Milt for Jack Mackerel

DSCN6729Clancy had his finger in the air, elbow on the table in front of him and was laughing through his teeth, his face red with whatever it was had got him going and the sound coming out wet with drink.

The mackerel man, Jack Mackerel, he came back with his family the following year and stayed at the same cottage with its boat. Tom Cronin had the cottage and he set the boat up before he came and he had a small engine on the back of it then and made sure there were a couple of new lines, hooks and weights, ready tied in the garage. He may have seasoned them but I’m not sure he told the man that.

The second year we got a name for him, a proper name, the one that his wife used, but we didn’t bother with it and when he came in here we still called him Jack and laughed with him for being a fecked fool with the mackerel.

He was more relaxed when he arrived here for his two weeks. He’d started a beard before he got here and all he seemed to wear was an old pink shirt and a pair of rough blue trousers no matter the weather. His wife and their children seemed happy to stay hereabouts and they didn’t bother to go driving off to a beach twenty miles away. The second year coming back they had gotten more comfortable with the place.

But the man still wanted his mackerel and after two days here he was out again in his boat to try and get some. With the engine he didn’t have to go so long as he could get past the island in a few minutes and there was no need to use the oars. This time he had a better idea of where to go and the time to be out there and he would park the boat out there fifty yards or so off the island, there in the channel and put over his line in the late afternoon on the rising tide.

He did that for three days straight and we watched him out there and he caught nothing.  As each day went he stayed out there another hour or so longer as if sufficient time would have him pulling in the fish but there was feck that he caught on those new lines.

He came here when he’d finish and as those three days went by his shoulders started to slope down and he lost some of the relaxation he had on him that first day he arrived.

After that third day he came in here in the early evening. He had his family with him and they took a seat in the corner there and it was if they were waiting for him to catch his fish before they could move up here to be closer the bar.

I’d a bag of fish I had caught that afternoon under my chair. I had been up further along the bay in Paddy’s boat there and we had caught a bucketful in less than twenty minutes.

The man was up at the bar buying his drinks and waiting on his pint and so I asked him about the fish ‘You caught nothing out there?’

‘Nothing’ he said. ‘Not even the feel of a bite. I was there for almost three hours and there was nothing. After last year I thought that I had it but obviously not…’

‘There’s nothing to it’ I told him. ‘The fish are there alright but you need to let them know you are waiting to catch them and there is nothing I can say that will help with that. But take some of my fish. Have these for your breakfast and they’ll make you feel better.’

He protested and said they had eaten already and there was food where they were and he couldn’t take them from.

I reached down into the bag and pulled out one of the fish. It was still bright from the water. It was a big fish, more than twelve inches long and I could feel its hard fat belly under my fingers.

‘You’ll not be eating the fish’ I told him. ‘ Look at this.’

I took out a knife from my pocket and cut a line up its belly. I spilled the guts out into the bag by feet and then eased out of the pouch two fat creamy glands.

‘Have these for your breakfast. This is a male fish and this is its milt. I got it and a couple of others before they could let it go out in the bay. Have that for your breakfast.’

I pushed the two glands back into the belly of the fish. The man’s pint was on the bar and he took a long drink at it.

‘Fry up some bacon in butter and as it cooks put in the milt and mash it up with a fork and eat it with scrabbled eggs.’ I looked over to the family. ‘Don’t tell them too much and you could feed it to them. You have that and wait for a day and go out fishing the next morning and see if you catch some fish then.’

I wiped down my fingers on my trousers and gave him the fish in a bag along with another. He took the bag and went to sit with his family and I watched as his shoulders eased up.

Clancy had his finger down now but he was still laughing quietly through his teeth.

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