Assistant Sports Editor
Since I was six years old, my strongest summer memory has always been fishing. With my grandfather, I traveled from the valley of Vermont to the foothills, finding streams and lakes and fished the day away.
With our rod and string, we caught everything from perch to catfish, sporadically bringing the fish back with us for dinner while tossing the remainder of the fish back into the water.
I learned from a young age how to fish, and when my grandfather passed away when I was 14, I continued to fish on my own as a way to stay connected to him.
But this was the only way I knew how to fish. A fishing pole, a hook, weight, and bait was all I knew. I had never tried nor seen any alternative to this method until I arrived in Cadiz, Spain.
In the heart of the salt gathering fields of Salarte, the world’s greatest salt fields, I learned a new way to fish. Under the scorching Spanish sun, I was introduced to an ancient Spanish way of fishing. In a dammed off section of the Salarte estuary, six Spanish salt workers placed a net from one side of the water pool to the other. With weights to hold the bottom of the net down and floaters to keep the top above water, the men jumped into the water and went to work.
With two men at the heart of the net, two more gathered at each end of the net on the bank of the pool and they began to pull the net toward the mouth of the pool. As if the water were on fire, fish after fish leapt from the water’s surface out of the path of the net. For the unlucky few, they managed to jump right back into harm’s way while others darted away from the net.
Fish after fish flew from the water as the men pulled the net in, bringing doubt into the mind of the onlookers that any fish would be left in the net when the process would be done.
Half-soaked, the men’s muscles rippled as they tugged the net closer and closer to shore. They meticulously strained mud from the ends of the net, working their way to the center of the net, finding dozens of fish attempting to rip through the net to safety.
After they gathered all of their fish, they sorted through them all to determine which ones would be used. Tossing the small fish back into the water, the fishermen continued this ancient process that takes place just three to four times a year.
Finally, after gathering the desired amount, they loaded a wooden bucket with their catch and returned to their tiny storage hut in the middle of the salt grounds. With the fish caught, they moved on to the next task, salting them.
They worked their way to the pinkish-white salt basins at the edge of the salt field, where the seawater trickles down and evaporates, leaving miniscule amounts of water and two tons worth of salt in the small 20’ by 20’ squares. They began to chisel massive amounts of salt from underneath the water, pulling white masses from the pink water. As the Salt Master oversaw the operation, the workers pulled just one wooden bucket, no bigger than an infant’s baby carriage, worth of salt and again returned to the shed.
Leaving the fish exactly as they were when they caught them, the Salt Master began to pack the gills with salt, snapping the fish’s head back with crack and filling the openings with fresh salt.
After packing every fish with salt, the Salt Master threw the fish onto the smoking embers of their fire as the fish erupted in sizzles and light smoke. Leaving the fish to sit on the fire until one side was charcoal black, the Salt Master flipped the fish.
Once the cooking process was done, the Salt Master placed the fish on a tiny slice of bread, powerfully ripping the head of the fish off before delicately peeling back the burnt scales, revealing the soft pink meat inside.
Just like the ancient Spanish would have done, he began picking the meat from the bones with his fingers, enjoying the salty delicacy in his hands.
I had fished for years before arriving in Spain, almost always with a pole and string, every once in a while using my hands or just a line, but never had I witnessed this ancient method. So with a vivid memory of my grandfather in my mind, I peeled back the burnt scales, ripped the head from the body, and toasted to my traditional method of fishing and enjoyed the ancient Spanish way.