Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Ag Iasgaich air a Chuan. Fishing at Sea.

In the early 1950s(I'd be 12/13 years old),my Uncle Shonnie bought a boat which he and his friends in Dalmore could use to fish the waters of Loch Roag,and in fair weather,the fringes of the Atlantic itself. The boat was an open "clinker-built" vessel,14 feet long,built of wood and made by a man from Ness,a parish at the very north of Lewis,renowned for its great seamen and for the boats they built. It was a lovely little boat,painted white on its hull and blue on the super structure,and it looked so important bearing its registration, painted black at the prow, SY 92. This was not a fishing boat,but a boat for fishing (if you understand the distinction).
Fishing in the sea lochs and close to shore,where the sea was less deep,people used "small line" fishing.In the 19th century,the larger fishing boats,then under sail,used the "large line" and operated 3 miles out,fishing for the larger species eg. ling. The small line carried 250 medium sized hooks baited with herring and contained in an open wooden box,and the line of baited hooks arranged very carefully in rows,so that they could be played out without tangling. Preparing the small line for fishing would be an afternoon's work for someone,who knew what they were doing. One or two others joined Shonnie in these fishing trips,usually Seorais(George)and my Maclennan uncle,Iain Shoudie,while I was "elected" as helmsman,in charge of the 4HP British Seagull outboard engine. We would leave the Dunan pier about 6.00pm and sail out of Loch Carloway until we reached the "caolas"(the sound)of open sea between the islands of Bernera and Little Bernera and the Lewis mainland.These two islands were where we Maclennans first settled in Lewis in the early 1700s. There were some small islands like Creagam and Dubh Sgeir in the vicinity,whose dangers a young helmsman was made aware of. Each of the fishermen had their own small line,and as one line was played out,other small lines were attached. That made for a lot of baited "hyooks",as Iain Shoudie pronounced them,lying perhaps 20-30 feet down on the white sandy bottom. The combined lines of say 500 or 750 "hyooks" were laid out in a straight line of several hundred yards,using well known landmarks as markers, such as the golden sands of Croir on Bernera,the light at Laimishadair or the imposing island called "Sean Bheinn",the Old Hill. The decision on where to set the lines was taken by the experienced crew members who suddenly were blessed with the "second sight",but actually, any course chosen was pretentious fish finding and a large dollop of luck,which no fisherman ever admits. A buoy was placed at either end;we would slowly make our way back and sit bobbing about in "eithear Shonnie" (John's boat)for about 20 minutes. Time for small talk and a smoke of the pipe.One should mention that during the laying and raising of the lines only the oars were used.The helmsman sat back,eating his Highland Toffee - he didn't smoke a pipe,yet.
In those days,before the super trawlers came and raped our fishing grounds,small boats like ours would normally expect to catch something - possibly 40 or 50 fish per small line,giving us fresh fish for a couple of days,some for the elderly villagers and the rest for salting/drying. However, there was one fishing trip "air eithear Shonnie"(SY 92) which exceeded anyone's expectations and was renowned among the Dunan fishermen for years after. And this wee fella' was there! On this occasion in the boat were Shonnie,Iain Shoudie,Seoras "Lipton",Archie "Bones" Maciver and of course,myself. That was four small lines and 1000 baited hooks. The entrails were examined,the chicken bones thrown and "Coinneach Odhar" Shoudie chose our course. It was a busy night out there on Loch Roag,with about another 6/7 Carloway boats in attendance. After casting the lines,and waiting the alloted time,it was time to see how we'd fared. Right from "hyook no.1" it was obvious that we had struck piscine gold(more like silver). Iain Shoudie began shouting "Sight below,sight and sight below!!".As we hauled,we could see deep into the sea,the white bellies of fish upon fish coming to the surface. There was a fish on EVERY hook: it was unbelievable.The great majority of fish were beautiful large haddock(No.1 fish for us) with whiting,sole,skate,gurnard and some dogfish making up the rest. It took some pulling to bring in this harvest,and soon the boat was filling with fish. We had to decide to tie off the line,attach it to a float and sail back to the Dunan to empty the boat.By the time we returned with the rest of the catch we were tired,it was late and we were elated.After all, it's not every day a small "eithear" from Carloway brings home 1000 fish.Whatever happened on that summer evening,it was never to be repeated again. I can still hear my uncle,Iain Shoudie(him of the "hyooks")with a "Capstan" cigarette in one hand,pulling in the line with the other,and leading the chorus of "Sight below,sight and sight below".
P.S. Athough there were 4 fishermen,the catch was divided into 5 shares. The boat always had a single share,entitling the owner to 2 shares.

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