December 30, 2014

Catching fish while sailing

TONIGHT I SHALL MAKE GRAVLOX for our annual party on the day after New Year’s Day. I shall pour coarse salt and new-ground pepper onto filets of local salmon and smother it all with bunches of dill. And then, while it matures in the fridge for two days I shall think about all the fish I’ve caught in my sailing career.

I make no claim to be an angler, although I’ve always wanted to be one. I’ve always admired people who can cast a line back and forth, flashing through the air, and  land the fly gently on the water in some shady pool. But my method of fishing is much cruder than that. For many hundreds of miles under sail I have simply towed a shiny lure astern, inviting anything in the sea to take a bite. I keep it all very simple. No rod to get in the way of everything. Just a simple Penn reel clamped to the pushpit rail. No gaff. No net. And no sportsmanship involved. Everything is so strong and simple that anything I catch can be hauled straight into the cockpit.

When I was a kid we lived in a house close to the sea, and every year the mackerel would swim into our little bay. Great shoals of them. I would row out in a small dinghy and catch one on my hand line. I’d cut him up for bait and catch a dozen more. They were always ravenous. When I had a fair load, I’d row down to the little fish market in town and offer my catch for sale.

I never sold any because everybody and his aunt was out there catching mackerel. The market was flooded with mackerel. You could almost persuade some fishmonger to pay you to take your catch away, because the glut of mackerel was forcing prices down. So, every year, I would row back home and dispose of my cargo on the way, saving only a few fishes for the cats, and perhaps a supper or two for our family. It was a lesson in retail economics that shouldn’t have taken long to learn, but I was never disappointed by my failure to make a fortune from mackerel . It was the thrill of catching each one on a hand line that kept me at it.

In later years I fished as I crossed oceans. I lost quite a few spinners to sharks, but still managed to drag aboard bonito, dorado, barracuda, and salmon, all of which made fine eating, and one notable puffer fish, which I knew to be poisonous. I was saved the bother of taking him off the hook by a shark, which swallowed him whole along with my lure and hook and six inches of stainless-steel trace wire.  I have often wondered whether puffer fish are as poisonous for sharks as they are for humans.

In any case, tonight I shall be thinking of Burl and Abigail Romick. We met them in 1999, when my wife June and I were exploring the wilderness of British Columbia in our 25-foot sailboat. They were sailing a C&C 35-footer, a Landfall, called Wind Song.

We came across them near the northern end of Vancouver Island while we were sheltering from a northwesterly gale in Bull Harbor, an area described with some accuracy in the Sailing Directions as “remote.” And very windy, as it turned out, even in summer.

We linked up with Wind Song again down south in Barkley Sound. And there the Romicks treated us to a gourmet meal built around a delicious dish they called gravlox.

They made it from a salmon they had caught. It was soft, sweet, salty, peppery, and tangy with dill. After five weeks of canned food and cruising rations, it was a sensation. Our jaded tastebuds were clapping their little hands and yelling with delight.

Every year since, we’ve made a gravlox lunch on the day after New Year, and invited a few close friends around to share the delights we experienced in Barkley Sound. There will be champagne, of course. And the toast is always the same: “To Burl and Abigail.”

Today’s Thought
Fishing is much more than fish . . . It is the great occasion when we may return to the free simplicity of our forefathers.
— Herbert Hoover, 31st U.S. President

“Psychoanalysis is a lot of hokum.”
“What makes you say that?”
"Well, I’ve been having analysis for six weeks and my shrink says I’m in love with my umbrella.”
“That’s just nuts.”
“That’s what I told him. Admiration, possibly — and I must admit we have built up a sincere affection for each other — but love? That’s crazy.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Jack said...

A happy and prosperous new year John. Enjoy the salmon, I been known to sprinkle a shot or two of Plymouth gin over mine during the curing but some may say that's a waste of good gin! Cheers Jack.

John Vigor said...

Thanks, Jack. Season's greetings to you, too. I happen to have some Plymouth gin. I shall give it a go. Not a waste. Plenty more where that came from.


John V.