Flashback Friday: A Nautical Heart

I’d heard the story of my parents dating and engagement so many times before. My Mum had a beach fishing rod, Dad didn’t believe that my five-foot-nothing mother could use such a thing, she proved him wrong and they got married almost a year to the day they met. Dad even proposed on a fishing trip, another story that I know so well.

From as soon as I could stand, fishing would become a part of life for me. Not lake or river fishing though, never lake or river. My family liked the chance of the bigger catches, and so we went to the sea.

Somewhere around, my mother has a photograph of me, not more than four years old, stood in a paddling pool with my magnetic fishing set. The principle was to teach me how to cast and how to pull a fish in slowly and carefully. If you pulled too fast, the magnet would release the fish and you’d have to try again.

As I grew older, I eventually got my hands on my own small fishing rod and I learned how to fish using my oft-repeated mantra: “Lock off, bell arm off, quick flick and out we go!”. Even to this day, I can still be heard saying “lock off, bell arm off.” If I don’t, I’m guaranteed to forget!

Once you reach your teens though, the support you get from your fishing parents is less, and the ribbing you get when you mess up is ten times harsher.

“Why aren’t your eyes straight? Do you need your other ones fixed first or summat?” (Yes, fishing rods have “eyes”, where the fishing line passes through).

“You didn’t take your bell arm off. Well done, dopey!”. The mechanism that makes it possible to wind in the fihing line in in the event of a fish bite is called the bell arm, and it works on a pivot – off for casting out, on for reeling in. Mix those up, and one way or another, you make a right twit of yourself on the harbour wall. Ahh yes, fishing sure is fun…

In my teenage years, my family of die-hard fisher folk donned Oceanic suits – bright red thermal outfits that us the got us the name “The Red Devils”. Red, because of the colour of our suits, and devils, because we tormented people on the pier. We had a great relationship with the pier staff, and it was all too common that they would pop down for a chat when the office was quiet. If we caught an early tide and arrived too early then sometimes, we’d pull up our hoods and rest for half an hour on the pier, and then cast ou lines out. You don’t need a sleeping bag when you have a thermal suit, just put your feet up, pull your hood up, and relax. Some of my best sleeps were in my Oceanic suit, using my rucksack and Thermos flask as a pillow. You didn’t have to worry about other people walking by either, if you had a permit, you could enjoy visitor-free fishing and napping right up until 9AM.

But some of my most favourite and most proud memories have not been from fishing but rather, have been from teaching others to fish for themselves. My betrothed was actually pretty fluid when I we took him fishing, his demonstrating wife-to-be, however, was not.

On that fateful afternoon, I picked up my fishing rod with all intents and purposes of sending my hook straight out to sea. It was all set up and ready to go, and for someone who by now was an experienced fisherwoman, it should have been oh so easy to accomplish. What happened next though, was nothing if short of a disaster.

“Umm… who’s half a fishing rod is that down there in the water?” Dad mused.

Oh shit, I’m for it. 

There wasn’t much that I could do. In my other hand was the other half of the rod, reel and line still firmly attached.

“Not gonna catch many fish like that are we, Booboos?”. Fortunately, despite my complete failings, Dad actually helped me land the other half of my fishing rod so that I could set it up properly., cast it out again, and actually catch some fish.

Aside my calamities, I’ve also had a few impressive fishing feats. Aged twelve years old I landed four mackerel (also photographed, also somewhere) on one fishing line, taking me home the £30 competition prize money. I’d paid 50p of my own pocket money to enter, not expected to win against about twelve other, more experienced fishermen, and won anyway. On another completely fluke fishing trip, I landed a flounder on a crab line. Don’t ask me how I pulled that one off, I just knew that crabs don’t move anything near as fast or strangely as my line did. Once dispatched and cleaned, my newly betrothed had it floured and fried for his tea.

But what a lot of people don’t tell you about fishing is that sometimes, no, often, it’s not about the fishing itself. It’s not about the bait you use, the equipment you hold or the fish you catch. Often, it’s about the people that you go with, the places that you go and sometimes, even the people that you meet. Even if you never meet them again, usually, everyone chats on the harbour wall, people share stories, and often, people share bait. You pull into your parking spot as a stranger, and you pull out of it as a friend.

For my family, our typical fishing spot is Newquay harbour. On one such fishing trip, my heart was touched by the young man that I met on the harbour wall, who was also fishing with his family. 

“Would you like to fish here?” I asked, offering him the spot where I had been fishing. A few other men had packed up and gone home, and so we were able to spread out. “I’m going to go down there, next to my husband” I added, pointing in Matt’s direction. 

“Your husband? Why, how old are you?” the young man asked. 

“I’m thirty” I said, matter-of-factly. What does this have to do with being married or fishing?

“You don’t look it” he replied. My heart!  

If I live with one regret now, it’s that I passed up the last chance to go fishing with my Dad. I like fishing, but unlike my family, I can’t do it everyday. I do get bored, I do get cold, I get sore and a bit seasick, too. I like fishing, but I also like kicking back with drinks in the clifftop bar, I like spending my pennies in the arcade and ambling through the quaint seaside shops. The last time, I told my family not to worry about fishing because there would be a next year, a decision I now bitterly regret. 

To conclude this post, I’m going to leave you with a couple of photographs that I have taken while fishing in Cornwall. I must warn you that one of them is a little bit bloody and shows some of the fish we have caught. I apologise if this makes you squeamish, however, I know that perhaps for some people, this photograph will be genuinely interesting. 

Thank you for stopping by!

Did you know: Never, ever, ever wish a fisherperson “good luck”. To a fisher, “good luck” is like saying good luck to someone who is about to appear on stage or mentioning that it’s quiet in an office where the phones are normally ringing – we see it as a curse that means we won’t catch any fish! Instead, if you see a fisherperson trying to catch some fish, wish them “tight lines”. When fishing line is tight, it is usually because there is a fish on the other end!

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