The morning sun is barely rising over the fishing village of Vinisce, a undiscovered haven on the coast of Croatia. The small white houses are reflecting the first rays of sun, the sea sprays on our faces from the sides the small bottana, a traditional wooden croatian fishing boat, and the seagulls are wishing us farewell. The Croatian coast is a fishermans’ paradise, steep rocky cliffs covered in olive trees, crystal clear water, and thousands of islands
I was about 13 at the time and being so young gave this place almost a magic appeal to my young mind, and boy did it surprise me when our family friend, Ivo, asked if me and my father wanted to come along for one of his fishing trips, of course we said yes and promised that we would be at the docks at 6 in the morning. As we turn past the small island at the outlet of Vinisce cove we continue along the sharp cliffs, making sure not to stray too far as the captain, Ivo, warns us that the weather is unpredictable, that the wind can pick up in minutes and capsize his small vessel.
My father jokes with Ivo that if we capsize he will swim down and catch the fish by hand if he needs to while Ivo assures him that he has been fishing here for 40 years and has never been in a serious accident. Apart from one time, when he caught a Skrapid, a brown fish with poisonous spikes that can paralyze you if you don’t get fast treatment. Ivo explained that when it happened he held his thumb on the engine block the entire way home to stop the poison from spreading.
At one point Ivo stopped the boat and told us to start cutting up thawed squid as fishing bait to thread on the hooks of the longlines that he had prepared the night before. We let the line sink deep into the water, although we were just 20 metres from the cliffs the sonar read 50 metres of depth, which surprised me to say the least. 2 longlines later we took a break and ate our breakfast. Air dried pork, aged cheese and bread, in true Croatian fashion.
Ivo and my father were discussing fishing for tuna and Ivo explains that ever since the big commercial fishing boats came to the Adriatic most of the fish have disappeared and all the bottana fisherman are having a tough time making a living competing with the industrial fishermen vacuuming up the fish populations. This made me sad as I think this is a beautiful way of fishing. But it didn’t seem to phase my father who was adamant to catch the biggest fish in the Adriatic. Ivo sighed laughing and said we can try handlining with the squid while dad goes trawling for the dream tuna.
We all agreed it was an excellent idea and off we went with the engine sputtering towards a lighthouse further up the coast. The fish were biting today and we were lucky, after an hour of trawling we had about 8 mackerel of about 20-30 cm but no tuna yet. At the lighthouse Ivo exchanged two of the mackerel and some cigarettes for a jar of capers the keeper grows on the small island. It was around 2 o’clock and Ivo reckoned that we should go and check the longlines.
We turned back and caught some more mackerel as well as a feisty 50cm barracuda. While there still wasn’t a bite on the giant silver/blue wobbler, my father swore that he felt a nibble. Getting frustrated, he attached some squid to the wobbler in hope of attracting the big one and after about another half hour of trawling the between the mainland and the isle of Drvenik Veli we reached the handlines.
Swearing, my dad reeled it in as we approached the handlines while Ivo was consoling him saying that they haven’t caught big tuna in the village for a long time, sometimes they get a few when they enter the mediterranean during mating season but they’re getting more and more rare.
Ivo grabbed a handline with an experienced hand and hauled it in, we managed to scrounge up a few bottom feeders and a shark that was cut off but it the take looked meagre. All in all, not a bad catch with 15 mackerel, 1 barracuda, some small fry as well as a shark but for Ivo it was disappointing, seeing he used to be able to live off fishing but is now having to look elsewhere.
As we turned to port with the sun setting between the cliffs of the Vinisce cove I looked at the big trawlers docked across from the small boat harbour and imagined what an impact they had on the daily lives of the people they live across from.
In retrospect, the fishing in Croatia isn’t dead and there is still big fish out there with personal records being caught every day and many species worthy of sport fishing. Going on a fishing trip to the Adriatic is definitely a must on any bucket list and it is worth it just for the scenery. But for the family fisherman times are getting tough and making a living is not possible with industrial fishing outside his doorstep. Perhaps the time is past for that way of life but if you go, look past the flashy boats and attractive posters, go with the bottana fisherman and meet the real Croatia. Maybe you should bring a translator as well, haha!