The urge to fish on his summer holiday proves too strong for
Andrew Flitcroft takes a family holiday to Portugal but can't help wetting a line
I’VE JUST RETURNED FROM THE Algarve. We go most years. Same resort, same beach, same restaurants. Unadventurous, I know, but wherever you stay in the Algarve it’s much the same. Except this year, it was different. Poppy is 20 now and far more interested in her “lead-singer-of-a-band” boyfriend than hanging around with mum and dad, who are no longer cool. Who can blame her? So, we headed for Portugal, leaving Poppy home alone for a full week, having first hidden anything of sentiment in fear of her inevitable house party. Portugal was wonderful. It was 30 deg C and we did everything that couples in their 50s do – slept, read, swam in the sea, ate seafood and drank lots of cheap wine. I also did something I’ve previously resisted. I went fishing. Before the holiday, I got in touch with Marco de São Vicente, who started fly-fishing eight years ago and runs Fly Fishing Algarve. Marco worked in Switzerland as a civil engineer but moved home to start a family and fulfil his dream of making a living from fly-fishing. He’s determined to make his venture work. He’s busy, too, with English and Irish holidaymakers who’ve had enough of lying on the beach. “What would you like to fish for?” he asked. “The best fishing in early September is sight-fishing for carp. Otherwise, there’s float-tube fishing for largemouth bass on streamers and poppers. Or saltwater fishing for bass, but it’s strongly tide-related.” I was intrigued to catch anything on a fly in Portugal, but declined the float-tubing due to an ongoing attack of gout. Marco picked me up the next morning. As requested, I was armed with a hat, sunglasses, footwear for wading and rocky terrain, and swimming shorts (no budgie smugglers!). Thankfully, Marco provides tackle for a small fee. Loop rods and Airflo lines were in the boot. His enthusiasm and professionalism were obvious. We left the tarmac for a dirt track, which wound its way through parched scrub and pine-nut trees to a shallow,
crystal-clear lake. It was, in fact, part of a river, cut off in summer. Marco set up the rod, attached a bright green Frog Popper to a 9ft leader and we waded in. It took a while to get the retrieve right, but then the popper began popping and was hit by something small and aggressive. The take was exciting, but the fight short-lived. It turned out to be a widemouthed bass. A first for me. More popping and bass followed until the takes dried up and we changed to a sunk lure, a small rubber-legged crayfish imitation. Then something bigger came in from the left. “It’s a barbel, a barbel,” said Marco. “Quick, quick, there it is… cast!” Needless to say, I fluffed it. There followed a lesson on how, where and when to pitch a fly in front of a barbel. They’re easily spooked. You need to overshoot the crayfish, let it sink to the bottom and crawl it to within a couple of inches of the barbel’s intended path before it moves on. It’s bloody tricky. What we thought was another barbel, turned out to be a type of carp, which moments later lay in the net with rubber legs hanging from its mouth. Marco insisted it wasn’t a common carp as we know it, but nonetheless it was another first for me: I’ve caught carp on dog biscuit flies, but not on an imitation of something living. With that, we took to the road again, this time to a lake with bigger carp. For two hours we searched for the tell-tale sign of a carp clouding the margins as it grubbed around for crayfish. We found a dozen or so up to 10lb, but my delivery and presentation failed me and after a fruitless scramble across hard terrain (with gout), we headed for the soft sand and incoming tide of the Mediterranean. It was a Saturday and the Spanish had flocked across the border to Praia de Monte Gordo, where we explored the tidal inlets and lagoons in search of bass. It was windy, but comfortable underfoot as we searched the rising ribbons of water for scattering baitfish. We found them, but not what was making them scatter. We spotted just one biggish bass (4lb-6lb), a dark shape that was on us in a flash – too quick and too close for us to remain concealed. It melted away. As the sun sank, bathers left and as they did we had our first chance. I cast a small, flashy offering as far as I could and started stripping. It felt a little like salmon fishing when the air softens and the temperature rises half a degree. You can feel a change; that something’s going to happen. It did. I caught a bass. Another first. It was tiny, but definitely a bass. Is there such a thing as a Portuguese Macnab? If you’re going to the Algarve, get in touch with Marco beforehand (flyfishingalgarve.com/facebook). He’ll show you the real Portugal. “Come back in March,” he said. “When we have water in the rivers and the big barbel take a dry fly.”
I’M DELIGHTED TO introduce a new member of the T&S editorial team. Staff writer Rob Hardy worked on T&S in the early Nineties before joining Sporting Gun. He brings a wealth of gamefishing experience and enthusiasm. Rob loves salmon fishing and has fished the Wye, Tay, Tweed and North Esk. He’s also fished for river and stillwater trout for many years and has been on saltwater trips to Mexico, Belize and Florida. I’m sure you’ll extend a warm welcome.