A scatological fish

Their initial diet includes a high proportion of faecal pellets from copepods (small planktonic crustaceans, commonly known as ‘feed’).                                                    Stephen J. Lockwood The Mackerel   

The man with a black beard had his hands flat on the wooden bar fingers splayed out. They were big heavy hands with thick knuckles. He was waiting for his pint to be poured.

The men had helped themselves to the mackerel from the silver bucket. Four of them sat with a plastic bag under their stool holding the fish to be taken home that evening, filleted  and put in the fridge to be had with bacon the following morning. They would all cook the bacon first in a pan and then fry off the fillets quickly in the bacon grease and eat it with brown bread and butter.

It had been raining now for three days and each day the man had gone out and come back with a bucket of mackerel. The men would keep taking the mackerel home while he kept catching them. They were a rare treat in the bare days of February. These were good sized fish as well each of them a foot long.

The man walked straight up to the pub from the pier. He left it until mid-afternoon before going out. He took the boat out further into the bay where the water was deep and the roiling swell from the Atlantic came straight in lifting the boat and setting it down. An hour was enough time for him to catch the fish and he would be back as the grey light started to fade and it would be getting on dark when he turned off the engine and tied up his boat.

He had put the bucket down on the concrete floor and let the men take their fish before turning to the bar to take his first pint. His hair and beard was slick with rain and he was still breathing hard with the work he had put in over the afternoon.

The men were quiet. After the talk from the change in the weather there was an awkwardness about them brought on by the man’s insistence on going out to catch his fish despite the rain and the weather. They each waited for one of them to ask the question.

Mary put a pint glass in front of the man and he lifted his hands from the bar rubbing his fingers together and wiping at his mouth before taking up the glass and drinking at the black liquid. The glass was cool and there were beads of condensation. He rubbed his fingers again and turned to speak to the men.

‘There are fish out there but you have to go find them and when you find them you have to have them bite at the hook. Get it right and there’s no need for feathers or anything bright to catch their eye. The fish at this time of year are not looking to fatten themselves up. They still have their work to do. But they will have a bite at something they like the smell of.’

‘There are a few weeks when a mackerel is nothing but the size of my nail when its only food is the waste that is left behind by the other fish, the squid and flotsam that are no bigger than they are and move in the water alongside them. So they eat on that shit until they are big enough to start biting at those other fish and after that they will eat at anything that’s the right size and moves through the water. But they’ll keep a taste for that matter and if you put something in the water that has a smell that can take them back to it they will take a bite at it.’

‘So before I go out I will give the hooks a rub down with some old horse manure. Now I have tried others but they don’t work so well. Fresh and its no good and cow shit and pig shit do nothing. But leave some horse shit in a bucket for a week and then pull your bare hooks through it you’ll come up roses with the fish.’

‘A good mackerel’s a rare pleasure this time of year so boys you enjoy them whilst I can catch them.’

The man took his pint then in his hand and he finished off the glass a smile on his face as he did so.

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