Words by Ray Kuramoto
Even by Spanish standards 5 p.m. was a late start to lunch. The restaurant was only a few minutes’ walk from the River Segre, along the banks of one of its many tributaries, which was running low and clear as we took our seats on the empty outdoor terrace.
It was a local place. There was no need for signs or menus, because the locals know where it is and what it serves. Empty beer crates and plastic chairs advertising Spanish beers were strewn haphazardly across the concrete terrace.
A flimsy chain-link fence surrounded the terrace, probably to keep drunks and kids from falling in the water. Fat raindrops began pounding the corrugated metal roof, the start of an autumn thundershower that soon had us shouting at one another over the noise.
The food at this place was either going to be really good or really bad.
Our guide ordered for my fishing buddy and I in rapid-fire Catalan to our sniffling waitress, who clearly should have called in sick. She returned with our drinks, which in my case was an ice-cold Estrella beer in a long neck bottle, its sweat beads glistening in the hot Spanish afternoon sun.
The food followed, served from a round plastic tray that resembled an oversized San Miguel bottle cap. It was superb: amanida de tonyina, botifarra, patatas fritas, and huevos. I ordered another Estrella as we used the last of our bread to wipe our plates clean.
Despite eating too much, I was on my way to a two-beer- buzz, which every beer drinker knows, but quickly forgets, as it is usually a brief stop on the way to somewhere else, like a piss break by the side of the road.
A third beer would have gone down easily, a fourth even easier, but they would have taken away from the fishing yet to be done. As I nursed my second beer, I thought about how my self-imposed two beer limit came about.
It was many years ago in South Africa. I had a terrific guide, the kind that really knew his stuff, the sort of guy that I knew I would enjoy hanging out with off the water. We fished the Elandspad, a gem of a river outside Cape Town that fishes better the further one hikes from its primary access point. We got an early start and fished upriver, away from the car, hopping on boulders and hitting pocket water under the intense summer sun before hiking out to a late-afternoon lunch.
Cheap eats are few and far between in Stellenbosch, so we were more or less forced to eat at one of those upmarket restaurants that boast an extensive wine menu. I like wine, but we were just a little tired and very thirsty, which meant only beer would do. We asked for two Castles from our disapproving waiter, then two more, and so on. It was a fitting end to the first half of our day, but when the senior citizen, early-bird dinner crowd started arriving, it was a clear sign that it was getting late and that we needed to get back on the water.
This was my first time fishing drunk, but aside from what seemed like abnormally difficult wading, it felt as natural as anything. I was fantasizing myself casting like Lefty Kreh when the guide spotted the day’s best fish moving in a tricky lie, and I miraculously covered it. It came to the fly, but due to my condition, I missed it. Maybe I would have hooked the fish sober, maybe I wouldn’t, but in an instant the day was ruined. The guide politely pretended that rising the fish was really all that mattered, but after a few more half-hearted casts, I called it quits. I was angry and feeling sorry for myself as we headed back to the car. As we merged onto the highway, we heard an odd noise outside the car. It turned out to be my reel, which in my emotional state I had left on the roof. The guide last saw it bouncing down the highway in the rear-view mirror, throwing sparks in the fading light.
I drained my second and final Estrella just as the thunderstorm subsided. Thunderstorms are common in this part of the Catalonian mountains in the autumn, but fortunately the rivers don’t colour easily, so we still had good water and at least an hour of daylight left. Our enthusiastic guide generously offered to stay with us as long as we wanted, but seemed to regret his offer after he fell into the river. The day ended with him changing into dry clothes in the headlights of our car.
It was our first time fishing in this part of the world, and we didn’t have exactly the right flies, but the fishing was good and challenging, so we promised to do it again next year. My fishing buddy had the early signs of a cold, acquired over a delicious Catalonian lunch but on balance it seemed a fair price to pay.