Since moving to SW France three weeks ago, Fishing has been at the top of the list, to the point that I said to myself, no more posts until I catch a fish to post about (that and the small matter of relocation and trying to make money from thin air…pitch pitch pitch). Now I am not a sea fisherman, I never have been. Ok, a few bass or garfish here and there, even a mackerel of two, a few dorado, trigger fish and bonefish perhaps, but when it comes to fishing I am a freshwater piscator all the way.
I like small bodies of water, tiny brooks and farm ponds. Reservoirs put me off in the same way the sea does. Throwing out your line in the ocean is a bit like planting a single seed and hoping for a bumper harvest- unlikely. Having said that I was sitting out back in the surf this morning with a vast shoal of tiddlers surrounding me, must remember to get me a throw net and stand up paddle board and put whitebait on the menu.
Although I haven’t been fishing in the sea itself, I have been hitting Capbreton port, Hossegor Lac and the main channel between the two hard, with little success. The usual paternoster rig with ragworm, squid, prawns all turn up a few nibbles and occasionally a very small gilthead bream- but never anything for the pot. Mind you I haven’t seen the local Gauls hauling out anything to write home about either, unless they make a point of waiting till I’ve gone home to hit the water and pull out the beasts. I have been beating my head against the wall trying to catch something for the table. Even my faltering conversations with local Frenchies at the water’s edge have been about as useful as a shotgun is to a vegetarian, mind you fishing banter is rarely crops up when learning a language, this prompted me to purchase my first copy of ‘Le Chasseur Francais: la vie grandeur nature’. Good mag, nice pictures too, I just haven’t a clue what all the text means. It may help me pick up some obscure words not used in everyday conversation.
When I moved out here, I had to be ruthless with my packing, stuffing my beloved VW Golf with only the bare necessities- of course all the fishing equipment had to come, including the fly rod. I had been planning on taking it up to search out some amazing rivers in the mountains (oh yes! Check these out: http://www.pyrenea-flyfishing.com/brouillon3/en/gallery.php) and I intend to this weekend. After a particularly frustrating session on the lake spent mostly staring down wistfully at large Mullet feeding lazily in the shallows and completely ignoring my offering on a hook, I decide to tap the vast encyclopedia that is the interweb. Could you fly fish for Mullet?
The answer was yes, and here are three great links which enlightened me and can help you get started:
Mullet have always been tagged as being particularly finicky fish, spook easily, won’t take any bait and once hooked will shed the hook as they have very soft mouths (being more the case with the thin-lipped mullet rather than the thick lipped). In some cases I have found them to be just so- not so spooky, but completely disinterested in my hookbait. About 3 days ago after frustrating session at the top of Hossegor lac and facing a rising tide, I thought I would try one place I hadn’t been before (see aerial photo below). The tide was slowly moving in and with it where plenty of Grey mullet cruising about and, by the looks of things, on the feed. Left over from my lunch was half a baguette, I ripped off a few chunks and threw them out to see if these fish would show more interest than the ones I had encountered earlier- to my surprise they were all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake. I took up the fly rod, tied on a bare hook and baited it with a small crust. First cast went out and as the tide pushed it upriver the fish moved onto the bait, in my excitement of the realization that I could be in, I struck way to early. But then it happened, I struck, the hook set and my god, the fish took off!
This was the first contact I had ever made with a mullet and I was shocked at its strength, the only fish I had encountered before with the same ferocity would have to be a bonefish in Cayman (to see the post on that click here)
I should have expected it as they are not all that dissimilar in terms of look, location and behaviour. The mullet put up an excellent fight, zipping off down stream at quite a pace and then winging it out to the far bank. By the time I got the fish in it was probably only about a pound but had fought with the same power as a 5lb trout.
A couple of Gauls had been watching and approached after the fish was on the bank. They were slightly bewildered by my set up- why the fly rod for sea fish? At least that was what I deduced from the exchange. I wasn’t sure of wether or not to take the mullet home- did I want to disrupt my Karma having finally managed to bag a decent fish? Hmmm, I was hungry and I didn’t want to upset my onlookers who would think I was clinically insane for returning a fish fit for the table. So I donked it on the head and in the bag it went. (I should point out that Grey Mullet are extremely slow growing fish- so be selective, return larger fish, one of 6lbs could be over 10 years old).
So finally, the French fish had begun to talk my language. I fished on, landing a few more that were to tiddly for the table and then called it a day, best not push my luck! On the walk back down the tidal creek I came across clumps of sea spinach, obviously things that grow together go together, never being one to pass up some wild nosh, a bunch of the succulent leaves joined the mullet in the bag.
Back at home, I was faced with the dilemma of how to deal with the fish in the kitchen. As it was to be my first taste of the fish that had always seemed to elude me, I decided to stay simple and bake/steam the fish. Preparation was simple- after de-scaling and gutting I stuffed the belly with a couple of slices of lemon, butter and a good helping of salt & pepper. I was intending to serve the sea spinach on the side, but in an flurry of inspiration thought I could turn it into a one-pot wonder: the sea spinach was spread out over a sheet of foil, liberally doused with a good Bordeaux (may as well as it comes from just up the road), placed the mullet in the center and rolled it up like a fine Cuban cigar before being baked in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes.
With the remains of the baguette I had used as bait, I tucked into my first mullet, and it was certainly worth the wait. A fine, firm textured white meat and not a hint of the earthiness I would have expected from a fish that rifles through muddy estuaries. It would be good to catch a few more before they head out to sea for the winter, but as we don’t have a freezer out here, so for know they will just have to remain the ‘Plat du Jour’.
As for other stuff: We are taking bookings for Hunter:Gather:Cook Courses for May-Oct 2012 so please do get in touch if you are interested. I am also looking at setting up an HGC HQ out here in SW France for next year- so will keep you posted on developments. Meanwhile I have my work cut out looking for a local who can take 'le Ros Bif' out to do a bit of this: