How to kill a fish.

Charlotte Gannet fishing with a hand spool in her kayak.

Catching fish with a hand spool

I put my index finger in one gill and my middle finger in the other. I place my thumb on the spine. I close my eyes and bent back the head of the mackerel. I hear a tearing sound, like the ripping open a seam of your favourite jeans.
The whole fish just went limp in my hands. I open my eyes and see a big red droplet of blood trickling down the left glass of my sunglasses. As I look down I see my kayak covert in blood. The same colour as my own blood. It is almost too much blood, I quickly check if I have any wounds.
I look at the silver coloured fish, so dynamic and lively as it was on the fishing line. So beautiful in the black coloured pattern on the back and the iridescent shimmering in the smooth scales.

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Beautiful iridescent skin of the macerel

‘Yeah, that looks like dinner, gut it and fish for some more!’ Alexander cheers.
‘What?’ I look up from my dazed moment contemplating the fact that I just killed a fish. I overpowered another living thing, weaker than I am. I tricked it with a shimmering piece of plastic and a hook, pretending it was food. Food, the basic necessity for all life on this earth.
Ironically, I’m going to eat it as food. How can I not have feelings about killing a fish?

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Killer kayaker

Recent scientific research has shown that fish do feel the pain of catching and when it dies of suffocation when out of the water. This knowledge changed my entire view of killing fish.
I used to catch fish and let my husband do the killing because I am a bit of a coward. But in a higher sea it is not possible to hand over a slippery fish, we tried and lost some good fish that way. In bigger waves, I would just remove the hook and leave the fish to die in my kayak. Now I know that is a horrible way for the fish to die.

Killing the fish is the most difficult thing to do when you think about it. It appeals to my conscience ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Taking a life to feed yourself. At home it is so easy, the fish is already dead and gutted when I buy it. It is neatly packed into some plastic. It is not even a fish anymore. Life has left the body, it is just flesh. But out here, I need to find my inner hunter, that ‘ eat or be eaten’ instinct. Although, I don’t think a mackerel will strike back and throw me overboard to kill me. Because it is not a big threat to human existence it makes an easy prey.
But if I choose to eat fish I better take the responsibility to kill it as quick and painless as possible. If that even exists.

But I don’t think it is sustainable to eat fish or any other animal every day. The planet can not cope with that.

I only fish with 2 hooks on my line twice a week, only catching what I eat, kill it swiftly and thank the fish for feeding me.

Eating the makerel after it is cooked in alu foil on the fire.

Eating the makerel after it is cooked in alu foil on the fire.

Charlotte Gannet

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Trouble in paradise

Charlotte Gannet emptying the kayaks before the storm

Prelude

The sky turns slowly in the color of a big black bruise, Ominous and threatening on the horizon, while we peddle over the to Mull, it looks harrowing.
Although it is getting darker the weather is still and calm. Literally: ’the calm before the storm’.

We paddle fast, at the other side of the sound we almost crash the kayaks onto the rocks. There is no time to find a nice landing or to change the kayak gear, hastily we pitched the tent.
And there it is, the rain, like someone pushed a button. The water falls out of the sky in big heavy drops. Just in time, we created our little safe haven, I sigh.
I check all last things in the boat and secure them, Alexander checks all pecks and strings to secure the tent. All plastic sheets neatly tucked under our cloth shelter.
We peel ourselves out of the suits in the rain and just leave it there to get soaking wet. We will sort it out later.

‘Just in time’, Alexander remarks.
‘Yeah, luckily everything is dry’, I reply. ‘How long is the rain going to last you think?’
‘At least a day, maybe two, we just have to endure this.’ He laments.
I only think: ‘Oh yes, a nice day – or even days – of some rest! Lying in bed, lovely and snug in my sleeping bag’. All conditions are great, we have a boat full of food, plenty of fuel, enough water to last us a few days, a brand new waterproof tent, a good book and with a bit of luck some radio reception. What more could a girl who has already kayaked for a couple of weeks with very few days of rest? I am so going to enjoy this!!
Munching on cookies we listen to the rain falling on the tent. I feel safe, happy and content in my lovely dry and warm sleeping bag.

Day one

After a good night sleep, we need to go out the tent to go for a pee. That’s the only downside to camping out in a rainstorm. Back in the tent and sleeping bag, we cook our morning porridge. After breakfast, I snooze a bit and listen to some radio. Reception is not great but sufficient enough to listen to BBC Radio Scotland, they broadcast talk radio in the morning. I enjoy listening to it because the conversation gives a nice window on what is going on in the community. I alternate the radio listening with reading a few pages in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I am enjoying myself, for Alexander, however, it is less enjoyable. Just out of boredom Alexander starts shooting with elastic bands to the tent ceiling to kill some midgies.
 ‘Shall we have lunch?’ Alexander suggests at around two o’clock.
While I put butter on the sandwiches Alexander cuts the cheese. Making lunch is really a joint effort. We end our meal with a nice cup of instant coffee.
‘I’m going out for a walk and do some fishing, are you going to join me?’ he announces.
I look at him dumbstruck, going out in this weather?! I’m not going to sacrifice my dry shoes to go out for a walk, no way! I am warm and dry in my tent, thank you very much.
 ‘But it is raining outside! You will be soaking wet.’ I moan.
 ‘I’m staying right here, dry and warm.’
I listen to some more radio, a music program. I read more LOTR, I snooze a bit when my eyelids become too heavy from reading.
Suddenly I hear the plashy sound of footsteps through the soaking wet grass coming closer to the tent.
 ‘Hi, love.’
 ‘Take your wet things off before you come in the tent!’ Oh no, you make everything wet, great’ I reprimand.
My favorite program is on the radio. Get it on!! I sing along with all the songs while we cook dinner in the tent. The outdoor activities forecast is predicting more rain tomorrow. Another lazy day in the tent, lovely.
 ‘Yeah, you like that, don’t you?’ Alexander tries to kiss and tickles me.
 ‘Go away, not with your cold hands. Stop it!’ I scold.
I read a bit more and Alexander writes the journal. What a comfortable day, I think. But I expect not everyone in the tent will agree with me on this. We drink some cider and go to sleep.


Eureka tent with tarp extention

Day two

The rain is still dripping on the tent as we wake up. Sometimes a bit heavier, sometimes a bit lighter. The day progresses in a similar rhythm as the previous day, listen to the radio, read a book, a snooze, lunch… I have this feeling of unease creeping up on me.
 ‘Are you going to join me for a walk?’ Alexander asks innocently.
 ‘NO!’, I aggressively answer back.
 ‘But you need to go out for a walk, it’s good for you.’, he pleads.
 ‘I don’t want to. If you want to go, that’s fine. I don’t want everything wet. It is too cold.      Leave me be, go and fish. Bye!’
I pull the sleeping bag over my head and turn my back to Alexander. As he leaves the tent I listen to the radio for the rest of the day. On talk radio, they talk about how much damage the rainstorm has done on landslides and flooding of cities and towns. It is estimated that there is going to be 68 hours of rain. I don’t feel that content anymore in my cozy and warm tent. I don’t know why I had to react so irritable to Alexander, and I’m not even tired! I’ve had enough rest. The rain can stop now. But the weather gods pay no attention to my silent prayer.

Alexander Gannet fishing from the rocks


Alexander comes back to the tent, a big smile on his face and happy with his achievement. Proudly, he raises a big Pollock above his head.
 ‘How on earth are we going to prepare fish. You have to cook it outside!’ I bark at him. So much for a warm welcome home for the heroic fisherman and his catch.
 ‘You need to come out of the tent and help me put up the tarp’, Alexander barks back, disappointed by my reaction.
Raging en raving, while I put my clothes on and step into my rain gear.
 ‘Happy now?’ I snap as I come out of the tent.
We put up the tarp and start to cook the fish. It is a big fish, and Alexander really puts an effort in to make nice large bone-free fillets, just the way I like it. The big slices of fish are coated with Indian herbs, the tangy taste warms me up. It is actually really nice, but I am not going to admit that, I am way too grumpy.
 ‘Can I go back in the tent?’ Provocatively, I put my hands on my hips and look at Alexander.
 ‘Pffff, yes, please!’ Alexander replies annoyed.
I take off all rain clothes and complain loudly about how wet my trousers and shoes are.
Alexander comes in about an hour later. Silent we drink some cider.
 ‘Goodnight.’
 ‘Yeah.’

Day three

After a very uncomfortable night, it is hard to sleep when you are used to so much activity, I wake up to hear the rain still coming down on the tent.
 ‘I am sorry for being so grumpy yesterday’, I say to Alexander.
 ‘Oh, sweetheart, that is okay. I know, this is really very difficult weather.’ Alexander whispers while he takes me in his arms.‘
I start crying. I mean really crying, with the ugly face and snotty nose and all.
While having breakfast we listen to the weather forecast on the radio. There is still a bit of rain around but there will also be spots of dry weather.
 ‘Let’s start to clear out.’ Alexander suggests with a happy face hoping to lift me out of my sadness.
 ‘No, it is still raining, everything is wet, we cannot pack up now!’ I say exasperated. I look at him like he made the most indecent proposal ever.
 ‘You heard the forecast, it will be dry and all the stuff will dry too’, he said annoyed.
 ‘Yeah, in about a fortnight. I’m not going, everything will be wet and cold!’, I yell.
 ‘Everything that is wet will be dry and warm. Come on!’ he shouts back.
With all the bad mood I could muster I start packing the sleeping bags and mattresses. Everything is a bit damp and moist. But Alexander doesn’t pay any attention to my bad temper.
 ‘Look, it is getting lighter, there is a break in the clouds. Even the sun is poking through!’
I delay and sigh and moan and curse. I am radiating my bad mood.
 ‘Especially for you the rain is easing, you see, it is getting less!’ Alexander teases.
He is having fun with taking the mickey out of me.
The worst thing is still to come, getting into my wetsuit that has been lying in the rain for the past two days. With the utmost use of bad language, I start wriggling into the sodden suit.
 ‘You will warm it up in no time, look at the number of calories you will be burning!’ Alexander optimistically says with a big smile on his face.
This aggravates me even more. I put all my anger into carrying the boats to the water. While we paddle into the Sound of Mull Alexander points out how beautiful the light shines on Duart Castle, the rainbow in the distance, the eagle in the sky.
The paddling and the beauty surrounding me lift my bad mood a just little bit.

I give a little smile to Alexander, back in my mind I know I am silently hit by a bad case of cabin fever. But next year we go to Ibiza!

Charlotte Gannet

Alexander’s boat

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It was the most dreich of dreich days. In the fifty shades of rain common to Scotland, this rain curtain had droplets thicker than mist but with the same density of mist. Weather to stay in the tent for a day.

‘Hello, good morning.’ We hear someone say.

Alexander opened up the tent. Outside our tent stands a friendly old man, a teenaged boy and an energetic dog.

‘I saw your tent yesterday evening, but it was already late. I thought it was better to greet you this morning.’ the old man starts.

We get out of the tent in full rain gear and start chatting. The old man, not wearing any rain gear and also called Alexander, told us how he took over the fishing shack and boat from his elder brother. Fishing for lobster to supplement his pension. At times he will fish for Pollock and bring some of the catch to the elderly in the community up the road. The twelve-year-old boy is helping him, just to have some entertainment in the summer holiday.

‘Are you going out today, fishing for the lobsters?’ I ask.

‘Yes, there are a few pods in the bay that need emptying but the tide is going out and I’ve got to fix the boat. The engine is not running great.’ He answered.

‘I love to see how it works, can we join you on your boat, this afternoon?’ I ask expectantly. ‘Och aye, if I get the old girl fixed.’ He said, pointing to the boat.

Patiently we wait in the shack, the boat is apparently not easily fixed. Time enough to make some good pictures of Alexander’s boat. The boat lies on its side most of the afternoon, waiting for high water. Just when we expect that it will not happen and start planning dinner, the old Alexander is ready to go out.

It is great, we haul some creels like a real fisherman at work on a lobster boat. Four of the lobster and two crabs are kept aside, they are missing some legs or claws.

‘They are dinner.’ The old Alexander decides. The rest of the lobsters are stored in the holding cages close to the shack.

We return after 22.00 o’clock. Back in the shack, Alexander cooks the lobsters and the crabs. We are provided with an old rusty hammer and two lobsters each. We crack this luxurious food on the dirty wooden floor. The funny thing is that Alexander does not join in this lobsters eating feast. He prefers his dinner with white bread and baked beans. We end the evening at midnight with a wee dram of whisky.

It was a great day, meeting people, learn something new, share a meal in the most dreadful weather ever.

As a tribute to this lovely elderly chap, my younger Alexander made a watercolour of his boat.

Charlotte Gannet

May the fish be with you.

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Kayaking makes you hungry. We had some romantic ideas and mouth-watering dreams about catching fish as we went. Easy peasy, fish swim by them self, no need to carry extra weight. Just throw out a line and catch fish, simple…..

Or not…..It took us three years to learn how to seriously catch fish.

We both have a hand fishing line. A round spool bought in Greece with 25 meter of fishing line and 3 hooks. We make our own lures with some recycling of silvery insides of coffee bags and a small red tube that once belonged to a sunbed. This reuse house thrift really works!

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When we tried fishing in the first year we had no clue on how to go about catching a fish. We tried trawling the line behind our boat. We were very fanatic and we really thought that we would catch fish. All we got was in a better shape because towing the line was heavy work. But no fish. The hooks were too close to the water surface and we did not catch anything.

In the last days of the trip, we saw two fishermen in a boat moving a line with a heavy weight on the end, up and down in a stationary spot. And they got loads of mackerel. We asked advice on how to catch fish. First, they made good fun of our lead weight, it was way too small in their opinion. They told us to fish at a deep level closer to the bottom and to use a heavier lead.

The fisherman, feeling a bit sorry for us, threw our cockpit full of mackerel. On the beach, we altered our fishing equipment. We found some rusty nuts lying around on the beach and put them on the line to make it heavier.

But the good advice did not land us much more fish in the first year.

The next year we ended up in a fishing competition, grandparents with grandchildren in boats catching mackerel by the dozen. They advised us to look for a headland in the landscape because that is where the water flows a bit faster. Right, that was good advice. And we lowered our fishing line at the same spot as the competition. This really worked and we had a good mackerel dinner.

But the luck did not last. Fishing on a headland and a heavy line and in deep water wasn’t a guaranty for success. Fishing took us hours and we got cold while doing it.

The third year we asked a local fisherman why we were not always successful. He told us that the hour before and after high tide and the first hour after low tide is the best time for fishing. We gave that a go and it worked!!

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When in Scotland act like the Scottish! Good advice. But be sure to talk to the locals on tips and tricks when fishing.

Nowadays fishing only takes us about 15 minutes for a good mackerel dinner. And when the fish is not ‘on’ it means there is no fish to be caught, not the right place or not the right time. Better move on.