I dream of days gone by, memories come flooding in from time to time, one such tale from across the great pond…
Being from the very small island of Jersey in the English Channel, where lots of fish come to play, we, as young men, were eager, morning, noon and night, to fish! It was not a way of making ends meet but, more, a way of just being teenagers and having fun (not like today where you have everything to hand in your phone)! Those days were planned; tidal movements were monitored. The moon, and where it was in its cycle, played its part in our activities.
“No Leatty, I have checked. We gotta move, mate, or the tide will be in!”
I packed in a rush — so much for planning was the thought that ran through my head. “Now you are sure about the times, Dickie?” I called after him as we hastily stowed the night’s gear in the trunk of his beaten up VW.
“As eggs are eggs, mate,” he answered, grinning. Dickie was a great amateur boxer back home and was always up for a good scrap, and, like the rest of his family, fishing was in his blood. I questioned him no more.
Off we went. Finally we get to where we want to be: Janvrins Tomb a small sub-island that you can only get to at low tide, walking down the many steps to the beach shoreline. It was only then that I realized Dickie had made a mistake and got his times wrong.
“Dickie, the tide is in! Are you sure you checked the book?”
“Well, yeah,” he said, looking at me sheepishly, Dickie was the sort of guy who never checked and went by instinct, a family trait he would tell me all the time.
“Now what? I am not walking all the way back up those steps,” I said, having counted all 167 of them many times before.
“Hey, look there’s a boat. Lets get the gear in there and row out,” Dickie says, smiling, knowing I am up for anything.
In for a penny, I think, why not? We put all our gear in and start the very short five-minute row to the island. After only 30 seconds, my feet are getting wet. A few more seconds, it hit me. “Dickie, the bung is out! Row back. Quick!” Forty seconds later we are back on dry land, gear wet, clothes wet, food dry, packed nicely in good plastic containers.
“Now what?” I say again.
“Well I guess we wait a while for the tide to go out,” says Dickie, lighting up a cigarette.
The minutes go by and after an hour or so we manage to wade across to the island, knowing there is still some time to go before we hit low tide. Low tide was always a good time to catch what we were after: conger eels — big, mean, nasty, slimy conger eels.
Climbing up the wet rocks, slippery under our feet, to find a good spot to fish from, I watch and laugh as Dickie takes a tumble. I won’t tell you what he said but, well, you get the picture. A few bruises and abrasions later we get to our spot.
Finally, after setting up and casting the lines out, we place small bells on the tips of each rod (its not easy seeing in the dark). The bells will tell us when we have a nibble. The Tilley Lamps glow, giving off a fervent enough light to see in our small area. We see others on the shore and wave across the space of water to get a wave back. No sound. Just small banter between friends of days gone by. Night fishing is big in Jersey. It’s similar to that of ice fishing; you know the times to catch certain fish. Night time is the best time to catch conger.
A bell gently rings from the tip of a rod. “Wait, let it take a big bite,” I say to Dickie. The bell rings again, only this time the tip of the rod bobs up and down. Then with a snap Dickie grabs the rob and lets the line run free. A whistling sound is heard as the line goes out. Whirring and buzzing, the line goes on and on. Then nothing. Silence all around. The waves effervesce as they are swept by toward the shoreline. I reel in the other lines so as not to get in the way. Slowly, Dickie reels his line. “Whatever this is, there is nothing now; loose line,” he says, looking at me.
Then again a whirring, buzzing and the 80 lb. nylon line goes out once more, not sure what is going on. We continue the battle. The rod bends. “Wow!” Dickie gasps, “This is not a conger. Whatever it is, it’s big!” He looks at me and grins. Again the line drops. Nothing. Again Dickie reels in, only this time, more. “Get the gaff hook, Leatty” he says. It’s getting closer. Twenty minutes have gone by and the battle wages on: the to-ing and fro-ing; line in, line out. Forty minutes go by.
Finally, a fin, “I see a fin,” I say, “Holy crap! You caught a shark, Dickie!”
The line goes out again, the whirring, and then the fin is gone. It goes quiet. I see the fin again, silhouetting through the moonlight. It’s getting closer to the shoreline now and must be getting tired. This time Dickie reels in. I run down the rock face, gaff in hand. I put the gaff hook down, and Dickie lets the line loose on the rod and hands over to me so we can face this beast together. He climbs down the rock and I hand the rod back to him. It’s his catch for sure.
Now Dickie reels in, the taut line bending the rod. The line is as tight as a guitar string. The shark comes into view, its black, cold death-like eyes looking up at both of us. Gaff in hand, I manage to hook the shark through a gill and pull it to shore, a five-foot long Tope. . .
The school shark, tope shark, soupfin shark or snapper shark, Galeorhinus galeus, is a hound shark of the family Triakidae, the only member of the genus Galeorhinus, found worldwide in subtropical seas at depths of up to 550 meters’ (1,800 ft). It grows to 2 meters’ (6 ft 7 in) long.
Exhausted, we take the gaff out and return the shark to the water. What were we going to do with a shark? After all, we were there for the Conger.
Who is going to believe this story? Well if ever you met Dickie, he would tell you that the hardest fight he ever had was with a five-foot long Tope. . .
That very same night we ended up landing five congers each, ranging in size from 30 to 45 pounds, a nice size and weight for these types and good eating too.