MADRID — In one of Europe’s largest, most urbanized cities, an artificial capital chosen for its politically sustainable centrality despite a glaring lack of natural resources, I had no expectation of being able to fish.
In fact, I’d packed my rods back into their travel cases and planned to spend the last week of my European adventure sightseeing, lamenting the grueling heat and pining for the superior cuisines of nearly every other culture on Earth.
Bread, salty, lunchmeat-style ham and poorly prepared fried cod weren’t doing it for me, but it was a small detractor from an otherwise great trip.
The trip, paid for by the Gray Family Foundation and accredited through Portland State University had been a tremendous outing, and I felt truly blessed to have been a part of it.
We’d been studying geography and despite the absolutely terrible food and stifling heat, I counted it a success because of the people, the knowledge, the history and, of course, the geography.
When I wandered into the urban reprieve known as Buen Retiro Park, it had initially been to find a park bench in the shade and drink some super-heated water.
As I wandered around taking pictures and catching the odd Pokémon, I blindly stumbled upon a tiny island surrounded by a small, moat-like pond. Nearing the water, I quickly saw it was inhabited with some form of cyprinids, tailing and surfacing with gluttonous vigor.
Enamored by anything with fins and scales, I set about trying to catch one of the well-fed but clearly wild fish by hand.
Twice I grabbed fish, but serrated dorsal fins and a sentimental penchant for functional hands stopped my efforts cold.
In a snap decision, I made a beeline for my hotel, wisely running the mile or two back in my flip-flops — a bill my soles are still footing.
Not wanting to attract unwanted attention, I decided to use a handline.
I’d hand-lined a few times before when rods or reels had broken, and the action was hot, but never as my first-choice tactic.
I tied three handlines, two with 15-pound fluorocarbon and one with 50-pound braid. I’d made them all about 8 feet long, and in my naiveté, I figured that would suffice.
The struggle was quite real
Chumming, or “feeding,” is legal and very commonplace in most European countries, and the carp-like fish that make up the bulk of the recreational catch eat it up. Literally.
Corn, oats and bread I’d purchased at a grocery store worked nicely, quickly causing the brown water to churn in muddy swirls as tail-up fish rooted in the soft bottom for starchy treats.
Ducks and surprisingly bold turtles were a nuisance, but I quickly hooked into my first fish. It was about two pounds and was clearly some variety of goldfish crossed with a carp.
It happened to be both white and of the mirror variety, making it the rarest rough fish I’d ever hooked into, but I just couldn’t land it.
With such a short handline and such powerful yet soft-mouthed fish, the learning curve was steep.
After seven hookups, I finally did land one.
Retracting and extending my arm in place of a drag worked, though it took more than two minutes, and I did finally get one.
It was a stout 16-inch fish that made my digital scale read “2.72” immediately.
The lack of barbels and forked tail meant goldfish, but it’s anal fin, mouth and overall body shape were those of a Crucian carp.
It was definitely a hybrid.
I caught another hybrid and a pure goldfish before calling it a day.
Time was short, and I didn’t want to push my luck with the ever-present and heavily armed Spanish police, so I headed back to the hotel for a change, shower and a chance to continue the hunt for good tapas.