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Alan Stevens

Awesome fishing in the middle of the greatest city on earth

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Well another week passes with this awful virus causing such tragedy everywhere you look. Thankfully the vaccine is being rolled out at pace and we can hope to look forward to happier times later this year. 

With a future where travel is possible once more hopefully getting closer; my aim is to write a series of blogs about the fantastic locations across the globe where my work has taken me in the past that offer not only first class fishing, but also a cultural and historic experience beyond the normal go-to overseas venues. These venues are ones I can’t wait to get back to and hopefully will provide our essexanglers with some alternative options for any fishing holidays you might be thinking about in the future. I will cover locations  across Africa, Europe and Asia but start this week with one that actually straddles two continents –  Istanbul.

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Istanbul, a mere 4-hours flight from the UK, is a totally unique city. Imagine Rome on steroids. Straddling two continents, the population of over 15 million people live for the three ‘f’s. Football, food and fishing. You can guarantee that sparking up a conversation with a local on any of these three subjects will make a friend for life. 

The city was founded in ancient times at what has become a hugely significant strategic location because of the abundance of fish. In fact, the fish are so numerous the people used to simply scoop a basket in the water and it would fill with fish. The reason for so many fish is down to the stretch of water dividing the city in two – the Bosphorus. This deep channel divides European Istanbul from the Asian (Anatolia) side of the city and connects the cold Black Sea with the saltier and warmer Sea of Marmara. 

The Black Sea, having a high degree of fresh water flowing into it, dominates the flow of surface water into the north end of the Bosphorus. Underneath this, a deep layer of very salty dense water flows in the opposite direction up from the Sea of Marmara to the south of the city. This circular flow of water and mixing of nutrients causes an explosion of life and with it a whole range of sea fishing choices right in the heart of one of the most dynamic cities on earth.

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At the heart of the old city, the best fishing can be found immediately below the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Spice Bazar. So many fish occupy the waters here that the colour of the water turns to gold – hence the name Golden Horn. Within meters of the Galata bridge, separating the Taksim area from the Spice Bazar you will find every inch of possible space occupied by fishermen catching fish non-stop all day and night. So what are they catching? 

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t is really easy to know what fish are in season as every district has it’s own fish market (Balik Bazar). Turkish people live by their seasons in a way we have forgotten here in the UK. These incredible displays of fish have been caught no longer than a few hours before and are the freshest produce you will ever taste believe me. My tactics are simply to walk around the nearest Balik Bazar, then select my tackle and fishing method to match whatever is in season. 

There are two types of fish in the Bosphorus – migratory and sedentary fish. Bluefish, Atlantic bonito, turbot, European pilchard, sand smelt and garfish are the main migratory fish that pass through the Bosphorus. Horse mackerel, mullet, picarel, annular bream, brown meagre, European sea bass, red gurnard, and black scorpionfish can be caught all year round and are regular inhabitants. 

Atlantic bonito and large horse mackerel are caught with trotlines with 10 or 5 baited feathers, jigs or squid baited hooks with heavy weights to get deep enough and counter the fast flowing currents. To hunt for the bluefish which visit the Bosphorus between September and March, small fish baits on paternoster rigs cast close in to shore work really well. 

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If you’re fishing from a boat, lures and oily fish baits work best, but shoreline fishing is the way to go for most options as the fish are caught within 20-30 meters from shore. This is due to the bait fish, anchovies and so forth being pushed up against the shoreline by the mackerel, bass and bluefish, which in turn are hunted by the bonito and in turn themselves are hunted by dolphins all in front of you within reach of any cast. 

Fishing at night is the most pleasant method in the summer months to escape the heat, and families gather along the banks of the Bosphorus with BBQ’s and bottles of raki to fish, drink and talk into the early hours under the stars. For me, autumn and spring are the best times to compromise between the weather and crowds and bring the best fishing too. Winter can be really cold with temperatures similar to the UK between November and February.

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If you want to fish beyond the coastal pathways that stretch the length of the Bosphorus boats can be hired to either head to the North end of the Bosphorus and the cold waters of the Black Sea to fish for huge turbot or south towards the warm waters Princess Islands for bigger bonito, swordfish and grouper. Both trips take no more than an hour or so from the city centre. A more simple option is to travel across from one side of the Bosphorus to the other on the public transport ferries and split the shoreline fishing day in half –  so you can brag that you have caught fish on two continents in one day

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Istanbul of course has so much more to offer than fishing. The nightlife can be as up-market as anywhere on earth yet in contrast to the swish night clubs you can find countless small bars in Taksim playing great local live music every night. Tickets to the football games at Galatasary, Besiktas and Fenerbache are reasonably accessible and safe to attend so long as you are sensible.  The cost of living in Istanbul is around 2/3 of UK prices so pretty good value for money too. But Istanbul’s real attraction (beyond fishing) is the history and culture of the city, which has more dimensions than anywhere I have been.

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Every empire throughout time has wanted a piece of Istanbul and have left their mark accordingly in the architecture, food and music.

There is so much to see and do in Istanbul and it is changing at such pace that despite visiting regularly for over 20 years I still get a buzz and find something new every time i am there. The apartment I rent overlooks the Galata Tower and Golden Horn, truly the best view on earth. If there is one city to visit and fish it just has to be Istanbul. 

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Next week I will  write about a completely different kind of location to Istanbul – Ghana. Another country I visit regularly with amazing fishing potential from huge Nile perch on the Volga River to monster barracuda off Cape Coast with history dominated by the horrific slavery trade from past years. 

For now keep healthy and if you need any more information on Istanbul feel free to get in touch. 

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