I’d been enjoying the crash course in new fishing techniques my tour of England had bestowed on me, from bait fishing with live maggots to spinning unsuccessfully for pike. And now it was the time for another new experience, as a new friend offered to give me a taste of sea fishing from a beach near Deal.
We decided to aim for evening, so studied the tides and picked a day when the darkness would coincide with the high tide. We packed all sorts of equipment and since it was the dead of winter we needed to dress up warm. My companion handed me item after item of warm clothing, concluding with a pair of waterproof trousers. By the time we were done I looked like the secret love-child of the Michelin man and a sea captain.
Then we set off, taking the A258 past the magnificent Dover Castle and onward to Deal, where we doubled back down the coastal road until we reached Kingsdown. There we were able to access Wellington Parade, just above the beach. We sorted out all our equipment in the fading light and made our way down on to the stony shore.
I unfolded the camp chairs while my trusty companion set up the gear. This involved two long stiff rods, vastly different from anything I’d handled before, dual hooks baited with a squid-earthworm combo, and a breakaway lead which resembled a little sputnik and was designed to catch against the sea floor and hold everything in place.
Then, as I watched, he cast the rig far off into the ocean and propped the rods into the double stand. Clipped to the tip of each rod was a glowing light which would help us to figure out what was going on out in the depths (while I’ve observed the English using lights and even fancy electronic systems as bite indicators, I was recently lucky enough to view the Kiwi version – a bright pink clothes peg clipped to the rod).
At this point, it was time to enjoy some hot tea with Whittaker’s chocolate sent all the way from New Zealand, as we squinted at the little lights for any sign of action. It was a fine skill to discern the motions of the surf from the more frenetic wobbles that indicated a bite.
Finally we decided the wobbles were right and I lifted a rod off the stand and began to wind it in. It was tough at first but easier once the breakaway lure had broken away – little sputnik-prongs flipping back into a more streamlined position. As the rig came up onto the beach I heard a tell-tale slap-slap and excitedly check to see what my first catch looked like. My prize was a small silver fish – a whiting, relative of the more popular cod.
My companion dispatched our unfortunate victim while I congratulated myself on the fish I had caught. I may not have provided the gear, set it up, or even made the tea, but by God I reeled it in and that means I caught it!
Over the next few hours
we I hauled in many a whiting before I struck something extra heavy. I thought the lead may not have broken away properly, or perhaps I’d caught a lump of seaweed, but it soon became clear I had something live and wiggling.
Investigating, we discovered we had captured a dogfish, a species of small shark. After it had been dispatched and the lines set up again I sat down with the now-lifeless creature lovingly ensconced on my lap so I could thoroughly check it out. The soft skin on its underside was a marked contrast to the rough skin on its back.
After the excitement of my first dogfish there were no further surprises and we gave up as midnight was approaching. My friend took charge of the haul, suggesting I pick it up next morning once cleaned and gutted. I like this style of fishing – it’s so easy!
Later the next day I handed my hoard to Mick, the host at Stonehenge B&B, since he kindly agreed to fry everything up for me. The dogfish was deliciously unique, while the whiting did indeed taste very similar to cod despite a lot of finicky little bones. All my leftovers went to the very happy chickens so nothing was wasted.
All in all, I had to be pleased with the fish I had caught, despite supplying neither expertise, equipment, casting skill, nor even doing the cooking and cleaning . Is it something I’ll do again in the future? Well, that depends on how many more generous friends I can make, doesn’t it?