The place and time to do the fishing is the difficult thing. There is the point off Owen Island where the fish seem to channel in a line that crosses the opening into the main part of Dunmannus Bay and then along the seaward run of the Island about a hundred yards out. The time is the late afternoon on the cusp of the high tide. Stop the boat on the western side of the opening and allow the wind and tide to drag you eastward down the bay. If the fish are catching then you can move a surprising distance in a short space of time. Watch out for the rocks and keep the engine ready for a quick start if you are drifting too close. Within sight of the Cottage the point is a 10 minute ride from the pier. There is great satisfaction hauling in the fish ready for supper that evening.
Although the point maybe the best place in easy reach of the Cottage I have been there when all seems perfect and come back with an empty boat and we have had to conjure up some other food for the evening. There are those occasional weeks in August when the fish don’t bite and it seems that they have returned to the deep water.
Once you have picked the spot turn off the engine or haul in the hours. Let the boat drift for a few seconds so that it finds its place against the wind and the position of the tide. Take up one of the lines and hold it up in the air with the weight hanging down. It is best to do this in the boat slowly unraveling it so so the hooks swing loose. One or two of the hooks will catch either against themselves or one the orange twine and you will need to use quick fingers to tease them free. Once the hooks are hanging loose throw the weight and the line over the side of the boat and quickly unfurl the line. There is no science to how much needs to be let out. They could be biting a few feet under the surface or they maybe in the deeper parts of the channel.
Let the line run through fingers and when it feels right stop. Hold the line tight and sit back and enjoy the view. At that point off Owen Island you can see the whole sweep of the bay starting to open up to the Atlantic. To the South there will be the rising peak of the Mizen, Knocknamadree and beyond that Three Castle Head. Five miles across the other side of the bay The Sheep’s Head tapers away into the sea. Between the two points is the milky white line of the horizon drawing the eye in where forever the sky merges with the sea.
Having admired the view tug at the line. Unless you have been lucky it will feel slack in the water with the vague pull of the weight. Pull the line back up quickly through you hands dropping it into the bottom of the boat until you can see the hooks just about to break the surface and then let it go again. With the line loose it should fall more quickly now. Take a hold of the line every few seconds to pull it up short before letting it go again. Once it has all gone repeat the process. As the boat drifts slowly the line will be held back by the weight streaming behind the boat. Your hands and clothes will be wet from the water that spins off the line as it passes to and fro.
The important thing is always to keep a tight hold of the line because once the fish do take hold they will pull it in before there is time to grab hold of the wooden frame. If I remember I wrap it a few times round my ankle leaving both hands free should I need them.
And there you have it. All we do is jig with feathers and wait for the fish to bite.
As you are pulling the line you may feel a shudder. Give it a good jerk so that the hook catches and haul the line in quickly. If you stop too long that may give the fish a chance to swim loose from the hook and escape. If it is just one fish the line will cut through the water following the line of the fish as it tries to swim against the tug to the surface. If it is two or more fish the line will vibrate as the fish pull against each other trying to get away.
As the hooks start to break the surface lean out slightly so as be able to pull the fish free of the water and swing it into the bottom of the boat. One fish is normally straightforward to deal with. More than two and it gets exciting.
The first thing to do is remove the hook. Take the fish up tight in the left hand. You need to be firm about this. The fish is still very alive and will be beating hard to get away but provided you grip it tightly it won’t slip away. Once it is in your grasp hold it up so you can see how the hook is caught and try to ease it out of the mouth without tearing too much.
If a lot of fish have come into the boat you will want to try and unhook them all first before dispatching them. If the fish are left on the line for more than few moments their twisting and turning will tangle the hooks and then next twenty minutes will be spent sorting it out. Once the fish are unhooked the easiest thing to do with the line is to throw it back in the water to clear space in the boat. Bear in mind that if you have just hauled in a few fish that means they are thick in the water and you may find that some more are caught almost as soon as the line hits the water.
To dispatch the fish take it again in the left hand and hold it steady against a hard surface in the boat and tap it hard at the back of its head. It will still thump and kick after that but it will be dead. Put that one in the bucket whilst you deal with the rest.
If the mackerel are thick then there may not even be the need to move the feathers through the water. As you throw the line in you can feel it shudder as they bite and you can be hauling them back into the bottom of the boat straight away.
If you are allowing the boat to drift with the tide you may find that after a ten-minute furious spell with not being able to keep up with the fish as they are caught all goes quiet. It may then be a matter of putting the engine back on and trying to position the boat back to where the fury began so as to find the fish again.