Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Image Above: Rainbow Amongst The Mackerel
Location: Isle Of Erraid, Mull, Scotland
The lines stretch away either side of the stern, weighted and rigged with feathered hooks that swim like sand eels as they are pulled through the waters of the sound. The sun has set beyond Iona but there is still light enough, if it is only the half-light of a summer’s evening in these northern latitudes. The nights no longer darken to a blackness that properly separates or measures out the days, instead summer’s shell-sand light fades into dusk as the sun briefly skirts below the horizon. Sometimes it is hard not to believe that the island doesn’t lie at the centre of this orbit, the sun moves around that hoof print of land as if held within reach and the tilted axis of a discus throwers spin.
I am running the outboard engine at its lowest speed, the boat is gently pushing through the flat water and the ebbing tide. Orlando has the bow seat, nodding his fishing rod with a rhythmic motion that pulls at his trailing line and the lures. I hold the other rod and stare into the wake, watching jellyfish undulate as they pass like the ghost of drowned ballerinas.
I am following a course between Easter island and the channel-marker buoy in the hopes that we will pass over a small knoll that rises five or six metre from the sea bed. Shoals of fish often congregate here drawn from the featureless plains of the ocean floor. If the tide is running fast enough water is often pushed up from the depths breaking the surface in a slow boil untouched by the breeze that ripples the surrounding water. Most often it is the line weights touching down or snagging in the weed that signals a change in depth.
Orlando feels the tug of fish first and is already reeling in his line, my feathers cut through the shoal seconds later and I am in, hooked. I put the engine in neutral and wind, four mackerel a piece, we unhook the fish and return the feathers to the water as quickly as possibly, it is all about speed. The boat, the tide and the shoal are all moving and it is largely guesswork as to which route will bring us into contact again. We drop our lines vertically into the depths and bring up three stragglers that had probably followed the other hooked fish towards the boat. We unhook and return our lines to the water but there are no more takers and I slip the engine into forward and let the lines trail from the stern as I make a wide circle.
With the excitement over, we count our catch and the total stands at fourteen. We then count up the population of the island which including guests, residents, children, friends and visiting family members stands at somewhere round twenty-four. We knock off two, one vegan and one vegetarian, twenty-two and only fourteen fish. A fillet each and we can pad it out with some rice or potato salad. Orlando suggests a barbeque and we discuss recipes and whether to smoke them or not. Our lines find another five mackerel but it is late now and even the rainbow glow, that shimmers along the flanks of the silver bolts of lightening can not keep me from longing for a good night’s sleep. With the engine and boat idling near the buoy I gut and toss the heads of the fish to a herring gull who as if performing a side show swallows four and still floats, maybe a little lower in the water. We tidy the boat and then set off for home, watching the lights of houses on the island’s small street sway in the half-light.