40 Mackerel

Dan must have caught almost 40 mackerel yesterday.  We motored out on Montbretia having waited until late afternoon and given time for the grey clouds and squalls of rain to blow away. It was still windy and sea was bouncy as we passed the line of Owen Island and moved out to the middle of the bay.
We could see gannets circling the air a few hundred yards ahead of us, occasionally pulling up short and plummeting into the sea a fierce splash of white water before rising again. One of them passed over the boat and we could pick out the dirty yellow of its head and the black feathers of its angled wings tipping at the faint fluctuations and nuances of breeze. There were terns as well cresting the waves and white-horses.

The previous day we had been told that three porpoises had been seen in the bay following the other Drascombe Lugger but the sea was so rough we would be lucky to pick them out.
We had two lines with us. I had brought with me some black feathers and tied them to one of the orange lines that morning. I wasn’t sure that they would present the right flash of colour in the dark waters but they looked good. The other line was strung with six silver and pink plastic sheaves wrapped around each hook.

I took the black feathers and Dan took the imitation fish.  Once we stopped the engine the boat settled into the rhythm of the swell coming in off the sea and we threw our lines over the side.  The fish started biting almost as soon as the lines were in the water. I had one but Dan hauled in four.  He and Galen took to them with a heavy stick and the side of the boat was soon spattered with blood as they took the blow to the back of the head and were delivered in the bucket. My fish was too small to keep and went back over the side and the lines went back into the water.
Dan soon had another lineful and for 10 minutes or so it became difficult to keep up with the activity. The fish tumbling into the bottom of the boat, the smack of the stick and the bucket filling up with fish that still twitched and trembled.
Someone shouted that we were close to the rocks. The boat had drifted quickly and we were only twenty five yards off Owen Island.  So the lines were hauled in and the motor turned back on and we headed to where the terns and gannets owned the wind. The lines went out again and before his line had unravelled into the deep Dan was pulling it back again with another 6 fish on his hooks. 
We now had more than enough fish for supper so the motor went back on and we drove back through the sea, heading into the wind and the swell, trying to angle into the waves so we weren’t caught with too much swell.
The fish were not big.  There was only one that was about 12 inches and felt heavy in the hand. The others were about 9 – 10 inches long but the small ones often taste better.

Back at the Cottage I gutted then down on the beach. The gulls were not as insistent as they can sometimes be. Other fishermen had come in that afternoon and there had been a glut of guts and heads for them to feast on.  My hands were soon mired in their black blood. I kept there heads on to help them hold their shape on the barbecue.

I had to beg a lemon from behind the bar in Arundel’s whilst buying the evenings first pint of Murphy’s. I tried to explain that it was for the mackerel but the girl told me that she knew we were up to tequila slammers.

I put half the mackerel in a bowl in the fridge. The rest were cut with the gutting knife and left to rest for a while in the juice of the lemon and some paprika whilst we relit the barbecue.

They were delicious.  The skins blackened and charred but the meat was light and sweet underneath.  The smaller fish were better. The bigger fish can sometimes taste too much of mackerel the meat sitting heavy in the mouth. 

Listening to the easy Canadian folk of Doug Paisley.

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