Crete 2019 will be a holiday remembered for a long time for one overriding reason - my health.
Before you read on, i make no apologies for enjoying catching small fish on what would seem excessively expensive tackle. I seem to have developed certain hang ups over the years through mixing it with people in the angling trade and the big fish anglers on social media which made me question what i was doing and ultimately harming my own enjoyment in the sport. I will go deeper into this but it deserves it's own post.
We set off later in the year on our annual visit to see family, it was to be my daughters first holiday aged 14 months. We stay in Vrysses which is a beautiful village at the foot of the mountains in the Apokoronas district. Our holidays are relaxed affairs, good food, beer, and socialising with the family. Whilst this is a family holiday i don't like lying on beaches and always hire a car to explore the island and visit my favourite fishing spots, the cities, beaches and eateries.
We arrived around lunchtime on the 28th, the family were having their siesta when we arrived so we dropped our luggage off and headed out to Georgiopolou which is a small town on the coast, this is the most local beach and conveniently has a harbour that is fed from the sea and a mountain stream. Out of the car i could see some small baitfish holding in the shadow under a boat, i fashioned the species hunters favourite split shot rig to 20 hook and a small section of Isome and caught a handful of Bogue (Boops Boops).
Where the harbour wall ends a rocky manmade sea defence reaches out to the mouth of the harbour, i like to work this for the resident giant gobies, comber, painted comber and other rockfish.
I was rewarded with a handful of giant gobies, 2 species within 3 hours of being in Crete it was time to switch it up and see what we could find over the reefs to the right of the harbour.
First up was a small spotted bass on a Major Craft Jigpara Micro, the bass like to sit in a small reef area between the harbour and the rocky outcrop that reaches to the Chapel of St Nicholas. The ground here is hard, when the storms come the baitfish push in here and the bigger bass that reside in the main river come in and gorge on them- during the summer months it is left to the smaller fish to rule the roost.
From the arial image above you can see where the sand finishes and the rocky reef starts, this beach is popular with bathers but it also has a heavy concentration of the harmless- but poisonous lesser weaver, so the first casts were made tentatively to the edge of the reef hoping to avoid them, unfortunately weavers- often two at a time will break from the sea bed to hit your jig on the drop and i ended up with more than my first share- no photos as they are shook of at arms length to avoid meeting with their poisonous spines. As i work towards the chapel i cast small metals over the reef, the trick is to use a high tip and work the metals quickly mimicking a fleeing fish, i was quickly rewarded with Barracuda, Garfish and the odd small Derbio all of which were welcome and given there size are enjoyable sport on the lighter of the two travel rods that i carry.
6 species in around an hour scratched an itch and we retreated back home for a beer and a BBQ.
Holidaying with a bit of fishing
The following days saw us visit Kalyves, the to introduce my daughter to the water, the mountains, the cities of Chania and Rethymnon and then well off the beaten track to nature reserves and into the back country to see the wildlife and enjoy the peace and quiet.
The fishing continued to be opportunistic, i tried to stay away from the Isome/ Gulp! in favour of metals this holiday, mainly because the small wrasse and bream destroy everything that you put in front of them, I took the opportunity to add species to my tally as and when i saw them but had no real expectations having caught nearly 40 species from Crete over the years there was no need to add pressure to my short time fishing.
The Damsel fish below is a perfect example of box ticking, i think this is one of the only fish I've never seen the Cretans eat over the years, they are plentiful and can often be seen hugging to rocks, under boats in harbours or the shadow line. A simple split shot rig with a small segment of Isome is all that's needed to tick one of these off, keep it moving and they will chase!
This was my 9th time of visiting the island and my days of taking scenery photos have long passed, when looking through my camera and phone photos from the holiday to write this blog it consisted mainly of food, my daughter, beer and fish. The reason i have food photo's isn't me yearning to be a food blogger- it's just reciprocal banter for the lads on the group chats that like to send me photo's of their holidays whilst I'm stuck at home and on that note- here's a pork gyros!
The North coast of Crete often has strong onshore winds which make fishing finesse difficult in exposed areas so overweighting a dropshot with a small hook is often the most prudent way to fish when not fishing metals, as most of the fish have small mouthes jigheads aren't really a viable option so i will I often step up to a 7-10g lead to hold bottom and work the areas of whitewater where small bream are often abundant.
As the holiday wore on I travelled as far out as Kissamos port, a favourite deep water spot of mine where day trippers catch the ferry to Gramvousa/ Balos beach. It's an interesting place to fish and the one part of the island where you could hook into a bigger fish even during the summer months. I like to work the harbour walls for grouper and managed a few on this trip but spent most of the time in the port speaking with a local hotelier who is a keen LRF angler, we compared tackle, shared fishy tales and caught a few garfish that had shoaled up close in.
The port whilst very industrial is a good place to see loggerhead turtles and often throws up octopus to lure which are interesting creatures- I've hooked many but never landed one.
The gold blotch below was caught twitching jigs up along the rocks, for a small fish they pack a punch on the lighter rod.
Improvisation is key when you don't have a plan, if the hours of fishing are going to be during the brightest parts of the day then you need to think like a fish and head for cover- most fish are going to be hiding under boats, in holes over reefs or close to structure.
Back in Georgioupoli i sought shelter under the bridge that crosses the river, from here i plucked out a few small bream species on split shot rigs, there were a shoal of mullet that were curious but keeping their distance and a slightly finer leader with a weightless piece of Isome saw me into a handful before the shoal spooked off.
Whilst under the bridge i donated a few jigheads to the trolls that live under them in the search for Grouper and managed a solitary Coomber- what is it about bridges all across the world and bloody snags!
Heading back West to the reefs outside of Kalyves i stood on a rocky peninsular wondering what i could do differently to find a new species, metals were sticking to the reefs so i thought I'd have a play with the No1 Black Minnow on a 6g head. It wasn't long before i was into bites, but i had no fish to show for it. The Mediterranean has a huge problem with Pufferfish that have invaded via the Suez Canal and it seems i was having my lures dissected by them yet again as i have done over the years, their telltale half moon bite marks left in my lure the only evidence i have.
I persisted on the mark as i had a feeling it would throw up something better, there was a decent swell, in between the ornate wrasse i picked up a Mediterranean Rainbow wrasse on a Jigpara Paraworm but there had to be more.
I visited the spot a couple of times and was rewarded with small Groupers but it was whilst working the cleaner ground in between the reef that i picked up the fish of the trip which was this beautiful juvenile Dentex on a Fiiish Black Minnow No1.
I snuck out one for an evening to see if i could tempt one of the big river bass that seem to be uncatchable for everyone including the locals, every tackle shop and angler talks about them, I've seen them from the boat and almost touched one yet we cannot find the trigger for them to feed during the summer months. Staring a blank in the face i decided to seek out a Cardinal fish, of which a couple quickly obliged before retreating back home for a beer.
I've been using metals for while now but this year i really focused on them for the majority of my fishing, I do some work for Major Craft UK and this has given me an opportunity to buy a healthy selection of metals from 1.5g through to 300g jigs for boat fishing.
Whilst most chose to ditch the tail treble i usually keep them on which proved to be a good move as i nabbed some fish i would most definitely have missed had i not had a rear hook.
Twitching metals through 'Giant Goby corner' provided me with some fantastic from truly Giant Gobies.
Casting across reefs and across clean ground threw up lots of Derbio, a lot smaller stamp than previous years but really nice to see so many around. Derbio like to chase and a quick, pulsing retrieve is best to get these fish biting.
The metals also thew up an assortment of bream, Crete is a mountainous country and there are lots of freshwater inlets from the mountains, I've always found freshwater inlets to be good fishing wherever I've fished at home and overseas and it is no exception here, walking up the beaches to these marks is often worthwhile and if you can avoid the inevitable weaver fish there is some good sport to be had.
Back in the harbours the metals were catching more Grouper but it was this Painted Comber that stole the show, regurgitating a big scale sand smelt (still alive) whilst munching on my small metal- match the hatch at it's finest!
10th of September - Life Changes
We sat and ate a wonderful curry, home made naans and sank a few beers with the family before retreating to bed. All was well, or was it? I awoke to a pain, pain that i'd never felt before but being a fan of spicy food i thought that it was just the curry from the night before doing its thing. I sat up in bed and felt what can only be described as a bubbling below my chest.
During the holiday i had complained of a tight chest and back pain but didn't think anything of it, i took myself off to the toilet still thinking my stomach was upset- struggling to breathe, quickly realising i didn't need the toilet i started to fear something was up.
We woke the sleeping staff up at the health centre and they hurried me in to do some tests, they couldn't say what was wrong with me but by this point i could hardly breathe and had a pain below my left lung above my stomach. I found a comfortable way of lying and this nearly proved to be fatal. Their recommendation was to go to hospital but with me thinking that I'm invincible took some paracetamol and ibuprofen and went home to bed. Cutting a long story short, i went home, collapsed and then had to be rushed to hospital by my uncle.
By the time i reached hospital i could barely talk, i was whisked into a resuscitation area where i was quizzed by doctors, by this point i am of a grey complexion, struggling to stand or lie down and fading away. Within 30 mins i had an X-Ray, CT scan and an Ultrasound, it was discovered that i had a ruptured spleen, 2 fractured vertebrae and heavy internal bleeding.
This discovery lead to an awkward standoff with a junior doctor who couldn't understand that i was on holiday and hadn't had any accidents. It was only after surgery did i think back to 2 prior accidents that i had fishing before i went away- one was a fall down some stairs at a beach after bass fishing and the other was a boating accident whilst bass fishing, fishing is a dangerous game!
I was whisked off to surgery and then spent 11 days in hospital recovering followed by another week in Crete before i was given permission to fly home.
Chania hospital was something else, the staff were fantastic, amazing and i am forever in debt to them for saving my life. The only problem was, there isn't enough of them, i was asked straight away if i was insured (which i was) and then to get someone to come and stay with me for my bedside needs as there isn't enough nurses at the hospital - an all too familiar situation and a very sad one. The day i left surgery i called for help in English and Greek for hours without anyone coming to help me.
My experience in hospital was surreal to say the least, from having a visit from a friend from the UK - Vidar Thomassen to morphine hallucinations (I don't think i imagined Vidar visiting) i was solely focused on getting out alive. It was tough in there, tough seeing and hearing things on the ward, tough seeing the staff who were stretched to their limit doing their best, tough watching my partner and family rallying around to make best the situation and tough coming to terms with having no spleen- i didn't know what a spleen was before this event!
Daytime was tough, very little conversation with the medical team as to an exit plan and how i was doing.
As the days drew on i started to recover, then there was the food, 6 days without food i was told 'you will eat today', I'm thinking YES! this has got to be better than UK hospital food- but it wasn't, I am eternally grateful to the beautiful people in the hospital but this was tough, i wanted to share it with you as it gives you an idea of what hospital life was like.
First up was some Papadopoulos crisp breads and camomile tea.
For lunch it was a cold broth with a very small amount of rice. Two days of this i was then introduced to some meat and potatoes, boiled chicken in olive oil, potatoes, dry bread and half a lemon all of which were cold but there was a saving grace- towards the end they introduced jelly and custard, this was just the sugary fix i needed to keep me going.
As the days wore on i built a relationship with the physiotherapist Athena- who turned out to be a cousin of a family friend and a good ally who provided me with the right exercises and breathing techniques to get out of the hospital and to start my recovery.
I spent the remainder of the time hobbling around, lying by a pool in a hotel near the hospital- i couldn't swim in and struggling to eat, wanting to come home but not being fit to fly i was stuck in Crete. It's odd how you can become to resent somewhere that you love depending on the state of mind.
6 months on I'm coming to terms with the new me, mentally and physically it's been quite a challenge, I am now sat shielding from COVID-19 like a lot of people in the UK which has provided me the impetus to start writing again. It takes an event like this, a trip to deaths doors to make you realise how precious life is, your health and your family and friends. If anyone is reading this who has helped me, i can't thank you enough.
Now- enough of that, I've got ideas for the next blog post, somewhere on this new platform there is a gallery of more images from the trip should you like to view them.