larger Rio Cinca at Bielsa, we turned westward and cruised along towards Jaca. Drinking in the spectacular autumnal views, occasionally catching a glimpse of the magical Cinca in the canyon below, we were full of expectation of what the next few days would bring.
A long time ago my then girlfriend (now wife) bought me a smoker as a Christmas present. However, the following years spent living in city centre apartments gave scant opportunity to ever try it out and so it languished in my parents’ garage gathering dust … until now!
Sometimes you decide to go fishing and everything just feels right.
As you put your tackle in the car you notice that the air is pleasingly mild – too warm and the fish will be dour, similarly if it is too cold – somewhere in between is usually best.
As you drive to the lake you notice the roadside trees are swaying a little – just enough breeze to ensure there will be a ripple on the water to stir your quarry into action.
On arrival, there is not another soul around. You hurriedly pull on your boots, throw your bag over your shoulder and grab your rod. Crossing the field towards the water’s edge you notice a couple of fish move in the distance.
You stand on the bank and assess your options. The water has good clarity, but with just a tinge of colour to leave something to the imagination.
Another fish moves. Your confidence couldn’t be higher. You nervously thread up your rod and prepare for your first cast.
Social media has been linked to higher levels of envy, anxiety and depression in many sectors of society. I could imagine that anglers are no exception to this rule.
Based on my own feed of images and information on Instagram and Youtube, one could be forgiven for thinking that the catch of a lifetime should be a weekly occurrence for any decent angler or, at least, it only requires the purchase of one more piece of ‘essential kit’.
Too much time spent scrolling through your friends’ fishing pictures can result in the setting of unrealistic expectations for one’s own trips. Moreover, the desire to capture the perfect ‘trophy shot’ of your own to share, can distract from the multitude of other (perhaps more important) reasons why we go fishing.
Hygge is a Danish concept that cannot be translated into a single word, but is used to express a feeling of contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple pleasures in life.
The comforting warmth, flicker and crackle of an open fire is hygge. The smell of fresh coffee on a quiet Sunday morning – that’s hygge, too. Hanging out with a friend on a warm summer’s evening, shooting the breeze over a couple of cold beers – pure hygge. However, sitting alone on a park bench in the freezing winter rain can that be hygge? I was to find out on a winter’s trip to Denmark.
This year we attempted to grow some fruit and vegetables in our garden for the first time. It was all a bit trial and error, but one of the surprise success stories were our watermelons – a few seeds thrown down as a bit of an afterthought in mid summer did really well and yielded at least ten decent sized specimens.
We were a little over enthusiastic when the first of the melons reached ‘supermarket size’ and were disappointed to discover that the fruit was not quite ripe. Not wanting to waste the considerable amount of flesh that there was (albeit white rather than pink), we quickly searched the internet for ideas of what to do with unripe melon.
In Norway a few summers back, freshly caught mackerel from the fjord were our staple food for the entire week. They were so plentiful that it was easy to catch enough each day to feed four adults and three hungry children. Simply seasoned and grilled on the barbecue, they provided a healthy, filling and delicious dinner each night. However by the end of the holiday we were all ready for something a bit different, but with several mackerel remaining in the fridge we had to get creative with what we already had.
I had my trusty River Cottage Handbook No. 6 with me and leafing through the pages for inspiration I stumbled across a recipe that sounded perfect for the situation: “a great recipe for using up a glut of oily fish, and it’s perfect for large group of fish diners”. The recipe was ‘escabeche’.
A common lament in the angling press these days – at least in the UK – is the dwindling number of people, especially youngsters, entering the sport. Nowadays, with so many other distractions offering instant gratification, encouraging people to take up a hobby which by its very nature requires quiet contemplation, concentration and patience (after all it’s called fishing, not catching!) is bound to be a hard sell.
That said, there is a new generation of ‘influencers’ taking advantage of social media to raise awareness of fishing as the endlessly fascinating and rewarding pursuit that it is. Not long ago I had the pleasure of spending an amazing day on England’s premier salmon river – the River Tyne – with two of them.
Last week we were invited to some friends for our first barbecue of the year and asked to bring some fish for the grill. Not wanting to take over our friends’ kitchen I needed something I could prep at home, parcel up and just whack straight on the coals when we got there – foil baked sea bass with lemon, olives and rosemary it was then. The results were delicious – here’s how you do it …