Three Cheers to the Azores

by Willi Zowalla

Three Cheers to the Azores

“You are off to the Azores? Are you sure you don’t want to take any heavy tackle with you? Not only once did I hear this question and I wasn’t really sure if I was fooling myself. Why go to one of the best places for big game fishing with just two light spinning rods and a bare minimum of tackle? That makes no sense. And you’re probably right. Even if I had hooked only one tuna or barracuda during my two weeks stay on Sao Miguel, it most likely wouldn’t have worked out in my favour. However, unknown to many the Azores, these small islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, offer so much more than excellent saltwater fishing. There are a number of almost unfished volcanic lakes that offer excellent stocks of the best sport fish in Europe – pike, perch, zander, rainbow trout, carp and black bass can be caught on the island of Sao Miguel alone. In a landscape that probably reminds every New Zealand fan of the locations of Lord of the Rings; additionally, fishing licences are dead cheap that one would not even get a kebab for that price in this country.

Four seasons in one day

Sounds too good to be true? If only it weren’t for the weather. There are a lot of varying myths about the weather in the Azores. Opinions range from the “Azores High” to “four seasons in one day”. And yet there is a ring of truth to each of them. The isolated location of the islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean provides for a uniquely mild climate, but also for the most changeable weather I have ever experienced.

First of all: a reasonable rain jacket (and waterproof trousers) is obligatory here! At some point you get used to the constant presence of wind and rain and you’ll enjoy the wonderful, windless hours of sunshine even more. But even if the weather shows itself from the best side, one should never go on a hike without a rain jacket in the backpack. I recall one particular experience on the island that showed how essential good rainwear is here.

During my trip to Lagoa do Fogo it soon becomes clear that the weather up here again plays by its own rules compared to down at the coast. Thick clouds hang at the summit and block the view to the lake. I overtake a couple of young Swedes on the narrow way to the water. The two of them are not quite sure and turn back. “You want to fish here?” Of course I want to. The Lagoa do Fogo offers a young, well grown stock of black bass and also some rainbow trout. And I had never caught a Blackie before. The ascent down to the water follows a narrow, meandering track. You can’t call it walking down – stumbling down is a better description. Once I’d broken through the thick cloud cover, I was greeted by a breathtaking view across an old volcanic crater, that had filled up with turquoise blue water over years.

The “lake of fire” itself has a lot to offer with sandy beaches, rugged rock faces, shallow bays and an impressive flora and fauna and is not without reason one of the most beautiful spots on the island. The fishing was quite difficult during my visit – strong gusts of wind and a sudden rainfall made the going tough. Nevertheless, I soon catch my first small black bass and also two of its “volcanic crater” trout with their characteristic big eyes. Several times I can see the trout chase my bait, miss it and attack again. The fish are in a good mood, but the weather forces me to turn back after about two hours.

Ornate Wrasse
Yellowbelly Grouper
Carp
White seabream
Pike
Rock-pool blenny
Pompano

The rain is so heavy that my backpack is soaking wet in no time despite the rain protection; and the narrow path that I had walked down an hour earlier has meanwhile turned into a small waterfall. Luckily I wear my camera and mobile phone under my rainproof clothes. The force with which the weather here changes is unbelievable. Ruthless, untamed, wild.

About insects and carp

The locals aren’t bothered about fishing lakes of the island. Who can blame them? There’s the Atlantic in front of you with the strongest fish in the world? However, my entire travel preparation centered nearly all on fishing the crater lakes – above all the Lagoa Azul in Sete Cidades. As a committed city angler, I was immediately on fire when I saw reports of incredible perch and pike catches. Yet, except for a handful of pike, I catch nothing during the first few days in this lake. No trace of fat perch. On the other hand, a different species of fish seems to thrive in the all year round warm water with its weedy bays. At almost every spot you can see carp mudding up the ground. Now, carp do not necessarily get a spin fisherman’s heart racing at first.

True to the word “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails”, I decide against continuing to cast 20g jigs against the wind without much success. Instead I set my mind on fish for one of the numerous carp with the Ultralight rod. Using the smallest insect imitations I stalk along the shore targeting leisurely feeding carp. It’s quite a challenge to fish for one of the strongest freshwater fish

Carp

with extremely fine tackle. Targeting fish with a spinning rod that are not necessarily known for their predatory behaviour is something quite different all together. And yet, it works! Very well even. It is incredibly exciting to see how one of the fat water hogs hits the twitching artificial bait while searching the ground for food, pausing for a moment, looking at it and then sucking it in. Then a wild ride begins on the light tackle, between ferns and hydrangeas, in knee-deep water surrounded by an absolute dream scenery!

An Azores High Five to the Ultra-light Rod

Maybe it was fear or ignorance, maybe it was potential wasted. Maybe I should have really listened and used heavy tackle to fish for big saltwater fish – maybe I would have caught impressive predators that break rods, shred lures and bend treble hooks. Fish that lure so many anglers to the Azores every year. Instead of the Atlantic’s biggest fish, I have probably pulled its most beautiful and at the same time most inconspicuous inhabitants out of the water. Fish that live in tiny pools and crevices on the coast and whose names I still do not know today, that cannot be caught with any speed jig or popper in the world.

Sometimes it is worth looking beyond one’s own backyard, away from record fish and ambitious goals. Towards diversity and flexibility, take things as they come and enjoingy them. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would have caught less without my light rod.

White seabream

There is hardly a more effective way to fish for unknown fish in an unfamiliar place and concentrate on its smallest and most numerous representatives. In the short time I was there I managed to catch a total of 14 different fish species in fresh and salt water.

Have faith! Even if you don’t dare going to the islands with the lightest of tackle, in Furnas I caught excellent zander and big perch and the Lagoa do Fogo offers trout and black bass in really impressive sizes. Anyway, it wasn’t the last time I visited the Azores and next time I’ll turn to the big ones …

Rockfishing
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