Bait Ball

It started with half a dozen gannets wheeling over the centre of the bay but rather that circle for a few minutes before making their dive to the water they flew back up to the appropriate height and came straight back down again a quick white flash and splash. Black shapes heaved in the water around their dive-bombing. It was a school of about thirty porpoises and it was obvious that the gannets and the porpoises had come across a feast of mackerel and sprats. The number of gannets grew to a dozen and the porpoises rolled and turned in the sea heads surging up out of the water and then back down with a flick of the tail churning the water.  Some of them breached their whole body rising up out over the surface and slipping below the waves. The feasting lasted about ten minutes before the gannets separated and moved further up the bay followed by the porpoises showing themselves just by the arc of their dorsal fin cresting the waves.  They left behind with the remains a collection of cormorants that bobbed like so many black sticks in the water.

In a good year the days will dissolve into a blur of light, sea and air. Slow mornings waking up and testing the weather. Opening the curtains to see how the tide has shifted from the previous day and to check the scud and slip of clouds across the bay. Downstairs to open curtains and make tea ready for breakfast, either on the plastic green table and chairs outside the yellow door or on the table inside watching the rain and wind scuff at the concrete on the pier. The unpredictable cut of the weather makes making plans a nonsense and most days breakfast ends with our deciding to see how the weather plays out before we make a decision on what to do and of course that is no decision at all. There will be a chance to jump off the pier, to go crabbing or to root around the seaweed, book of wild seafood in hand to catch what lurks there. And if the weather and tide is right a chance to ride out to the point off Owen’s Island to see if there are mackerel about for lunch. At this point it clear there is no time for us to be going anywhere for lunch and so this meal is going to be had at the Cottage. There will be a small mental tick to make sure there is enough bread and perhaps some sausages to make do. If mackerel are caught then that is all to the better. Turning to the early afternoon then if it is dry a fire should be made on the beach.  There is always a vague hope that a child will bend to the task, but children turn so quickly into unyielding teenagers it is a hope that goes unanswered so there is a chase for driftwood to make up kindling and 10 minutes or so patiently spent with screwed up pages of yesterday’s Guardian and matches to get the fire alight. Once alight it needs to be carefully constructed to be capable of cooking food. We have a good grill now but this is not always enough and if the wind is on the beach there is a need to construct a wall of bricks around the fire so that sufficient heat is directed at the grill to cook the food.

Five days later we could see more than fifty gannets circling the sea just off Owen’s Island. I had not seen so many in the bay before. As one went down two or three others would follow and there would be a silent thump as each hit. Sometimes the movement of the fish under the surface caused them to swerve at the last moment careering off at an angle before breaking the surface. Moving closer we could see that after they went under there was another small eruption of glittering foam as they came up again shaking their feathers. After a moment on the surface they would pick up their wings and go back to their natural element the air pattering the water to get sufficient lift. Some of the mackerel we caught were the largest we have had out of the water at the Cottage. They had also been gorging themselves and their bodies were still and bloated with the sprats they had eaten. Some were vomited out as we removed the hooks. As we gutted them on the black rocks at the garden they seemed to deflate slightly as the knife moved up their belly and out with the guts would spill sprats that had been swallwed whole their skin maked with small abrasions made by the makerels teeth. We threw these sprats to the gulls along with the guts and there was of course an irony in the small fish being eaten twice in the same day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s