Ever wondered what it’s like to be a fisherman? What are the daily challenges they face to bring us our seafood? Kristijan Šimunović, head chef at *Pod Orajom knows the answer – for over 30 years he’s made his living on the sea, earning the title “Riba”, meaning fish in Croatian.
It’s the early hours of a summer morning and as the rest of Klenovica sleeps, Riba fires up the engine, switches on the navigation lights and lets the ropes go from the quay. As we pass the pier we slip into the darkness to start the day’s work. “As they say on land, the early bird catches the worm, and it is true that to get the best catch of the day you need an early start.” explains Riba.
As we reach the first *Pošta, Riba turns off the engine and grabs the hold of the canister buoy that carries one end of *parangal. As he starts to pull it up, glistening shapes start reemerging from the bottom. One by one he carefully takes the fish off the hook and lands it in a bucket. “Grooper & sea brass are the most wanted in the restaurants. You can easily sell them to any kitchen. My catch is served *Pod Orajom, where I prepare it myself! On days like these, I can pull out couple of hundreds of euros. However, this is certainly not a life for everyone. Long hours, hard work and bad weather are enough to keep most people on land. It’s hard, but it pays off.” explains Riba.
Just after 5am the light starts to come into the sky from the East, and the sea gulls follow us at the first sign of fish – an early drama. Riba then grabs some small fish and swings it into the sea; “I serve them some just to ease the argument.”, says Riba as he turns on the engine and we head towards the next stop.
“I moved to Klenovica in 2011, not really knowing what to expect. I always knew fishing would be my main thing. Life in Klenovica throughout the year is very unbalanced. Strong winds & freezing cold leave us at the shore for most of the winter months. We socialize at Zaltko’s pub during winter, playing *čipaneza and waiting for the spring to come. A positive attitude, great sense of humor and an open mind are characteristics of all good fishermen. It is hard work for beginners, but if you have a positive mindset then you will know that it is a fun thing to do!
It was a good day at the sea, and Riba caught a dozen of sea basses & mackerels, a couple of sting rays and even some dentexes – all of his favorites, in one morning. We carried the crates straight away to *Pod Orajom where in a few hours he’ll begin his shift. Riba was a true gent to meet with, a passionate fisherman, a most genial man and the sort of fascinating character it is always a privilege to talk to.
I marveled at how someone who has had to endure 4am starts throughout his life could be so positive. Leaves me thinking….there’s surely something to be said for fresh air, early starts and fresh fish straight from the shores of Klenovica!
*Pošta – traditional Dalmatian word for a fishing spot, mostly kept a secret from other fellow fisherman.
*Parangal – fishing longline. It may be set either at or near the bottom (bottom–set longline) or drifting in midwater or near the surface (surface longline).
*Pod Orajom – a family owned sea food restaurant in the village center. Here you can sample a large mix of Mediterranean dishes on offer. Fresh caught fish, calamari and scampi by Mladen & Riba.
*Čipaneza – game of guessing the number of coins in opponents hand. Usually played at the bar, where losing team pays for a round of drinks.