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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A bit of fish to supplement the diet.

Submitted: June 30, 2017

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Submitted: June 30, 2017



During a family picnic at the mouth of the Waimakariri River, I caught a large flounder on an old hand line baited with a pipi. Not my first fish, but like any nine year old, I was proud of my fishing prowess! The gathering was because to celebrate a long weekend, and I inadvertently left the fish in the family car probably in the rush of swapping vehicles so I could spend a couple of nights with my sister. Nobody gave another thought about the fish until it began to stink out the family car! It became putrid, because the car wasn’t used that often! And I drew the short straw to become the cleaner!

Fast forward to early 1963 when as a forest ranger trainee, I was in a group of six sent to Tuatapere where there was a single men’s camp, sent there to measure and estimate the volume of indigenous trees in preparation for logging. ‘Timber cruising’, it was called in those days. Each man had his own hut with a bed, rudimentary furniture and a small potbellied stove for heating. The cooking facilities and ablutions were communal in a dedicated building.

Jim, the boss welcomed us to the area and during his orientation talk he told us that there was a flounder-net belonging to the camp that we were welcome to use. Our eyes sparkled at the thought, because being poor, hard-up trainees we were always on the lookout for free tucker. None of us had used a drag net before, but undaunted, we spread it out to find that it was about twenty yards long, attached to a sturdy pole at each end. There was a top and a bottom; on top there were cork floats and on the bottom there were lead weights. We rolled it back up and waited for an evening when there was little wind and a full tide.

Down at the beach there was another group with a net so we watched them to see how they did it. One person was out among the breakers with one end while another two were in knee-deep water. They just dragged it along the beach for a chain or so. [Sorry, a chain is twenty two yards – or a cricket pitch length, no longer common terminology.] So we sent Gordie out the deep end! Well he was the prop-forward among us and as strong as a lavatory without a lid! When he was up to his guts in the surf he began pulling the net parallel to the beach. It was heavy and he kept losing his footing, so I was conscripted to go out! I have an aversion to cold water! Like a barley sugar, I’m afraid of dissolving in the stuff!  But food was a motivator, so out I went. We, in unison with the beach team dragged the net along for around thirty yards, then turned towards the beach and hauled our catch in. There were fourteen flounders and  three sole! That was plenty to feed us for a while so we went back to camp to hang out the net for drying and to have a big cook-up. As we gutted the fish, some of us thought the livers might be worth saving to make some patties, which turned out to be a culinary delight for the boys! Rich but very tasty as our entree! Then we stuffed ourselves with fresh fish!

The permanents in the camp told us the record for one evening’s catch was fifty seven, so of course, you can’t expect a bunch of young fellas to turn down such a challenge! We formulated the theory that the net needed to be on the bottom all the time. Gordie and I had bobbed up with each incoming wave, which we reckoned allowed a few fish to slip underneath! As Gordie and I were the ‘experienced ones’ we took the deep end again! As a matter of fact, we were the shortest in the group, which seems odd, thinking about it later! Anyway, we took turns staying under as the waves went over, forcing the bottom of the net to stay down! We weren’t in the surf very long, when Gordie noticed the frantic waving from shore! They seemed to be pointing at something. He looked around and spotted the black fins!  He shouted, ‘shark’ and we made a beeline of the shore! I think Gordie actually walked on water!

It turned out they were dolphins, playing and surfing in on the breakers. We watched them for the best part of an hour until they moved away. We were aware that there had been shark sightings about the coast at that time, so caution was the better part of being brave buggers! Back to the netting, where we spent an hour or so pulling that heavy bloody net! Holding the net hard down on the bottom made a huge difference. We broke the record well and truly and as well as flounder, we had a number of sole and plaice! Of course we didn’t have a hope of using all those fish, so we sold most to the commercial fishermen. Part of the deal was that we had to gut them! The bonus in that was those tasty livers!

We used the revenue from the fish to visit the local grocery store to stock up. Maybe those livers were a cholesterol risk, but gorging on fresh white bread, lathered with butter and apricot jam was probably no better. Nevertheless a treat for us, and anyway, we worked it all off measuring those trees and traipsing in the bush!

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