Friday, November 9, 2012

Crab Bait Blues

After six months of working an inlet east of here, we headed for the town channel tonight to fish for flathead on their annual November run. There's a new marker on the reef just inside Possession Point. Racing yachties have periodically come to grief on the reef as they try to shave a few seconds off the home run back to Little Grove. For as long as I've been around, the reef's warning sign has been a piece of poly pipe standing at a barnacled angle and now it is a yellow and black bobbing miniature lighthouse, flashing and brand new.

Old Salt was expecting to tangle with Grievous, the other fisherman who fishes the flathead run. They've been battling over this spot for years now. I don't think their animosity began here but with a salmon run in 1956, or some mullet 'making up' in the corner of the harbour, or was it the black bream at Pallinup? Maybe it was the gardies at Peaceful. If I could name names, I would recite Old Salt's constant jokes about a certain American family whose men seemed to get regularly assassinated and how he's glad he is not one of them and where is a Lee Harvey Oswald when you need one? But I won't. The only thing that Old Salt and Grievous ever agreed upon is that crab pot thieves should be hung from a great height.

After setting the flathead nets, we holed up below the old quarantine station to wait out the sunset. The evening was still and warm. Yes, it is a hard life. "An occy lives in there," Old Salt said, peering into the shallows at a seaweedy car tyre set into the rippled sands, the same shape as the roof of my mouth. A pelican squabbled with a couple of Pacific gulls. A fiddler shark meandered into the shore. It was really nice seeing the white pom pom sea grass flowers and old mussel shells, after so long in an inlet where the water is murky grey/grey and I could never see the bottom.

Old Salt saw the dinghy hurtling across the harbour, it's skipper a lean fellow cloaked in red wet weather gear and leaning into the wind. "That's him."
He started up the outboard and turned towards our net's first buoy.
At this point I went into the 'oh for crying out loud' thing that females do when men start getting bolshie with each other. But I put on my gloves, set up the light and filled the fish boxes with salt water because we were heading out to pick up the flathead nets and I didn't want to be on the back foot, after dark, when these two arced up. This whole fight that they have going, well, you won't find me being a brother in arms to either of them. Unfortunately, sitting in one boat and not the other makes any deckie a partisan.

So I sat with my back to the trajectory of Grievous as he headed for our buoy to set nets over the top of ours. I ignored Old Salt's mumblings as he gunned the motor. It is a territorial thing but it is also a practical thing. After a fisherman sets 500 metres over the top of your nets, events can become complicated and unpleasant, especially when the wind comes up and a century of unsettled family grievances spray forth. What to do.

Both dinghies hung on the reef at Possession Point, on either side of the new marker. Old Salt idled his motor, not looking at Grievous. Grievous didn't look at Old Salt and fiddled around with some ropes and buoys. For some reason I began to think of rottweilers but the last rottweiler I knew well was an overweight plate licker who'd had his tail and his balls cut off, so it probably isn't pertinent, really.

Grievous eyed us, sorted out where our buoy was. Then he drove into the bay and set nets along the shallows. "Well. He's got every right to do that. Go fishing, I mean. Looks like he's behaving himself tonight."

We pulled up some beautiful flathead and some King George whiting too. By then it was dark and the Sound's port and starboard lights flashed all around us to usher the freight ships in. The cedar scent of the woodchips drifted over. At the port they were loading the ships and clouds of saw dust hung under the orange lights.
It is a wondrous thing, hauling nets under lights at night with the white curve of flathead and whiting coming up through the water, the beautiful, poisonous angel fish and that startling turquoise blue of the grass whiting. Trumpeters even. I've missed it.

We worked our way towards the channel and the flathead got thicker in the nets.
"Fucking trumpeters!" Old Salt started yelling.
He leaned close to me over the nets and whispered, "this is really good tonight ... Really nice. He is just over there."
I looked towards to east and could see Grievous' dinghy close by as he worked his nets in the dark.
"Bloody trumpeters!" said Old Salt. "Fucken hell. Crab bait. They're everywhere, fer Christ's sake!"


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Merc. It's never difficult to tell ripping yarns about Old Salt.

  2. Hilarious. Such characters. I think having met Old Salt makes reading about him even more enjoyable because I can imagine him cussing.

  3. You probably could have heard him from your place last night!