Plenty more fish

In Comacchio, a country-cousin of Venice, Rob Ainsley checked out an automated angling system - plus wine and apricot tart - that leaves British fishing technique high and dry

I've never understood the attraction of angling. You sit in the drizzle for three hours watching reeds grow, then catch a shopping trolley. But the way they do it around Comacchio could turn even me into a fishing fanatic. The Italians, never ones to waste effort that could be used to lift a glass of wine or cut a piece of cheese, have automated the process.

With my girlfriend, I'd cycled to Comacchio from Ravenna. We were lured like curious minnows by its "Little Venice" tag. Sure, any town with a drain down the middle can be called Little Venice, just as any town past Calais with a kebab shop is a "unique crossroads between East and West". But Comacchio is one of the more deserving bearers of the title: a country cousin, 60 miles down the coast from Venice, the pretty little town is based on a small network of canals, quietly lined with pastel-coloured houses.

But Canaletto country this ain't. The brick stairways and bridges - most dating from around 1634 - look more like those perspective-bending Escher lithographs, and you keep expecting lines of soldiers to appear from the sleepy cafes and march ever upwards in impossible circles.

More intriguing, though, are the rows of wooden fishing huts that line the rivers and drainage channels around Comacchio - more Little Vietnam than Little Venice. Poles stick out over the water like crabs' legs, and nets the size of tennis courts droop from them. An old boy in a crumpled hat and dungarees was messing about on his veranda when we stopped to picnic on the bank.

When he shouted at us, we were a bit worried. But he was merely inviting us into his hut for a bottle of wine and some cheese.

He was a farmer called Gianluigi, and he showed off his one-man fish factory with the glee of a bambino on his Christmas bike. Angling technique here dispenses with rods, lines and casts; the only flies are the ones that buzz around your Parmesan. You press button A and the net lowers into the water; wait two minutes, and button B brings it up, full of crabs, eels and other fish. You scoop out what you fancy, and lower everything else back to fight another day. This is the sort of angling I can identify with. Environment-friendly, and easy. And you can drink and socialise as you do it. And it isn't raining.

Gianluigi's hut was complete with dining-table and chairs, fridge, barbecue, store cupboards, sofa and TV - all of Sixties and Seventies vintage, comfortably battered and browned. We laid out our picnic lunch, slurped his wine, and watched him work his push-button piscatory. He even let us have a go. "Go on!" he chuckled as I pushed the buttons. "See, you're a fisherman!"

My technique obviously wasn't quite up to it. I only managed to catch a black plastic sandal. "They don't barbecue so well," Gianluigi chortled, and we downed more vino tipico.

His chum Enrico turned up from the hut next door, bringing an apricot tart made by his wife. After we'd had a few of Gianluigi's fish freshly barbecued on his little grill, followed by the tart, we went round to Enrico's hut to enjoy some of his mother's coffee liqueur. He was a retired banker, a thoughtful and curious man, keen to know who we were and why we'd come to their backwater. He told us the fishing lodges cost around 50 million lire - pounds 20,000 - and are sold like time-shares, with everyone buying one day's use a week. Like most of the chaps there, Enrico and Gianluigi knew each other through their shared fishing day.

Unlike Gianluigi, Enrico wasn't entirely convinced of the value of the Italian way of life. "We Italians are easily distracted," he told us. "Good climate, good wine, good food. We love to sit and talk, and eat, and drink. But we are not good at organising, at looking forward. We only think of today, not tomorrow."

I found it hard to sympathise. We were sitting on the veranda of his hut, eating more apricot tart and drinking more coffee liqueur. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and Enrico was absentmindedly pulling out in bucketfuls the sort of fish that the restaurants in town were charging the price of an Andrew Lloyd-Webber Canaletto for. Today seemed pretty good to us. Organisation? Britain has had one government since April 1979; the chaotic Italians have had 20, according to their London embassy. I know where I'd rather do my fishing.

Off we wobbled on our bikes back to the camp site. In contrast to Comacchio's tranquillity, the resorts of Lido d'Estensi and Lido di Spina are - in season, at least - busy with tourists, and looking at the flat beaches and sapphire seas, it's easy to see why. This region is also great for cyclists, level yet scenic: Comacchio sits in the Po delta, easy, flat fenland criss-crossed by channels, rivers and drains. Lagoons of brackish water serve as home to one of nature's more curious species - bird watchers, who come in droves to see herons, egrets, pratincoles, avocets, black- winged stilts, greenshanks and spoonbills.

Porto Garibaldi, a few miles from Comacchio, is a genuinely unspoilt fishing village, with a lively and inexpensive market, lively and less inexpensive fishing trips for visitors, and a two-minute river ferry packed with schoolchildren and bikes that must offer one of the shorter crossings in Europe. Eel cuisine is a speciality of the region, and the restaurants offer some good fixed-price menus. The eels and other fish come fresh off the boats, served in risotto or lightly fried, with a bucket of cheap and fizzily delicious local white wine.

But it's all a bit commercial for me. I prefer to eat fish I've caught myself, following that primeval battle of wits between man and fish. So long as I can drink wine, eat cheese, chat in pidgin Italian, sit in the sun, and just push buttons to catch them.

Comacchio facts

The nearest airport is Bologna, with Marco Polo in Venice a close second. Sky Shuttle (0800 129129) has several charters from Gatwick to both airports, and is quoting pounds 110 (including tax) for a flight to Bologna on 6 April, and back from Venice on 17 April. The company also sells scheduled flights on British Airways from Heathrow to Bologna, for pounds 198.

From Bologna airport you take a bus to the main railway station, whence a train to Ravenna takes 75 minutes. Local buses run to Comacchio.

The Italian State Tourist Office, 1 Princes St, London W1R 8AY (0171-408 1254) can provide some information on the region.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices