After the seabass, the champion and teacher Gabriele Delbene tells us all about the brown meagre. The beauty and elegance of the brown meagre, the sinuosity of the movements, fascinate us to the point that often the predatory instinct leaves space to admiration. Some ’80s memories of the «flight» of big shoals of bronze and great brown meagres in Corse are strongly stamped in my mind.
Where to find them, habits and best period
Today the brown meagre is more frequently found deep. Generally they love presence of posidonia near rocks where they find their home in a hole. Even though they seem to slowly move in the water, the brown meagre tend to have a certain amount of mobility from area to area. If for example in an area there will be ten different holes that could be interesting for them, they will be statistically more present in the hole that I would call «Master», meaning the hole with the more adapt habitat. They love dark hidden «rooms», where they can find shelter and nutrition, with small shrimps, fish and shellfish. They often share the most hidden holes with one of the fish mostly known to hide in the rocks, the forkbeard. In many years of competition I have noticed how you could never take for granted the presence of brown meagre in the hole found during preparation. In the Mediterranean the best month to find them in medium depth is June, when they gather for migration in small shoals.
Once the shoal of brown meagres has been seen, one will need to act with great attention, and the fish calm behaviour will let us proceed in such a way. It will be important to find the biggest fish of the shoal, and such meagre will not necessarily lead the group. With the ambush approach and a «mimetic route», a controlled and non aggressive speed will permit to sight the brown meagre from far due to the characteristic of such fish to «levitate» in the water lifted well above the sea bottom, often still with just a gentle sway of the fins. In the ideal situation the approach will end with the waiting (aspetto) technique. Giving the first fish the possibility approach with no alarm, we will let the entire shoal show itself completely. From time to time we will be impressed how suddenly a great brown meagre will appear slow and elegant from nowhere as a ghost.
Shot and following phases
The moment of the shot will be key and will or not determine the catch. All attention will then need to focus on the general swimming away of the shoal. We will ot be distracted, and will ignore the fish shot and follow with our eyes the biggest brown meagres, generally the most expert in hiding away. Different situations will be determined. The fast swimming away of the scared brown meagre could end, if we re lucky, in the first hole in the sorrounding area, or directly inside the posidonia. In rare situations, and in presence of only rocks, one or two fish could just lay close on one side on the rocks trying a difficult camouflage. Speed will be key. To this defence behaviour, apparently naive and that lasts for a limited time, a search for a better hole will follow, or a fast vertical swimming towards deeper waters.
Escape in a hole on rocky floor
Once the temporary hiding place has been found, it will be necessary to act fast and hold a short speargun with spear. Usually I prefer a traditional sling gun with four points spear and 60 cm length. Approaching the hole we will have to consider different aspects. Its dimensions and shape, the possibility that a hidden «room» is present, but in particular evaluate if the hole will hold the fish for more then a quick transit. Anyway, we wll need to be ready to shoot the first fish of good dimensions, as we will have to remember that the hole will be most probably just used as an escape room. The ideal shot, between the eye and the brain, blocking the fish will give us the possibility to penetrate deep in the hole where some other fish could be positioned. Torch is absolutely needed at this point. With our body we will have to penetrate as deep as possible to check the darkest area.
I remeber an episode at the International Trophy of Elba Island in ’97. Together with Loic Dehlomel and another French we were fishing in the same very deep rock. After an hour and a half my competitors had caught just a couple of brown meagre, while I had 12 and some caught two at the time. I tried to be on the bottom while the French were at the surface, so to avoid them undertanding the concentration strategy of the shoal that I was following. Practically, I was shooting from 4 different passages, noticing after the shot the direction of escape of the brown meagre. They all then concentrated in the master hole, an area that was difficult to notice: dark, low, deep and with sand floor. There I managed to catch multiple double catches with a 75 cm sling gun equipped with reel. At the end of the competition I had caught 29 fish and won the Trophy.
Escape in the posidonia
If, instead, the brown meagre hides in the posidonia, we will still have a chance if we will use all our sight capacity. We will follow only one fish, the biggest. The fish, going into the algae, will give us the impression, with a strong elbow kick with the tail, to have gone in one direction that generally will be the opposite of the real escape route. Optimal situation is when posidonia is short and not dense. We will glide over the algae one and a half meter above. The key factor will be the neutral or sligthly positive floating setup at the height indicted. The brown meagre will be still and ready to escape fast in its traditional behaviour. Vertical shot with the spear directly on the head of the fish could immobilize it and permit another catch in the sorrounding posidonia.