Gone Fishing on Alderney!

This blog will talk about my

first fishing lesson on Alderney

Fishing in the name of research

WW1 on the island of Alderney

The Alderney Fishing Festival


Continuing my series of blogs to thank various places and people who not only helped me with my research but made the experience so pleasurable, I return to the beautiful island of Alderney. You see, I wanted my chapters ion Alderney in my novel Ancasta, about life on the island during WW1 to be as authentic as possible.

Alongside reading about the effect on the island of a whole generation of young men going to war and being in such close proximity to the French coast I soon realised that an important aspect of the islanders’ bid for survival would have been fishing. The everyday islanders would have thought twice before venturing off the coast of France in fishing boats because of possible submarines, but would certainly have fished off the rocks and the breakwater, in fact there is fishing tackle from that era in the Alderney museum and photos of men standing in line on the breakwater fishing for mackerel. One of them had this massive rod and as they caught a fish they’d flip it up to their brother or son who was standing waiting on the next level platform.

I knew nothing about fishing myself, but I was pleased to be in touch with a man on twitter whose family has lived on Alderney since the nineteenth century. First tweets about fishing shot backwards and forwards between us and then DM’s (direct messages to those who are not familiar with Twitter!) In the end the maximum 40 characters defeated us and we exchanged emails and have since become good friends. Vic certainly gave me a flavour of the favourite places his grandfather and father took him fishing, what they caught and the different methods they used. He explained spring tides and neaps until I think I understood, and gave colourful accounts of his fishing exploits and fond memories of his childhood on Alderney.

How do you describe someone fishing when you know nothing about it?

What were the sights, smells and sounds associated?

How did it feel to scramble out to and stand precarious on a rock for a couple of hours, while the sea swirled below?

Many questions filled my mind and needed to be resolved before I attempted the chapter.

I was planning my next trip to the island that October and so I got in touch with Mark who owns the fishing tackle, outdoor sports shop at the top of Victoria Street and and gives fishing lessons. I explained my quest to him and asked whether he would mind taking out a novice such a myself. He was delighted to do so!

On the day of the lesson we met Mark down by Crabby Bay, shared the tackle between us before scrambling out to the rocks beside Fort Doyle. With the Swinge restlessly swirling around the island of Burou to our left and Fort  Doyle to our right I watched Mark as he prepared the rod, line and bait. We discussed the sort of bait my character might use and that they would probably have used feathers in those days, all the time I was alert to vocabulary which described the action, scene and senses. I jotted down notes, but most of all I captured the ambiance of the experience to aid my memory.

As we waited patiently for a bite I noted my thoughts, the panoramic scene around us, the changing nature of the sea and sky, Mark’s actions, his stance, the feelings of anticipation and yet timelessness. It was quite an experience. I asked the occasional question as they came to mind and gradually I was lulled into a sense of peace in the moment.

The excitement of our first bite brought me out of my reverie and I was thrilled when mark landed our first mullet, handling it with almost reverence as he explained how quickly the glistening colours fade when the fish dies. I was quite in awe of the experience. More in tune with the cycle of life and enjoying the opportunity to paint the sea scape in words I settled back on my rock but did not have long to wait before we landed our second mullet of the day, then nearly lost it. Slippery things fish!

On our next visit to the island it happened to coincide with Alderney’s annual fishing festival, a time when men compete to find the best outcrop of rocks, the vantage point where they might catch the biggest fish of the week. Trophies are fought over (metaphorically) and in the evenings groups of men sit in the various cosy and welcoming hostelries, including The Divers Arms, discussing their successes and the giants who got away.

This year it is the week commencing 13th October, so if you love to fish, I cannot think of a better place to do it than the beautiful island of Alderney. If you do, say hello to Mark. I’m sure you’ll meet him as the week progresses.

The Alderney Fishing Festival 2012



Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, History of Alderney, Research

4 responses to “Gone Fishing on Alderney!

  1. Hi there Diana,

    I have finally managed to make time to read through your entertaining blog on fishing in Alderney. Is that my Hermano Vic you refer to in the third paragraph perchance? He would have certainly fished with Dad but not our Grandfather. Dads’ Father was living in Australia and only visited twice….once when he was a fairly elderly man and certainly didn’t fish and once they came to Jersey for my wedding. Our Grandfather on Mums side was Swiss and died when I we were very young.

    I have to confess to shuddering slightly when you mentioned fishing off Doyle. That was one place Dad avoided…he used to say that there were plenty of fish round there for a reason…because of their being attracted to the rather dubious outfall around there. It was for that reason …their feeding on all of that mucky waste, that he avoided it like the plague. Dads’ favourite place seemed to be The Lights below Fort Albert then probably second to that occasionally down at the harbour where he would fish by a light (the fish were attracted to that. Another place was off the slides between the Lighthouse and Raz. Clonque was the domain of the “Trot” fishing for bass and of course ormering. Dad didn’t tend to fish for mullet but friends from Slades the Butchers ie Henry Slade and Suss and Nick Gaudion would often be found fishing off the breakwater for them. Oh…mustn’t forget actually Hanni Slade (a Swiss lady) Henrys’ wife who presided over the Butchers cash till office was apparently the Queen of Mullet fishing. They would make up a mysterious mix of shervy (not sure of the spelling here) basically a mixture of mince meat and other bits and pieces, which would be scattered on the water to attract the mullet. I think different people had their favourite shervy mixes and swore by them and guarded their recipes jealously!! When Dad fished he often just knocked a limpet off a rock and used that as bait and caught many a pollock off the lights that way. I think for Rock fish which many people scorned but were actually great to eat….little crabs were the bait to use and he recommended the back of Raz Island for those. There is a funny story about fishing for rock fish with crabs. Soon after Paul and I had married we went over for a holiday to visit Mum and Dad and on Dads recommendation Paul (The Bean) duly went down to Longy to collect little crabs from under the rocks which he popped in his bucket with a load of seaweed and some sea water. He brought them home late afternoon and popped them outside behind the kitchen window ready to pick up before he set off early the next morning. Now our house was built in front of a sort of a hill and the garden rose steeply behind the kitchen window. Immediately behind the kitchen window was a sort of trough area, walled in on all sides and beyond the wall of the trough rose the rockery before carrying up to the vegetable garden. Anyway there the bucket sat over night with his live bait of little crabs and in the morning Paul hurried out of bed….grabbed the bucket ….set off with rod, tackle and bucket on his bike and made his way out to Raz ….catching the tide when the causeway was clear for crossing. He got all the way out there and settled down to prepare his rod and tackle ….lifted up the seaweed to find not one crab there in!! My Dad was finding crabs all over the back garden for weeks to come. Though how they ever managed to scale the walls of the trough was a mystery to us all.

    Other fishing tips from Dad …not much point in fishing is the sun is too bright the fish hide and can see you. Talking of seeing you….your red coat made me smile…they would have seen that a mile off…however it doesn’t seem to have stopped you catching something lol!!

    Your nearly dropping your first catch made me laugh. I went fishing with Dad many a time (well strictly speaking … he fished, I watched! Never a problem until one day Dad had just lifted a lovely Pollock on his line and removed it from the hook…popped it into a carrier bag and was passing it up to me. “Watch it doesn’t get out!” said Dad and as I lifted the bag the fish…made with its sharp dorsal spines managed to rip a hole in the carrier (I suspect there might have a been the beginnings of a hole in the bag already!) and the next second the fish was flapping off down the rocks and into the sea!! Well I never heard the end of it after that…..every time there was talk of someone going fishing it would be “Better not take Heidi with you, she is a jinx!!” All in jest of course…Dad had a wicked sense of humour BUT STILL! Anyway….the thing is…. I can commiserate with you Diana….although actually you went one better and didn’t ACTUALLY lose your fish did you? Just NEARLY. Actually I was always the spectator …never the fisher…as I really didn’t fancy taking the poor things off the hook and whalloping their heads to stun them. I did however enjoy eating them later!!

    Trot fishing was another magical form of fishing. Dad had this traces made up with a length of coarse string, fastened to strips of rubber (which were cut from tyre inner tubings) then attached to a finer string and finally tied to the hooks which were fairly beefy looking things! We would set off with these in the bag and once down at Clonque at low tide; find a nice sandy gully between two lines of rocks and then tie the course string end around a (carefully selected) loose, fairly heavy rock. This was placed reasonably centrally in various places where Dad could imagine the fish running. The trace was then buried in the sand (fish aren’t daft you know!!!) with just the bait showing (the trusty old limpet again….they must have shuddered to see us coming those poor old limpets). It was my important job to kick them off the rocks, Dad had to actually dig them out of their shells though. I was a bit of a squeamish child in those days lol. Goodness knows how I ever became a nurse!!
    Anyway….we would then head back to the car….by this time it was sometimes dark and get home have supper. Tucked up in bed I would drift off to sleep imagining the fish swimming in with the rising tide. Would we find anything the next day or wouldn’t we!!!??? I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to go down the next day and actually find the reward of fish on the end of the hook. Wonderful. Oh and as another little morsel of info, I will have you know that my Mum had to be flown off to Guernsey to have me as I was threatening to come a month early. This was 1956 remember! Dad of course stayed in Alderney due to work commitments and indeed on the day I was born he had put trots down at Clonque and caught two massive bass! Sadly communications between the islands being patchy in those days Dad didn’t hear of my birth until a couple of days later. Poor Mum was under the illusion that maybe he was a bit miffed that I hadn’t been a boy. (Lucky that they eventually had Vic eh!!). Anyway Dad never seemed to hold it against me although there WERE moments when I realised I was in a no win situation! I wasn’t the first born; nor the son….just the middley but the younger of the girls….so in effect I was treated as the baby of the family…despite Vic being 5 years my Junior. There was a time when I was still up working on the Dining Room table on projects for my GCEs and CSEs (so I guess I must have been 15 going on 16…Dad had allowed Vic to stay up to watch Match of the Day so Vic must have been 10/11 and Dad bless him turned round to me and said “Isn’t it time you were in bed Skinners?”
    Oh yes that was one of Dads’ nicknames for me ….(doesn’t apply today at all sadly!!) as well as Adelheid; Adelhumps; Adelumps etc etc)………….

    Well I have woffled on way too long and really ought to DO something before I go off to take my Mother-in-law out. It’s been lovely chatting to you…albeit in a very one sided fashion. 🙂 I just hope I haven’t bored the pants off you!!

    Anythings else fishing relate…the fount of all fishing knowledge is Rob Blondin but then Vic has probably told you that already eh!!

    Anyway….thanks for the Blog (How DO you find the time….AND writing books to boot)…puts me to shame!! All makes very interesting reading and of course even better triggers lots of lovely old memories!

    That’s all for now…you will be relieved to hear!!

    Heidi (sis of The Hermano…..making me Hermana!!)

    • Oh Heidi, I was thrilled to see your comments and laughed at your memories. Happy days eh! I didn’t realise about the colour of the coat… as you said it didn’t seem to put the fish off….. and you will be relieved to know that we ate neither of our catch and threw both back in. (poor things) My character fishes off Raz and if you read Ancasta I’m sure it would bring back memories too, and also the setting of trots at Clonque! All of this was a new language for me but Vic was wonderful sharing his memories and checking my chapter for me. It is one for which I am particularly proud.
      It’s strange because having ‘met’ Vic’ through twitter I seem to have got to know you too. Lovely how the internet works! I sent Vic a photo of me sitting on your mum and dad’s bench too.
      Many thanks for sharing! Hopefully we’ll meet up one day:-)

  2. I imagine it to have been an experience that vanquished all those stressful moments, perhaps a remedy.

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