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Cultural ecology of the North Sea
First warning (1895)
A Frenchman's view (1912)
A scientist's view (1957)
The catcher's view
Domesday to doomsday
From The Catcher's Angle
Observations on salt water species, their pursuit and capture, drawn
from oral sources in the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth area.
(Sponsored by the Lowerstoft Marine Laboratory, as an educational resource)
The proof of any pudding can only be in the eating. I will therefore not spend too long on preamble, in order that the material I have collected can follow on without undue delay. My scientific knowledge of fish and fishing, while it has improved during the course of the project, is still woefully inadequate and I can only hope that I have used the right kind of approach in attempting to elicit the information I sought. Whether or not I have done so remains to be seen, but I am grateful to Roy Harden Jones for giving me the opportunity to "do something different" and for opening my eyes to many of the more scientific aspects of fishing. I still do not know whether his commitment to the project is an example of blind faith, or of unprecedented optimism! And I am not prepared to debate, in philosophical terms, whether they are one and the same thing.
What I can say is this: that the information collected has come from men I know (and knew) well and whose friendship I value. All of them spent a long time in the fishing industry, a lifetime in many cases, and their observations are based upon an intimate knowledge of the sea in all its moods. Most of what they told me was freely contributed within the overall scheme of my own taperecording programme, the purpose of which has been to produce an authentic, first-hand, oral document of a staple East Coast industry. I saw no need to ask specifically "scientific" questions, without due relevance to a particular context, and therefore aimed at gathering data as I went about the task or recording the fishing industry generally.
As it stands, this report consists of extracted material from about 60 hours of tape-recordings. I had already done a fair amount of recording before being engaged to carry out this particular exercise, and I have drawn upon the earlier tapes as well as the "commissioned" ones, so as to speak. It would have been pointless to have separated them, since the overall scheme is a very closely integrated one and I wanted anyway to cast my net (excuse the metaphor) as widely as possible. In doing so, I feel that I have to make one small disclaimer or apologia (take it how you please) and it is this: I have no scientific background whatsoever, so my findings are presented in all innocence. And if they do not reveal anything new, then they may at least serve to confirm what is already known!
The 60 or so hours of actual tape-recordings represent the collective experience of 20 men, and added to this is the information gleaned from regular conversation with another three or four. The powers of memory of all of them can usually be relied upon; and I am able to say this because the information they have given me concerning wages, conditions on board ship, length of trip etc. has always tallied closely with the contents of various fishing company minute books and accounts that I have access to. They may not always be able to give precise fixings, in the sense that these are accurate down to the last detail, but the general location can always be relied upon.
It would be as well to say a word or two about this, here and now, because there are occasions when specific positions may well be given. Where vagueness does occur, it is usually the result of the informant not actually being able to remember, or not wanting to commit himself because he is not absolutely sure. The latter reason does at least prove that he is not making things up! Another factor that has to be allowed for is a metaphorical kind of usage that sometimes sees specific distances quoted when approximations are actually being given. In other words, the statement "We were about four or five miles out" could mean just what it says. Or it could mean a distance rather more or less than this. Such are the complexities of dealing with use of language at first hand!
Another thing which has to be said concerns the actual method of collecting tape-recorded oral testimony. Strange though it may seem, little use is made of the "leading question". Instead, my technique has always been to sit down with the individual person and record a conversation between the two of us, rather than carry out a question-and-answer session. This open-ended approach allows the subject to contribute information in his own way, and it is a wellknown fact among oral historians that what, at the time, may appear to be an unwanted digression often produces the most interesting and worthwhile information. Obviously, there are occasions when one uses a direct approach, but more often than not the material is gathered by a "sideways" method.
No collector of oral evidence who is worth anything at all will attempt to influence a respondent by asking questions that are framed in such a way as to pre-determine the response. To do so would be to negate the whole purpose of collecting oral history: this being to record individual people's recollections and responses within a given area, but doing it in such a manner as to allow the folk to say what they want to say in the way they want to say it. To this end, the whole of my main oral history programme has been conducted as a series of one hour interviews, informally carried out in the respondents' own homes. This has the effect of diminishing any distracting impact that the presence of recording equipment might have. Though, there again, I have experienced very little "mike-shyness" because my respondents knew me pretty well before any recording was actually made.
Finally, I am aware of the shortcomings of the information collected, the main one being that there may not be enough of it to be of any real value. I knew all along that the whole thing was likely to be cursory, but it was not until I began writing it up that I realised how much more could have been done with a greater number of hours spent visiting my informants. As it was, I felt rushed at times when going round to see them and recording what they had to tell me! I am moved to quote a favourite poet of mine. Andrew Marvell, who once wrote, "Had we but world enough and time". That particular line, of course, was the opening of an argument by which he sought to persuade a nameless lady of the delight to be had in sampling the earthiest of all earthly pleasures. I use it merely to comment upon what might have been achieved in this report had I had more hours at my disposal.
1. Angel ray (Fiddle fish).
The latter name was given to this creature because it was supposed to resemble a violin in shape. The fish was sometimes towed home behind smacks, or nailed up to the mizzenmast of smacks and steam trawlers though there seems to be no known reason for this custom. It was caught fairly regularly in the North Sea, especially in the summertime, and round on the West Side as well. Large specimens were trawled up on the Padstow sole grounds and also out off Milford Haven, though they had no commercial value - and still do not have. Apparently, this fish has a good-sized liver, according to those men who ever gutted one for any reason.
2. Angler (Monkfish).
This was mainly caught by trawlers in the central and northern North Sea, especially when the diesel boats began to go further and further down from the 1950s onwards. It was a comparative rarity if trawled up by a smack, which might account for it being towed home by the tail sometimes, out astern of the boat. During the 1920s the steam trawlers and drifter-trawlers working the southern North Sea ("Up Along", as it was known) after Christmas used to catch them - especially on the Gabbards and the Shipwash. On the West Side, small anglers were often taken in Cardigan Bay, while large ones were caught during the spring and summer on a ground ten miles north of the Skerries Light. They also turned up in this latter area on winter longlines (squid and herring bait), just as they did in smaller numbers of Tresco, in the Scilly Isles. The fish is quite valuable today because its tail end portion makes a good substitute for scampi.
3. Red Sea Bream.
One of the five so-called "St. Peter's Fish" because of the black spot near the origin of its lateral line. There are two of these, of course, one on either side, and thSe story goes that they are the marks of the apostle's thumb and forefinger which he imprinted on the fish as he drew it from the net after the "Miraculous Draught" (St John, Chapter 21). Regular hauls of red bream were made on the Padstow sole grounds in the winter and early spring, and a boat might finish a trip with as many as six or seven kits of them.
Fairly generally caught all over the central and southern North Sea, especially in the spring and summer. Its liking for a sandy bottom was noted by trawlermen and among the grounds proclaimed as being good for its capture are the Indefatigable Bank, the Dowsing, the Leman, the Ower and the Brown Ridges. Both by night and by day the fish were there. Close in, brill were trawled up by longshore boats working the Newcombe and Barnard sands, and they were also found on winter longlines in the same area (shrimp bait). During the autumn and winter months good brill were taken inside the North Hinder and, when gutted, were found to be full of herring spawn. In the Channel, the Varne Bank provided good winter hauls right on top of the shoal, either side of Christmas being the best time for them. Regarding the West Side of the United Kingdom, there are three locations that one hears of as being particularly associated with brill. The first is Padstow; the second, a gulleyway near the Helwick light-vessel; and the third, another gulleyway, this time inside the Clyde limit-line near Ailsa Craig.
Blue catfish were plentiful at one time off Heligoland and on the Amrum Bank, and they constituted a regular part of the catches made by steam trawlers. Both they and their spotted cousins were also taken off Northern Norway and Novaya Zemlya.
6. Coalfish (Blackjack).
Caught a good deal in trawls in the northern North Sea and also caught in fair numbers by driftermen using 'ripper' handlines to provide themselves with some stocker bait. The fishing grounds off Lerwick, North Shields and Scarborough yielded good catches, with herring bait proving very effective (half a fish was used on each hook) as the boat hung to her nets. On the Shetland voyage the ripper was worked only 10 or 12 feet below keel depth and three fish at a time were often taken. Round the West Side, coalies proliferated in The Northern Minch during September and October, but because they never made much of a price in Fleetwood they were not greatly valued. Heavy hauls were made at dusk; the fish did not seem to be about very much during the day.
One of the great staples of the trawling industry and a favourite also during the winter months with rod-and-line anglers, fishing either from boats or of the beach.
a. Longlines and handlines.
Before and after World War 1 a few of the Lowestoft steam drifters took part in an established longlining voyage for cod and codling off the Yorkshire coast. The boats went in January and February and worked grounds off Flamborough Head and Scarborough, running out as far as 30 to 40 miles east by south of the latter place. The Sole Pit and Great Silver Pit were also worked, and so was the Long Shoal, which was the nearest the boats came to Lowestoft. Whelks were used to bait the hooks, these being caught in the Wash and supplied from Boston. They were reckoned the best lure on two counts: they were attractive to cod and they stayed on the hooks better than anything else. This was no doubt what also prompted their use between the wars by East Anglian longshoremen, though mussels, mackerel strips and squid were employed too. So were herring, sprats and clams - these latter being dug from the mud of Lowestoft's inner harbour at low tide. The cod season began at the beginning of November, when sprat shoals began to draw the fish close in, and both the Newcombe and Barnard were well worked, as well as the shallows close in to land. Nowadays, lugworm is favoured as a bait by both rod-and-line anglers and longliners alike, with brown shrimp sometimes used by the latter as well in order to keep costs down. In the old days neither of them was used very much at all. At one time, seals caused a fair amount of damage to cod hooked on longlines, especially off Pakefield beach, and one hears more than a single account of fish being eaten away on the hook. In fact, their depredations were sufficiently serious for at least one local fisherman approaching the authorities during World War II for permission to shoot them! Round on the West Side of the country, cod were taken on winter longlines during January and February off Bardsey Island and off Anglesey, and during March and April good numbers were also caught on grounds 110 to 120 miles from St Anns Head on bearings varying from west by half south to west-south-west. Squid and Norwegian herring were the baits customarily used. Regarding the use of handlines, the drifter crews at Shetland fished for cod with rippers in the way referred to in number 6 above. If herring bait was scarce, pieces of white rag tied to the hooks proved just as effective a lure.
b. Seine nets.
Small cod and codling were taken in Danish seines during the spring and summer months down on the Dogger Bank, but never in very great quantities. The period referred to is the 1920s and 30s, when haddock were the main quarry anyway, with plaice of secondary importance. c. Draw nets. Autumn codling were once regularly fishing for on November nights off Pakefield beach. d. Swimming times. It is interesting to note that particular times of the day or night reckoned best for catching cod nearly always refer to fishing round on the West Side. The Irish Sea generally seems to have answered to a pattern of activity at sunrise and sunset, with an early morning tow between 0400-0500 h and 08000900 h being productive, while an evening drag between 1600-2000 h in the winter and 1800-2200 h in the summer was equally successful. Among the grounds most favoured by trawlermen were those in Morecambe Bay and off the Mountains of Mourne. In the case of the latter, there was apparently a particularly good tow along a rough bottom from off Carlingford Lough towards Peel. Another favourable location was between the Point of Ayre and St. Bees Head, in the region of the King William Buoy, where trips of between 700 and 800 kits were made during the 1940s and 50s in the early springtime. Opinion has it that catches declined on the Morecambe Bay and Isle of Man grounds in the post-war period because of intense trawling there by continental boats, particularly French ones. e. Types of feed. Herrings, herring roe, sprats, small whiting, grey gurnards and greater weevers are all attested as having been found in cod guts in the North Sea during the winter months. Then there is the indigestable stuff that one hears of, such as condensed milk tins, plastic beakers, film spools, condoms and even the odd half-pound of butter! More conventionally perhaps, sand eels were eaten in large numbers in the Leman and Ower area during the autumn, while round on the West Side the s~ummer months saw cod feeding on the so-called Cutch Worm (possibly the polychaete, Potamilla reniformis). Mussels were also eaten a good deal in the Irish Sea, especially by sprag cod off the Isle of Anglesey during the spring on a ground out from Point Lynus to 10 miles or so north-west of the Skerries. Perhaps the most bizarre object ever found in a cod's gut was that of 20 May 1833. A Lowestoft mackerel lugger was hanging to her nets about nine miles out east of the town, in 16 fathoms, and most of the crew were fishing for cod and haddock with handlines. One of them felt a strike and pulled his line in, to reveal a large cod. Once the fish had been landed, it was noticed that its stomach was unusually distended, and gutting revealed the corpse of a new-born baby boy which showed no sign at all of decomposition. This weird event was witnessed and attested by all nine members of the crew.
f. Effect of the wind.
The easterly wind had the maximum dispersing effect (in other words, fishermen noticed their catches reduce greatly) on cod in the North Sea, especially close in, and this was followed by north-easterlies and northerlies. Southerlies, south-westerlies and westerlies were always reckoned to be the best winds for catching fish. On the West Side, easterlies and northeasterlies had a dispersing effect on the grounds to the south-east and east of Ireland: the Conningbeg, the Tuskar, the Lucifer, the Blackwater, the Codling, the Kish and the Mountains of Mourne. However, both these winds were favourable for catching cod in Cardigan Bay, Caernarvon Bay, off Great Ormes Head, in Morecambe Bay, off St Bees Head, and in the Solway Firth and Wigtown Bay.
g. Types of bottom.
Rough ground preferred to smooth: areas of stones and small boulders were especially popular with boats working on-the-door other gear as evidenced by the good catches made down on the Dowsing in the autumn and winter. No doubt the herring spawn available there for feed was an attraction for the cod, which were also trawled up in large numbers at one time not far to the south-east of the Dowsing on the Leman and Ower banks. In the North Sea, too, any concentrations of ross served to attract cod, a particularly good example close in to land being at Pakefield, where the Hubbard's Rocks (an area of old brick rubble and masonry deposited after sea erosion early this century) gave good catches on longlines until well into the 1960s. Both on the east and West Sides of Britain cod also seem to gather in numbers around wrecks, while on the West Side specifically there were once notable concentrations of them in winter and spring in areas of kelp weed in the Lucifer/Blackwater vicinity of Ireland, and also north of the King William Buoy.
h. Good locations.
A certain number of grounds worked for cod have already been mentioned, but the ones given here can act as a useful supplement. To return to the Leman Bank first of all: very good catches of cod were made here right into the 1960s in the trough between the Leman and its neighbour, the Ower. Autumn was the time and in 1963 the trawler, 'Roy Stevens (LT 271), had two 300 kit trips in one week! After Christmas large numbers of sprag cod were trawled up in 25 fathoms of water near the South Leman Buoy. Between September and February the steam trawlers and drifter-trawlers used to concentrate their cod-catching efforts by fishing Up Along , as it was called, working the Shipwash, the Gabbards, the Galloper, the Kentish Knock and the Goodwins. In western waters the Scottish lochs offered numbers of cod during the autumn and winter months, but the boats working out of Milford Haven and Fleetwood usually kept much further south. The Kish and Codling banks were great favourites with skippers - especially the latter one, where a technique employed on dead tides was to tow right into the edge of the bank itself, stop the boat, haul the trawl and then swing clear. Interestingly enough, when this was done, the doors often came up with chalk on them. Some 22 miles south by west from Douglas, Isle of Man, was Douglas Hole , where there was a very good daytime fishing for cod in the springtime and early summer, while off the Calf of Chicken Rock large numbers of spent cod were taken in trawls during March and April.
i. Presence in drift nets.
Cod were often found entangled in herring nets when these were hauled in the morning. This was particularly the case on the autumn Home Fishing and the cod had usually contrived to roll themselves right up in the lint. The same thing exactly occurred with longshore nets when both herring and sprats were being fished for.
In both the North Sea and the Irish Sea cod were sometimes trawled up with leeches attached to them. They were also found to be lousy on some occasions as well, acting as host to small crustacean ectoparasites (Caligus curtus). These were found on cod all the year round and are usually referred to as bugs or ladybird things .
k. Presence near icebergs.
On the distant-water grounds off Greenland sprag cod particularly seemed to have a liking for swimming in close to icebergs. One account, drawn from the 1950s. tells how 300 kits plus of these fish were once taken in a single half-hour daytime tow by a boat ( Red Hackle , LO 109) working along the edge of a fair-sized mass of ice, the berg in question being described as about a mile long . When the net came to the top after its short tow along the seabed, it was said to have looked rather like a submarine surfacing! It was customary for some Fleetwood vessels to work near icebergs during the day, though night-time trawling was reckoned to be too risky. During the hours of darkness the boats would lie close in to the bergs while the crews worked at gutting catches. At such times, vast numbers of codling could be seen near the surface of the water, swiming close to the ice - 'nosing up , as my respondent put it. The fish were clearly visible in the illumination afforded by the boat's deck lights, The water was black with them - it is an expression that conveys much meaning, both as fact and metaphor.
8. Conger Eel.
Most references to this fish concern the West Side, because from the early years of the 20th century right through until the late 1930s a number of the Yarmouth and Lowestoft drifters used to base themselves at Milford Haven, after Christmas, for a longlining voyage in the Irish Sea. Conger, mainly for the French market and to a lesser extent for the frying trade in the Midlands and the north of England, were one of the main species south. The boats began fishing about the middle/end of January off the coast of North Wales, Bardsey Island, The Stacks and The Skerries being three of the favourite locations. Trawlermen who knew this part of the ocean well talk of large concentrations of mussels near The Skerries, but whether or not these creatures constituted feed for conger is a moot point. Another conger ground in this vicinity was further out from Anglesey, in the deeps. Norwegian herring and squid were used for bait (the heads of the latter apparently proving particularly good), and as the weeks passed the boats worked further and further south. Hence, April and May would find them working rough patches off south-eastern and southern Ireland - grounds such as the Tuskar, the Barrels Light, the Conningbeg, Ballycotton, Kinsale Head and even as far round as the Fastnet Rock. By this time Newlyn mackerel had replaced the Norwegian herring as bait, with very reasonable results. Squid continued to be used and it was noted by crew members how they glowed with phosphorescence down in the hold at night. Regarding the conger themselves, once they were gaffed in and unhooked, they were handled quite easily by inserting the index and middle fingers of each hand in the gills and lifting upwards. Once the tails came clear of the deck, the fish were docile and easy to move. A very good ground for their capture was the Melville Knoll, west by south of the Scilly Isles. Big catches were to be had here from the middle of April through till the end of May, with the hours of darkness being especially productive. Quantities of 150 kits and more in just three days fishing were not unknown. Finally, and perhaps most interesting of all, there was a ground some 110-120 miles from St Ann's Head on a bearing varying from west by half-south to west by south by south-half-south, where very large conger in a highly emaciated state were caught. This was in May and the description I have had is of 'nothing but the frame of the fish with the skin on it. Was there a spawning ground hereabouts? The fish were obviously in a very poor physical state, so were they spents'? One thing to note is that they still had their teeth intact.
Caught all over the North Sea in beam trawls and otter trawls, especially on sandy bottoms. Particularly good dabs were caught in the summer months down on The Shoals' (Leman, Ower etc.) and also on the Dowsing. Very large fish were caught in the Coal Pit and another good tow (about three hours in duration) was from ten miles north by east of the Haisbro down towards the Cromer Knoll. On various parts of the Dogger Bank, during the 1920s and 30s, dabs turned up quite a bit in Danish seine nets being worked for plaice, but it was noticed on the Hospital Ground that many of them were covered in small scabs and sores. So were a lot of the cod, the plaice and the haddock caught there, and this has given rise to one possible derivation of the ground's name. Several of my informants have stated it is their opinion that sick fish congregated there to get well and that there may have been some healing property in the environment that enabled them to do so. Not so very far away, on the east side of the South Rough, some really excellent dabs were trawled up in the spring and summer months. In the region of Lowestoft, good bags of fish were had in longshore beam trawls at one time during the summer - especially between the Claremont Pier and Pontin's Holiday Camp. Abreast of the latter place was particularly productive, but a wreck that lay there did constitute a potentially dangerous fastener . Round on the West Side, the Lowestoft drifter-trawlers working out of Fleetwood used to get sizeable hauls of dabs before World War II in Morecambe Bay. Finally, the fish were often found in drift nets on the autumn Home Fishing when a boat had hung to its fleet for most of the night.
10. Flounder (Butt, Black Butt).
Much speared for at one time along the whole East Anglian coast from Orford to Brancaster Staithe. The fish was taken in creeks and ditches during the summer and autumn period as it frequented salt-marsh and estuarine areas. It was also occasionally brought up in longshore beam trawls, but never in great quantities. Another local name for it is
the Fluke , and one hears of considerable number being netted during the summer and autumn of 1940 by the few small trawlers left working out of Lowestoft. The location in question was between Orford Ness and Hollesley Bay and it was close in to land. On the Cornish sole voyage of pre-war days, some of the drifter-trawlers used to hit fair quantities of flounder in Watergate Bay, Newquay, in their search for more valuable quarry.
11. Grey Gurnard.
This was eaten a good deal on board the sailing smacks and was one of the fish that constituted crew members' stocker bait. To the steam trawlermen, however, it was nothing but a nuisance, having little commercial value and tending to chafe other fish in the cod end (plaice especially). The Gabbards, the Galloper and the Hinder saw considerable gurnard activity during the day practically the whole year round, and many boats only bothered to work at night when the fish swam up from the bottom. This pattern of behaviour made the fish a menace to herring drifters, especially on the Hinder, and many skippers avoided this ground in order to save their nets from preventable damage. Also in the North Sea, there were fair numbers of gurnards across on the Brown Ridges, while in the Strait of Dover large concentrations of them were encountered off Dungeness. In western waters they were some~imes trawled up in large quantities during the summer on the Kish and Codling banks, and also off Wicklow. Across the other side of St Georges Channel an easterly wind saw them gather together in Cardigan Bay. One sometimes hears grey gurnards referred to as Growlers because of the noise they made as they lay in a trawler's deck pounds, and this would tie in with the origin of the name from the French word grognard , which means literally grunter or
12. Red Gurnard.
Caught a fair bit by drifter-trawlers on the Padstow sole voyage in the early months of the year, when it counted as part of the crews' stocker bait. Large hauls were also made during daylight hours on the Kish Bank.
13. Streaked Gurnard.
Again, caught by the drifter-trawlers at Padstow and classed as stocker bait.
14. Yellow Gurnard (Latchet).
Caught all over the southern North Sea from the Dogger Bank to the Hinder and a favourite among fishermen for its fine eating qualities. Like the other members of its family, already mentioned, it was always sold as stocker bait and the sweetness of its flesh ensured a ready market. Baked latchet was a very popular dish in Lowestoft at one time, the fish being stuffed with chopped onion, breadcrumbs and herbs and cooked in a slow oven - sometimes in a dish with vinegar in it. Once it was ready for eating, it was served up with boiled onions and vinegar-flavoured meat gravy. The North Sea latchets were reckoned superior to their west-side counterparts because the latter often had little round worms in the joins between the flesh-flakes. Considerable numbers of the fish were caught off Padstow and on the grounds of south-east Ireland, while concentrations of them during the summer were met within Cardigan, Caernarvon and Morecambe bays, especially when an easterly wind was blowing.
15 Haddock (Duck).
Another of St Peter's Fish because of the dark spot above the pectoral fin.
A few of the Lowestoft boats once followed a longlining voyage from January to May, until it was time to gear up for the summer fishing at Shetland. Whelk bait was found to be effective on the Yorkshire grounds off Scarborough and Flamborough Head, and also out on Smiths Knoll and the Dogger Bank (Sole Pit and Silver Pits area). The haddocks taken were a "by-product really, as it was cod that the boats were really after (see 7a above).
Haddocks were taken in quantity on rippers during the Shetland summer herring voyage and provided a source of extra income for the drifter crews. The hooks were baited with herring scraps and the fish were not only caught as the boats were riding to their nets - they were often taken inside Lerwick harbour as well, while the drifters lay at the landing-stages. They were often a good size too and the water was so clear that they could be seen swimming around on the bottom.
c. Danish seines.
Seine-netting became very popular with the Lowestoft drifters in the 1920s as a method of keeping at work during the slack spring and summer months, when many of the boats were traditionally laid up. The season lasted from March to September and centred largely on the Dogger Bank. The east side was the favourite area fished, from the Clay Deeps down to the Tail End, but other grounds were fished as well, notably the north-west Rough and The Patches. The Botney Gut was also worked, but not as successfully as the others. The hours of fishing ran from about 0330 to 0400 h through till midnight, with each shoot and haul being accomplished in just over the hour. Both sand bottoms and scruff areas were worked. Anywhere that the tide range too strongly (such as the Long Shoal) for the boat to stay well anchored, when hauling, was not much good for seining. Eventually, by the mid 1930s, haddock stocks on the Dogger had been greatly diminished by intensive fishing.
d. Swimming times.
Daybreak and dusk were found to be good times for catching haddock in trawls on the Dogger Bank. A favourite technique was to tow northwards off the South Rough onto the amber weed during the hours of darkness, because this yielded good hauls all the year round. Round on the West Side, towing off the Kish Bank into the Lambay Deeps after dark had exactly the same effect, but working the bank itself by night was very unproductive. This was true for species other than haddock as well, and the reason is said to be that the pronounced phosphoresecence there lit up the trawl. The turn of the boat's screw in the water produced a lot of fire and the towing warps appeared to flame as they passed through the water.
e. Proximity to land.
During the autumn period shoals of haddock seemed to get fairly close inshore off the coast of Lancashire and Cumberland. This was very noticeable in the Blackpool Deeps, where good hauls were made on a bearing of west of half-north from the tower. On a fine day this particular miracle of engineering was clearly visible to crew members on board the boats.
f. Types of feed.
Herring spawn was often found in haddock guts during the autumn months in the North Sea. So were herring themselves, and haddock were found entangled in drift nets fairly regularly on the summer voyage to Shetland, as they also were off North Shields and Scarborough. During the spring and summer months, small white shells were found and a red, gritty substance. West side haddock in both the Lambay Deeps and the Southernmost Deep, and also off the Calf of Chicken Rock, fed voraciously on "cutch worms (see 7e above) during the summer period.
g. Haddock rash.
This was caused by the gritty red contents of the guts mentioned directly above, and it was very common on the Dogger Bank and the Borkum Ground during the spring and summer. Shell debris in the guts also caused fishermen a certain amount of discomfort. The more careful among them used to wash their hands regularly in disinfected water (Izal was commonly used) as a way of countering the disagreeable effects of haddock rash.
h. Types of bottom.
Hard, sandy bottoms gave good catches, and so did areas with small stones on the bottom (such as the SouthWest Patch, on the Dogger Bank). There were notable concentrations of large haddock on the North-West Rough during the early autumn right through into the 1960s, but it was a night-time fishing for the most part: very little was caught during the daylight hours.
i. Distant water locations.
Superb large haddocks were caught off Bear Island and Novaya Zemlya during the spring and summer.
The majority of East Anglian fishermen's connections with hake are concerned with fishing round on the West Side of the country, and this is very much reflected in the information that follows.
a. Swimming times.
Dawn and dusk were reckoned to be good times for trawling up hake round on the West Side. Fishing for them by night was not very successful, so daytime was the rule, with the best hauls being made around sunrise and sunset. Specialist hake fishing by boats out of Swansea and Cardiff used five to six hour tows during the summer months, with light gear well bottled-up' on the headline. If the hake were swimming lower down, towards the bottom, the gear was made heavier and the length of tow reduced to three to four hours.
b. Types of bottom.
The general opinion seems to be that hake are attracted to grounds that have a 'roughish soil on the bottom, with small and medium-sized stones.
c. Good locations.
There was a summer fishing in the Northern Minch at one time, but the great bulk of the catching effort by the trawlers out of Cardiff, Swansea, Milford Haven and Fleetwood was concentrated much further south. Morecambe Bay once yielded good quantities of hake during the springtime, while the Isle of Man grounds provided a good living for most of the year. However, the summer months were peak time and there were four particular good locations. The first was nine miles west of Peel; the second, north-west of the same place out in the deep water between it and Ballyquintin Point; the third was south-west from the Calf of Chicken Rock (very light gear used here; no bobbins or titlers) and the fourth 18 to 20 miles south-east/south-south-east of the same point. This last one was a favourite ground with some of the Fleetwood boats, which worked it from the bearings mentioned above through to about south-south-west. It was known as The Concrete because the bottom was very hard, necessitating the use of bobbins, and lumps of chalk or limestone ( whitish-grey slabs ) frequently came up in the trawl. Further to the south-east, there was a mud cliff, out from the Codling Bank in about 85 fathoms, where large numbers of hake would congregate during the hours of darkness. In the daytime they would be found in about 20 to 22 fathoms on the Big Tongue and Little Tongue. Off the Welsh coast, good numbers of hake were caught south of the Smalls Light on a ground about 22 miles out of Milford haven on a bearing west by south. In July and August fair hauls were once made about 22 miles west-north-west of Pendeen Light, in Cornwall. This on a ground just outside the Cape Cornwall Bank, in between two big roughs of stones. Finally, there was good fishing to be had throughout the summer and early autumn on the Labadie and Adelaide Banks, to the south-west of Ireland, and also further round on the Porcupine.
d. Danish seines.
During the late 1920s a few of the Lowestoft drifter-trawlers tried seining for hake in the Clyde throughout the summer period. Their attempts did not meet with much success, though apparently the Danish boats round there did well!
e. Presence in drift nets.
Small hake were often found in herring nets round on the West Side (Isle of Man, the Smalls and Dunmore). They were known as Needles" because their teeth were sharp and prickly, and they were difficult to remove from the meshes. The length of these fish was around eight to ten inches and they were also a nuisance to herring boats in the Northern Minch area, especially off Stornoway. Nor were mackerel fishermen free from their menace, because they regularly turned up on the Newlyn voyage in the early part of the year, finding their way into lints on all of the classic grounds - the Wolf, the Longships and the Bishop.
f. Types of feed.
Herring, mackerel, pilchards and sprats were all preyed upon. It was also noticed during the summer months, in the Irish Sea (Lambay Deeps/Calf of Chicken Rock area), that hake fed a good deal upon cutch worm (see 7e and 15f above).
17. Halibut (But, Ollabut).
Not encountered a great deal in the North Sea, but the drifter-trawlers and steam trawlers fishing out of Fleetwood used to catch a fair number of them when working grounds off the Hebrides. One notable spot was in a gulleyway seven to eight miles south of Barra Head, though the fish there were smallish ones, being in the range of two to two and a half feet long. They were usually caught during the summer months. So were the ones off the Butt of Lewis, where good catches were had during the 1930s of fair-sized fish, though this was often at the expense of the gear used because the bottom was very rough in places. Much further south, small halibut were often caught off Ailsa Craig, inside the Clyde limit-line. As far as distant-water fishing is concerned, good hauls of halibut were taken off Iceland and Faeroe, off the banks in the Davis Straits (Greenland) and off northern Norway and Novaya Zemlya. Specimens up to about 40 stones in weight were not unknown on the grounds of the last-named place. As far as the traditional longline fishing for halibut goes, this continued out of Fleetwood and Aberdeen right into the 1950s, one of the last boats to go being the Boston Mosquito' (LT 373). One ground in the North Sea where halibut were somtimes taken was the Dowsing. This was usually in the summer, especially on bottoms where there were tits and stones : the species, it seems was hardly ever encountered where the bottom was muddy.
18. Lemon Sole.
This was caught all over the southern North Sea during the winter months on the Lowestoft traditional grounds: the Dowsing, the Leman and Ower, the Brown Ridges, the Gabbards and Galloper etc. The stony bottom at the Dowsing was reckoned to be particularly good for lemons and the way to work it, apparently, was north-south, keeping the lightship due south. During the late summer period, the lemon soles caught on the Dowsing, the Leman and the Ower were adjudged to be very fine indeed. In December and January, the Gabbards and Galloper yielded fair numbers of good quality fish, while during the spring and summer they also turned up in plaice seines on the Dogger Bank. As far as the West Side is concerned, lemon soles were trawled up (during the summertime particularly) in Cardigan, Caernarvon and Morecambe bays.
19. Lesser Spotted Dogfish (Small Nurse).
Caught all over the North Sea and off the south coast. The skins were used on board the sailing smacks to scrub the decks down, their roughness enabling them to act as "holystones". Some of the Lowestoft drifter-trawlers used to get good hauls of "spotted dogs" off Dungeness in the summer months and land them direct onto Brighton beach (via the little boat), where they always made a good price because of their popularity. Dogfish was known as "Flake" on the south coast and it was popular with the frying trade. Another area to catch the fish was off the Needles. Again, it was during the summer and a few boats used to base themselves at Newhaven to take advantage of an enterprise that could pay its way.
Not a fish that features very prominently in the Lowestoft "list" because of its absence from the southern and central North Sea. It was encountered at Shetland on the summer herring voyage by crew members on the drifters who were using handlines (see 6, 7a and l5b above), and it was also this area of the ocean that produced the following strange occurrence. 0n 19 March 1887, the Lowestoft steam trawler "Sybil" landed her catch at Aberdeen. Among the fish was a ling that had had a pint bottle in its stomach when gutted. Inside the bottle was found a farewell message from William Jensen (master of the schooner "Anna" of Bangor) to his wife. It was dated 24 January 1886, and gave an account of his last moments as his ship was lost with all hands in a terrific storm. In western waters the East Anglian trawlers and drifter-trawlers came across ling on their spring and summer voyages round to Fleetwood and Milford Haven. One location where they were regularly encountered was a ground off the Calf of Chicken Rock known as "The Concrete" (see 16c above). This was in the spring, and they were also caught then on the grounds off south-east Ireland (Lucifer, Blackwater, Barrels etc.). So they were during the summer a period which produced large hauls to the south-west of the country also, on the Labadie Bank: "Bags o' ling you coulda walked on" is one way I have heard it described. For the drifter-trawlers that followed a winter and spring longlining voyage out of Milford Haven, ling were one of the main quarries. They were caught off Bardsey Island in January and February (squid and herring bait), off the Skerries and also in the deep water further out from Anglesey. In March and April good numbers were had on the grounds of southeastern and southern Ireland, especially off Fastnet, while April and May produced big ling off Tresco. The latter were landed in at Newlyn ungutted because their roes were highly valued there.
21. Nurse Hound (Husky).
Tradition has it that this fish is called "nurse" because its skin secretes a healing substance that other species take advantage of by rubbing themselves against it. Those drifter-trawlers that used to venture round to the south coast during the summer caught nurses off the Isle of Wight and off the Needles. The catches were than landed in at Newhaven or shipped straight onto Brighton beach in the manner described in 19 above.
Just as the herring used to be the pelagic "King of Lowestoft", so was the plaice its demersal counterpart in many ways. Even with current economic difficulties in the port, it remains of considerable importance to the fishing industry. a. Longlines. Plaice were taken incidentally off Flamborough Head and Scarborough in the early months of the year (see 7a and 5a above) and the crews of the boats usually had them as stocker bait. Locally, they were occasionally caught on longshore lines (and still are) during the winter season. b. Danish seines. Though the main species sought in the 1920s and 30s was haddock (see 15c above), plaice were also caught. The season was the same as for haddock and so were the areas worked on the Dogger Bank. However, the main North Sea ground for plaiceseining was the Monkey Bank and some good trips were made on it. A few of the boats based at Fleetwood also tried seining in a few locations, but without a great deal of success. Attempts were made in Jura Sound, in the Clyde and off St. Bees Head, but the quantities netted usually were not an economic proposition and, anyway, those fish caught on the last ground tended to be small. The hours worked when plaice-seining were the same as those for haddock, but individual shoots and hauls took longer, being in the region of one and a half to two hours, depending on conditions.
c. Swimming times.
The general observation from trawlermen is that plaice stayed on the bottom during the hours of daylight and swam up after dark. Something of this pattern of behaviour can perhaps be seen in one of the most interesting pieces of information that I have been given regarding plaice. An ex skipper, who worked the Dogger Bank a good deal during the 1960s on the trawlers "Moreleigh" (HL 160) and "Woodleigh" (LT 240), told me of a favourite spot he had in about 11 fathoms on the east side of the Eastermost Shoal. He used to hit large concentrations of fish there in March, but only in the daytime, when one tow was quite likely to yield between 20 and 30 baskets. At night it went down to two or three. Trips of between 300 and 400 kits were made in about five days, but the area where the plaice congregated was very limited in extent - "about the size of three football pitches'. The bottom was hard sand and the skipper's theory as to the fish's presence is that they were attracted there by freshwater springs.
d. Types of feed.
Whelk, lugworm and shrimp were all taken when used as longline bait and sand eels and brittle stars were also eaten. Plaice do not appear to eat much during the winter months, but feeding accelerates rapidly after spawning. During the spring and summer months large amounts of "pipey" or "pikey" (Pectinaria koreni) were consumed on the local North Sea grounds, especially in the Smiths Knoll/Leman Bank area. The Gut of the Knoll was reckoned to have a particular concentration of this feed and many old skippers used to cast the leadline to see if they could pick any of it up. May and June used to see the fish really filling out, but the season there actually began in March and ran through until August. Nobody bothered very much in January and February because the fish were "slabby" after spawning.
e. Effect of the wind.
An easterly wind was noticed as having a pronounced effect on plaice in the North Sea, causing them to burrow into the bottom, thereby chafing the area around the mouth. This feature gave rise to the name "Lipstick Plaice" or "Red-Noses", and it was a regular occurrence during the winter months and the early spring. The same thing applied round on the West Side. Plaice showed the red-nose appearance on the grounds off east and south-east Ireland. Fishermen claim that the creatures "dig themselves in" on the lee side of a ground or bank because this was where they were invariably caught.
f. Types of bottom.
A sandy bottom generally preferred, but plaice were also caught on stony grounds - as long as the stones were not too large. Off the south-east of Ireland, on the Lucifer and Blackwater grounds, the fish seemed to like getting in among kelp weed - a feature noticed in Jura Sound as well, incidentally. On the Dogger Bank, just to the north of the South Rough, was an area of the so-called "amber weed", which gave good catches of plaice in the hours of darkness.
g. Good locations.
In the North Sea the following grounds were reckoned good for plaice: the Monkey Bank, the English Klondyke, the Amrum Bank, various parts of the Dogger, the Dowsing, Cromer Knoll, the Leman and Ower, the Long shoal, Smiths Knoll, the Lowestoft Flat, the Gabbards, the Galloper, the Hinder and the Varne. Inshore locations included the Barney Pikle (a gulleyway between the Cross Sand and the Scroby), the Newcombe and the Barnard. On the West Side plaice were fished for in a number of locations, of which these were among the favourites: the Padstow sole grounds; the Kish, the Blackwater, the Lucifer, the Tuskar, the Barrels and Ballycottom Bay; Cardigan, Caernarvon and Morecambe bays. In the case of Morecambe Bay, there were notable autumn concentrations of plaice in the Mersey near the Jordon Spit Buoy. Finally, with regard to distant water fishing, very large plaice were caught in quantity on the grounds off Novaya Zemlya.
h. Areas of small fish.
Lots of small plaice were trawled up by the sailing smacks during the summer across on the Brown Ridges (they were known as "Tom Wright's Titty Ones", after a Pakefield skipper who fished there a good deal). Another area was off Terschelling Island, in the springtime, when whole trips of "Ivy Leaves" or "Penny Stamps" as they were known were landed in at Lowestoft. These fish were the size of an average human palm, and they were either dumped after being landed at Lowestoft or bought by local fish-friers and sold as a cheap "package deal" in their shops. On the West Side, fair numbers of small plaice were trawled up in the summer off St Bees Head and also near the Bar Lightship, while on the south coast there was a concourse in Rye Bay. These last ones are described as being "little, plump and speckled, with a little round head", and there are comments as to how different in shape they were from the normal North Sea plaice.
i. Importance of titlers.
The value of titlers for catching plaice, on otter trawls, is much attested. In particular, the use of a door-to-door chain is generally reckoned to be what mattered because that is the one, apparently, which "swept the fish up".
j. Plaice rash.
This was met with in one or two parts of the North Sea, but it was especially prevalent in the Terschelling/ Borkum area where the plaice had a lot of very small shells in the gut during the spring and summer months. It was these that caused the irritation.
k. Dead plaice/severe weather.
One or two of the older men talk of dead plaice being trawled up out on the Brown Ridges in the early part of 1929, when there was a particularly cold winter.
1. Spent fish.
Plaice that had shot their roes were very obvious in January and February in the Smiths Knoll/Leman Bank area. The Gut of the Knoll had a very heavy concentration of them right through into March.
m. Presence in drift nets. Plaice were occasionally found in drift nets on the autumn Home Fishing, when the nets were hauled after an all-night "drive up and down".
23. Pollack (Pollack Whiting).
These were caught in fair numbers round on the West Side, but were never greatly valued by the fishermen. Apart from the inshore grounds of Devon and Cornwall, pollack were also trawled off the Scillies (Tresco especially) and a lot of them were taken in the late spring/early summer off the Pembrokeshire coast, near Grassholm, in about 22-25 fathoms.
24. Blond Ray (Blond Roker).
This species was an important catch round in the West Side ports, especially Padstow, where it was taken on the local sole grounds. It was also plentiful off east and south-east Ireland: the Kish and Codling banks, the Arklow Bank, the Blackwater, the Lucifer, the Tuskar, the Barrels, the Conningbeg and Saltees. Spring and summer were the best seasons for trawling up blond rays and the Middle Deep of the Codling Bank was reckoned one of the prime locations. The boats worked here in about 20 fathoms on a west by south tow. In the Lucifer Blackwater area the fish were often caught among kelp weed, especially off Rosslare. The boats used to go after them here close inshore (and quite illegally) - so close in fact that the crew members would see the folk walking around on the beach very clearly. Also in the Irish Sea, blonds were caught in good numbers off the Calf of Chicken Rock and there was an annual gathering of them in late April just off The Smalls. The drifters that were longlining out of Milford Haven used to go for them, but the fish did not stay long in this locality: they were only there for three or four days, apparent. Good catches were also made by these boats off the Scilly Isles during the month of May. Off the coast of Northern Ireland blond rays were caught in the summer months in the mouth of Lough Swilly. Regarding the North Sea, the fish was never caught in great quantities and then only in the southern sector. In the early months of the year some of the smacks used to get good trips of blonds on the Hinder Bank, and from there across to the Dutch Coast. It was at this time also that the trawlers and drifter-trawlers working the Dover Straits used to catch fair trips of them on the Varne Bank.
25. Cuckoo Ray (Flower o' Dell, Butterfly Ray, Padstow Shovel).
As the last nickname suggests this fish was caught round on the west sole voyage in the early months of the year. The longlining vessels also encountered it off Round Island (The Scillies) during May. In the North Sea it was taken regularly on the Dogger Bank all year round.
26. Pale Ray.
This species was caught on the Melville Knoll during the hours of darkness by vessels longlining for conger in April and May. The value of the fish at market was not very high.
27. Shagreen Ray (Sand Ray).
Encountered in the southern Irish Sea by longliners fishing during the early part of the year. The species did not have a great deal of commercial value.
28. Starry Ray (Jinny, Jenny, Jenny Henniven).
Trawled up a good deal in the central and northern North Sea, with the Dogger Bank being quite a productive area for them. This species is very popular (and has been for some time) with the frying trade. What is chalked up on the board as "skate" is, more often than not, "jinny": and if it is not, then it is probably roker.
29. Thornyback Ray (Roker).
This is the ray that fishermen seem to know most about and to have caught most of. It was trawled up all over the North Sea and it was taken in a number of locations round on the West Side as well.
a. North Sea
- good catches of roker were taken by the sailing smacks during the winter just outside the Haisbro. They were also taken on the bottom end of the Dowsing, on the Cromer Knoll, the Hammonds Knoll, the Long Shoal and around the south Leman Buoy. Working southerly, the best grounds for roker (again, during the winter months particularly) were the Gabbards, the Galloper and the Hinder. In fact, it seems a feature of the North Sea that roker were trawled up in greater numbers during the winter than they were during the summer. Except inshore that is, because a lot of smaller roker were taken in longshore beam trawls during the summer months right the way along the East Anglian coast. But they were small and therefore not worth a great deal. A lot of them turned up on the Newcombe and the Barnard, but during the winter good-sized fish were also caught. This was especially the case just outside the Barnard, where a lot of the smaller trawlers and drifter-trawlers used to get in a trip or two either side of Christmas fishing specifically for them. They used to do the same thing in the Barney Pikle as well, working the gulleyway between the cross Sand and the Scroby. Just after Christmas there used to be large concentrations of small roker on the Thornton Ridge; they stayed there for a number of weeks and it was the custom for boats returning to Lowestoft from the Dover Strait/South Falls to run across there and get in one or two tows. This was during the 1920s, when trawlermen were allowed small roke for stocker bait! Down in the Strait big bags of good roker were caught at the same time on a rough piece of ground just south of the Varne Bank.
b. West Side.
North of Hartland Point roker were taken all year round, but the real hunting ground for these fish was in Cardigan and Caernarvon bays during the summer months (they were also taken here in the early part of the year by the Milford Haven longliners). Another good place for the longliners was Oxwich Bay (near Swansea) during March. The boats used to fish in close to the beach and could catch up to 25/30 kits a day. According to the Lowestoft men that went round to the West Side, the Welsh thornies were the thorniest of all, with large, sharp spines. Colwyn Bay also yielded good catches of roker, especially off Great Ormes Head and the Bar Lightship, while further to the north they were also taken in the Solway Firth and Wigtown Bay. Finally, off the coast of South-east Ireland, thornybacks were a useful catch for boats working outside The Tuskar.
c. Various feeds.
Shrimps and sand eels were both noted among roker feed in the North Sea. Regarding the West Side, it was observed that the fish caught off Great Ormes Head were always brown around the mouth "as if they'd been eating iron". On the "mussel belt" off the coast of Anglesey (from Point Lynus to about ten miles north-west of The Skerries) roker would feed voraciously on thi$ particular shellfish. The Aldeburgh longshoremen in Suffolk land good catches of fair-sized roker during April and May, working about 5 to 8 miles out from land. They bait their longlines with sprats that are caught and deep-frozen during the winter season. d. Bottom types. Rough bottoms seem to have been favoured by this species in some areas, smoother ones in others. Stones and shingle were noted on the Dowsing, on the Shoals, in the Barney Pikle and near the Varne. Near the south Lemon Buoy it was peat of various kinds, usually referred to loosely as "moorlog". Round off Hartland Point and also in Liverpool Bay the roker were caught on mud, while north and north-north-west of the King William Buoy they seem to have had a liking for kelp. This particular area was reckoned to be very good for roker, providing an all-year-round fishing either by day or by night.
e. Effect of the east wind.
This was very pronounced in the Irish Sea, especially on the western margins - the Kish and Codling banks, Rockabill, the Mourne Coast etc. The dispersing effect held true for most species of fish, of course, but one thing the fishermen noticed is most interesting: apparently, the day before an easterly started to blow, all the large roker "took off", leaving only small ones around. The presence of small roker in the trawl, and the absence of anything else, was regarded as a sure sign of a coming easterly blow. f. Presence in drift nets. This was quite common round the West Side on the Isle of Man herring grounds and also on The Smalls. As can be imagined, the spines had quite a devastating effect on the meshes!
g. Presence in seine nets.
Thornybacks caused quite a lot of trouble in the 1920s and 30s to boats working the Clyde for plaice. They not only damaged the meshes but chafed the other fish as well.
Leeches (Pontobdella muricata) were sometimes found attached to roker on both sides of the country. The usual description one has of them is "purple sucker fish".
i. Ammonia content.
The fish had a pronounced ammonia content/smell during the summer months, and this was true of both the North Sea and the Irish Sea. Roker were al~ays used to form the bottom tier in a fish-hold pound, where mixed fish were to be stored, because it was believed that they helped to preserve the ice. Boats fishing the Welsh bays always had their crew members put lobsters, crabs and scollops into pounds containing roker because it appeared that the ammonia kept these creatures "alive" until the end of the trip.
30. Blue Skate.
Never an important trawl-fish species with the Lowestoft boats in the North Sea. It was encountered rather more round on the West Side, but again (with the exception of the drifters that went longlining) it was not a main quarry, being taken incidentally for the most part while other prey was being south.
a. North Sea.
Skate were caught on "ripper" handlines during the summer months by crew members of the drifters working Shetland. They responded to herring bait and were apparently quite a job to haul up! The attraction of herring is also acknowledged in the comments of Grimsby men to Lowestoftians who were longlining for cod out of the Humber port just after World War I. When whelks were in short supply, herring were used to bait the hooks, and the locals' prediction was that so many skate would be caught that they would swim away with the lines (especially in the Sole Pit/Skate Hole/Silver Pits vicinity). In the event, this did not happen, though the occasional skate was hooked.
b. Firth of Forth.
During the Second World War, at least one Admiralty trawler-minesweeper based as either Queensferry or Rosyth used to catch good bags of skate right under the Forth Bridge. The crew improvised a beam trawl, which they used to shoot over as they were running into base after a patrol was over. The fish caught were then sold for "pocket money".
c. West side.
A notable location for skate was in the deep water off Holyhead, where large specimens were often trawled up. There was also a concentration in Morecambe Bay during the summer months, close in, along Blackpool Beach. The boats used to work off the end of the pier in an area where there was a muddy bottom. The boats longlining from Milford Haven encountered them on the Kish Bank.
The drifters that used to base themselves at Milford Haven went after skate as a main item in the deep water off south-east and southern Ireland. Squid, herring and mackerel were used for bait and good numbers of large fish were taken; there might be as many as 400 in an eight day trip. On one particular ground, 110 to 120 miles from St Ann's Head on a bearing varying from west by half-south to west by south-half-south, very large skate were caught which were in a completely emaciated state. This was in May, at the same time and in the same place as the conger eels referred to in number 8 above were taken.
e. Bottom type.
One hears constantly that skate like a muddy bottom, especially where there are holes or gulley ways for them to live in.
f. Presence in drift nets.
Skate were occasionally found in lints on the Isle of Man summer herring voyage.
g. Ammonia content.
This was very pronounced in the summer months round on the West Side. Again, as with roker, the fish were used to form a bottom tier in the hold pounds (see 27i above).
Skate hosted the same leech as roker did, which is referred to in 29h above.
31. Sole (Dover-Sole).
A much valued species for the Lowestoft fishermen, if not the most valued of all. The quest for it led to one of the great seasonal migrations of labour from the home port, which continued for a period of something like 70 years. Along with the herring and the plaice, it was for a long time one of the foundation stones of Lowestoft's success and prosperity as a fishing port. And it still remains of considerably importance.
a. North Sea locations.
Obviously the Great Silver Pit, the Sole Pit, Markhams Hole etc. are firmly established in fishing history as very productive grounds for the catching of this fish, but they were never the main hunting ground of the Lowestoft boats. The smacks and drifter-trawlers (when these latter came along) concentrated much more on the southern North Sea, and their main areas of working can be roughly divided into four. The first was the Long Shoal/Leman and Ower region. Good catches of sole were made here most of the year round. The way to work the Leman was to fish the inside of the bank on the ebb with the port gear down - if the starboard gear was worked, the tide would drive the boat over the top of the bank and onto the Ower. The second location was the Brown Ridges, which consisted of the Lowestoft Shoal, the Middle Shoal and the Inner Shoal. The bottom here was very smooth and sandy, so a trawl would last a long time, thereby cutting down on running expenses. Much nearer to port was the ground known as the Lowestoft Flat, about eight to nine miles out east of the town, where good hauls of sole were sometimes made in the late winter/early spring and even through to the late summer/early autumn. Finally, the Gabbards, the Galloper and the Shipwash afforded quantities of the fish during the winter months (November, December and January). The areas of deeper water between the banks were the places to go and some of the drifter-trawlers and small steam trawlers used to "drop in" here during the Home Fishing period to get out of the way of the herring boats.
b. Longshore locations.
One favourite tow used to be from the Claremont Pier to Pontin's Holiday Camp, but anywhere up and down on the inside of the Newcombe and the Barnard was reckoned to be reasonable. The season would start in earnest in late April/early May and carry on through the summer months until the autumn. A few large soles were taken, but generally speaking the bulk of the catches consisted of slips. A shorter tow, also reckoned to be productive, was between the Arbor Lane caravan site and Pontin's. Before World War Two the Lowestoft beachmen tended to work the North Roads (Holm Sand) area more than they did the southern reaches and it was generally believed that there were more soles north of the town than there were south. Soles were also caught in fair quantities off Benacre and Southwold, and on Sizewell Bank.
c. Dover Strait.
Significantly perhaps, in view of the name "Dover Sole", the main ground talked about in the Strait was actually out off Dover, in a gulley-way, near the Varne lightvessel. A strong tide ran here, which meant that only the more powerful boats could work it successfully. This was during the 1920s and 30s, and the fishing here was carried out by the Lowestoft boats after Christmas.
The Padstow voyage is still talked about, those hectic days in the 1920s and 30s when there were 60 to 70 East Anglian drifter-trawlers in the Cornish port for a four to five month season (January-May). The quantities taken by the individual boats were large (often in the range of one to two tons per night) and the fish themselves were big. One of the main grounds was the so-called "Sleepy Valley" (no one rested there!), on a slate outcrop only just outside the three miles limit-line on the Padstow side of Trevose Head. Another close-in ground was off Gulland Rock and this was better to work because the bottom was smooth. About seven miles from land lay the Spion Kop ground, so called because a hill of this name provided the landmark necessary to fix it. The actual "outside grounds", as they were known, were about 14 to 15 miles from the shore, in deeper water than the inner ones, and they were less ruinous of trawls because they had smooth, sandy bottoms. One way to fix them at night was to get a three-point bearing on the following principle: a sighting of Trevose Head, a sighting of Godrevy Point and the loom/flicker of Pendeen Point. Once the three lights could all be seen at once in this way, then the skipper knew he was in the right position for a bit of good trawling. On the Padstow grounds the tows were often short (two hours or so), because fish were plentiful and the "runs" not particularly long. Apart from the Padstow grounds themselves, there was also good sole fishing off Hartland Point and Lundy Island. e. Welsh coast. Two favourite spots used to be found either side of Carmarthen Bay, off St Gowans Head and the Helwick Light Vessel respectively. The former had a pretty rough bottom, but it gave good fishing. So did Cardigan Bay, out from Aberystwyth. The ploy adopted here was to run about an hour's steam from the Gynfelin Patches Buoy, either west by north or west-north-west, and drop a dan down to work from. The bottom had coral outcrops in places, but the catches made the fishing worthwhile. Finally, Caernarvon Bay was also worked for soles, though I have not been given any locations as specific as those mentioned immediately above.
f. Morecambe Bay.
Good quantities of sole were caught here during the summer months during the 1920s and 30s. The bottom was generally smooth, which meant that there was not too much wear and tear on trawls and many of the East Anglian drifter-trawlers used to move on up to Fleetwood after the Padstow season had finished. After a while, intensive trawling by large numbers of boats seems to have drastically reduced the amounts of fish caught and by the 1950s the voyage had largely ceased to operate. About 22 miles south by west from Douglas, Isle of Man, was Douglas Hole, which was a favourite location with Lowestoft skippers. The boats used to fish for cod here during the day in the spring and early summer, then change over to heavier gear and go after soles during the hours of darkness. There were good hauls made here throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
g. South-east Ireland.
Some good soles were taken at night between The Barrels and The Saltees, and they were also located near the Conningbeg Light Vessel, outside The Tuskar and inside the Lucifer. With regard to the last-named ground, the boats used to go in close to land, well inside the limit-line, just out from Rosslare and even on Wexford Bar itself. All of these grounds were the particular speciality of the best-known Lowestoft poacher of the inter-war period, a man who was famous at Fleetwood for the good trips of sole and plaice that he brought into port, especially in the summer months. Further north, there was a productive legal ground in the Lambay Deeps, which the boats used to tow into after dark from the Kish Bank, while on the Kish itself "grandfather soles" were caught in the south of the deepish water immediately west of the bank.
h. Nocturnal habits.
Generally speaking, the sole is a fish that is active at night and this is when the greatest quantities are caught. The disparity between night-time and daytime catches is said to have been most pronounced on the Padstow grounds, but even here there were areas where moderate hauls of sole were trawled up during daylight - notably on the outside grounds, some 14 to 15 miles from Trevose Head. The Welsh grounds afforded daytime catches as well, and so did the Irish ones, but they were not as heavy as those made in the dark. It was the same story in the North Sea: the most profitable tows were the ones made at night.
i. Type of gear.
A heavy ground-rope was required to drag along the bottom properly, and the slower the towing speed the better. Out in the North Sea, the smacks with their beam trawls were generally reckoned better sole-catchers than the steamboats. The latter had to ease right down in order to be successful. Chain wrapped around the ground-rope was a favourite device on both beam trawls and otter trawls, and dangles were much used. There were various titlers employed - a bosom titler on the beam trawl and both bosom and door-to-door on the otter trawl. Elm bobbins were worked on rough ground - 12 inch diameter ones usually in the North Sea and up to 18 inch round at Padstow. On-the-door otter trawls had wire legs four to six feet in length, while the Vigneron-Dahl variety was rigged with short bridles. Lowestoft men at one time preferred onthe-door gear to bridle gear, when fishing for soles, because they believed it more effective for "digging out" the fish from the bottom. Something that was often done on trawls was to put extra flow into the gear by inserting a four foot length of net (a "shooting-in" piece) into each end of the lower wings. The selvages were undone and the slack pulled into the bunts. Apparently, this type of trawl fished well, and if soles were hit in large numbers they were often found in the bunts as well as lower down the net.
j. Type of bottom.
Soles seem to prefer sandy or muddy bottoms, and there were some skippers who worked the edge of the Great Silver Pit and Botney Gut (on the Dogger Bank) in the belief that this area was a former lake or river bed and therefore gave suitable sediments for the fish to live in. The so-called rough grounds of the West Side were, or are, the result of rocky outcrops on the bed of the sea jutting up through the sediments. Some of the slate at Padstow was robust enough to smash doors, and titlers were never worked there because they would soon snag and break on the irregularities. Coral was another problem in some parts, especially areas of Cardigan Bay. On the grounds of south-east Ireland it was noticed that soles, like other species already mentioned, seemed to find kelp weed a congenial environment.
Types of feed.
Various marine worms, small mussels, brittle stars, sand eels and shrimps were all noted as forming part of the sole's diet . In the Irish Sea there was a pronouced tendency in the Lambay Deeps for the species to feed on "cutch worm" ( see 7e, l5f and 16f above), particularly in the summer months. Trawlermen also note that soles often had a "rough, sandy gut", no matter where caught .
i. Quality of fish.
An old saying among local fish merchants comments on how North Sea soles improved in quality throughout the summer months: "Soles in May will make you pay/Soles in June a different tune/Soles in July home and dry".
m. Presence in seine nets. Soles were taken in Danish seines at night on Dogger Bank when the boats were after haddock. This was particularly the case in the Great Silver Pit and Sole Pit area and also off the bank on the Upper and Lower Scruff, and it usually happened in the springtime and summer because that was when the boats were seining.
n. Presence in draw nets.
Small and medium-sized soles were sometimes taken in beach seines at Pakef ield when sea trout were being fished . This was during the summer (May till September approximately) and always occurred at night.
o. Effect of severe weather. There is evidence to suggest that soles in shallow water can be adversely affected by low temperatures, because dead soles were sometimes trawled up . This was especially the case out on the Brown Ridges in the early part of 1929, when a very cold spell saw a lot of dead fish brought up from the bottom (see 22k above).
32. Spurdog (Dog).
This fish was the drift net fisherman's great enemy because of its predatory habits where herring are concerned and because of the damage it could do to drift nets when it became entangled in them. It seems to have caused most trouble on the summer voyage to Shetland, but it was also a pest of f the north coat of Scotland and round in The Minch. When shoals of dogs were about, there was always a pronounced "fishy" smell and the water was often a dark green colour ("same colour as a cucumber"). Drift nets used to be full of slime when they were hauled and usually there were not many herring in the meshes. "That was as if you were strainin' the sea," one man told me. "The nets would be full of mucky brown filth." The grounds particularly noted for concentrations of spurdogs were Fair Isle, Whiten Head (about seven to eight miles out from land) and Stornoway. In fact, there were big bags of the fish trawled up off Fair Isle right through the 1950s and 60s, this by the Lowestoft diesel trawlers during the summer months. As far as the southern North Sea is concerned, there were considerable numbers of spurdogs off the North Hinder in May-month and on the Gabbards, the Galloper and the Shipwash during the summer and autumn especially the Shipwash. In the late autumn the fish came fairly close-in off Lowestoft and good bags were trawled up on the outer edge of the Newcombe and the Barnard in about ten fathoms. The local longshoremen also used to catch them incidentally on longlines during the winter season, though never in great quantities. However, the Grimsby liners (plus the few East Anglian boats that went after cod) sometimes used to take large numbers of them on the southern parts of the Dogger Bank and they were also encountered at the same time (January/February/March) in the S~iths Knoll area. In both these instances whelk bait seems to have been the attraction. Round on the West Side the Milford longliners hit concentrations of them at the same time off Anglesey, just clear of the ferry route across to Ireland (squid and herring was the bait used here). During the summer months, spurdogs proved quite a nuisance to boats working the Isle of Man herring grounds, yet the drifters that fished for mackerel in western waters had hardly any trouble with them. On the Newlyn voyage, for instance, they were only rarely found in the nets; though if any of the drifters used to venture down to the Scilly Isles, the presence of dogs was always noted off Round Island. Again, it was the characteristic smell and the dark green colour of the water that proclaimed them.
This fish was caught occasionally by the sailing smacks in the Terschelling/Borkum area. The specimens trawled up were usually small, and so were those the steam trawlers encountered off Heligoland in the Elbe estuary. In all of these locations it was noticed that a muddy bottom seemed to be the type preferred. Nearer home, sturgeons were also caught from time to time by drifter-trawlers working Sizewell Bank. Off the Welsh coast there were two locations where small and medium-sized sturgeons were caught regularly in the late spring/early summer. The first was in Carmarthen Bay, near the Helwick Light Vessel. One of the Lowestoft drifter-trawlers, working from Milford Haven during the mid 1930s, once trawled up three or four fish of five feet or so in length in a single trip. The other place where the species was encountered was in Tremadoc Bay, about halfway between St Tudwal's Island and St Patrick's Causeway Buoy. There was a mud gulleyway or hollow here in which sturgeon used to congregate.
The main area associated with this fish is, of course, The Wash, but it was and is infrequently caught along the whole Norfolk and Suffolk coast during the summer and autumn months by rod and line anglers. It was also found very occasionally entangled in longshore herring nets during the autumn season.
Reckoned by some people to be the finest flavoured of all the fish caught in northern waters. Most of the information regarding the species concerns the southerly part of the North Sea, which is where the Lowestoftmen usually caught it.
a. North Sea locations.
In the spring and summer months "The Shoals (Leman, Ower, Long Shoal etc.) were reckoned to be a good area for catching turbot and the Indefatigable Banks were also pretty highly rated among fishermen. Smacks, steam trawlers and drifter-trawlers were all successful in the hunt, though plaice and soles were the main species being sought. The Brown Ridges were another part of the North Sea where turbot were met with in good numbers (again, in the summer period), while they were also to be found regularly on the North-West Rough of the Dogger Bank and inside the North Hinder. In the case of the North-West Rough, those fish caught during the late summer and early autumn were usually full of herring spawn. So were the ones inside the North Hinder during the autumn/winter, and they were often large specimens as well. In spite of all the references above, though, the ground that one hears talked about time and time again in connection with turbot is the Varne Bank. Good catches of turbot were taken here right on top of the shoal in December and January, but the fish then seemed to take off . There was also, apparently, a gulleyway somewhere out of Ramsgate where very fine turbot were caught at about the same time. It seems that the period of catching here was even more limited than on the Varne, being something in the region of three weeks or so.
b. Handlines and longlines.
Turbot were quite often taken on rippers when the steam drifters were working out of North Shields, Whitby and Scarborough on the summer herring voyage. The bait used was invariably herring scraps and Scarborough Bay was a particularly favourable location in August time. The fish were also caught on longlines (whelk bait) off Scarborough and Flamborough Head by boats seeking cod in the early part of the year and they were further encountered in the Sole Pit, the Great Silver Pit and the Botney Gut.
c. Presence in seine nets.
Turbot were occasionally found in Danish seines being worked by steam drifters on the Dogger Bank for either haddock or plaice. The grounds where this happened are as follows: Sole Pit, Great Silver Pit, Botney Gut, Upper and Lower Scruff, Tail End and Clay Deeps.
Small turbot were caught along the Newcombe and Barnard during the summer months in beam trawls being used for either shrimps or sole and plaice. The usual size of these fish was about 12 to 15 inches in length, but larger specimens were sometimes taken.
e. West Side.
Good-sized turbot were hooked on longlines off the Scilly Isles (Tresco especially) in April and May by steam drifters longlining for conger and ling (squid and mackerel bait). They were also brought up on the Padstow sole grounds during the season there, while to the north of Hartland Point they were caught all the year round. In Carmarthen Bay good turbot were trawled up, in the summer especially, in the Helwick Channel, about midway between the light vessel and Worms Head. Finally and much further afield, some of the boats based at Fleetwood during the 1920s and 30s used to practise an illegal fishing for them inside the Clyde limit-line. This entailed towing round Ailsa Craig and out again. The late summer/early autumn was the best time, with as many brill being taken as turbot.
f. Type of bottom.
The general observation is that turbot were usually caught where the bottom was sand, gravel or scruff.
36. Greater Weever.This fish was caught all over the North Sea by the smacks and steam trawlers in their heyday. It was a great delicacy among the crew members, and the large ones were also a good deal in demand at one time among the more unscrupulous fish merchants because once they were filleted they could (and did) pass for sole. It was taken a good deal on the "Up Along' grounds (Gabbards, Galloper, Hinder etc.) in the early months of the year and large hauls were sometimes also made on the Sandettie Bank at the same time. Round on the West Side, the Welsh bays yielded fair quantities of weever during daylight tows particularly. When an easterly wind was blowing in summertime large concentrations of the fish were encountered off Fishguard and also in the neighbourhood of the Gynfelin Patches Buoy.
37. Lesser Weever.
Quite common along Norfolk and Suffolk beaches during the late summer and early autumn. Something like 20 holidaymakers suffered stings to the feet on the south beach at Lowestoft in 1980. The fish was often brought up in longshore shrimp trawls, and still is, while beach anglers are very likely to encounter it from September and October onwards, when going for whiting and cod (lugworm bait). The species seems to like a smooth, sandy bottom.
Another member of the select band of the five "St Peter's Fish . It was trawled up all over the North Sea, particularly by the steam trawlers and drifter-trawlers with their otter gear, rather than by the sailing smacks using beam trawls. The onset of cold weather in the autumn every year sees whiting coming close in, so that they are able to be caught from the beach with rod and line. Lugworm bait is the one customarily used and the early evening/fore part of the night seems to be best catching time. Gorleston Pier end is very good for whiting in October/ November/December.
a. North Sea.
The best quality whitings were reckoned to be landed in December /January/February time, especially when the weather was really cold. At this time they were mainly caught "Up Along" by drifter-trawlers that had completed the Home Fishing and had re-geared for trawling, with the Hinder Ground being a particular favourite. The whitings caught here were considered to be about the best there were. However, good whitings were also caught on the Dogger Bank during the summer months, especially on the South Rough.
As far as the local longshore fishing is concerned, whiting were and still are caught in good numbers on winter longlines. In the old days the bait was likely to have been mackerel and herring strip, sprats and clams; today lugworm is most used, with brown shrimp to a lesser degree. A particularly good spot off Pakefield was "Hubbard's Rocks" (see (7g above), about 100 yards or so out from the beach, but whiting were also trawled up in the summer months in both shrimp and flatfish trawls. These fish were often "slinky" (thin), however, with a "maggot" in the gill ( see g below) and were therefore of little or no value.
c. West Side.
Whiting were once caught a good deal in Morecambe Bay all the year round, but because they of ten tended to be small they were not popular with crew members on the Fleetwood boats. Their capture only meant a lot of gutting for a comparatively small f inancial return . However, whiting was a very popular fish in France at the time and French trawlers used to come in considerable numbers to catch them.
d. Swimming times.
Whiting were reckoned to be "on the move" most noticeably at dawn and dusk, a comment previously made about cod, haddock and hake .
e . Handlines.
Good specimens were taken on " rippers " on the Shetland herring voyage. The bait used was herring scrap, as has been mentioned a number of times already, and the fish were caught either out on the herring grounds or in Lerwick Harbour itself. In the latter instance, the idea was to catch a breakfast in just a few minutes - and the men usually succeeded in doing this.
f . Presence in drift nets.
This was quite pronounced on the Home Fishing, especially in the Smiths Knoll area and just to the south of it. The incidence of whiting in herring nets, apparently, diminished southwards, until they were " thrown orf " somewhere between the Galloper and the Hinder.
The presence of a "maggot" in the gills of whiting trawled up alongshore has already been touched upon in (b) above, but "lousy" fish were also found in other places and at other times as well . In both the North Sea and West Side waters, whiting were trawled up with "little yeller sucker things" in the gills. This was noticed all the year round and, in the opinion of some fishermen, related particularly to parts of the sea where there were muddy bottoms. The parasite in question was Lernaeocera branchialis .
39. Whiting Pout.
Like its relation, dealt with in the previous section, this fish was another of St Peter's chosen ones. It is taken on rod and line both from beach and boat during the autumn and winter (lugworm bait), but never in great numbers. It also turns up alongshore in shrimp trawls during the summer, but the ones caught in this manner are usually small. While it was never of any great importance to the East Anglian trawlermen, it did have some commercial significance at one time round at Padstow, where it was landed in fair quantities during the early part of the year on the sole voyage.
40. Witch (Torbay Sole).
This fish was never caught very much in the North Sea (by Lowestoft and Yarmouth boats, that is) in the old trawling area because the vessels did not go far enough north. However, it was caught round on the West Side in some of the deeper reaches off the coast of southern and south-east Ireland, as well as off the Isle of Man. On the east coast of Ireland, some good trips were had working the Mourne Coast during the summer months, with both Dundalk and Dundrum bays affording fair quantities. The species was also to be had in Morecambe Bay at the same time, but the best place of all for witches was in the Northern Minch, where good numbers were to be had all the year round.
The only positive reference I have of this fish being systematically sought as an economic proposition concerns one particular trawler based at Fleetwood in the 1930s ("Blanche , H928). The skipper used to fish the grounds off south-east Ireland for it (Lucifer, Tuskar, Barrels, Conningbeg etc.) and his forays often necessitated going well inside the limit-line. The fishing was a summertime one and the hauls made usually fairly small. The best spot was reckoned to be off Carnsore Point, with the tow~s being done at night; there would be in the region of 12 to 20 fish per haul, sometimes more, and there would of course be all the other regular trawlfish as well. By the end of a trip, the amount of bass caught would be in the region of four or five kits, for which the skipper had a customer in Fleetwood. The normal length of tow was anything between four and six hours.
Often found in drift nets on the Home Fishing, especially in the Smiths Knoll/Knoll Deep/Knoll Flat area. If a light were shone down into the water as a boat hung to her nets, numbers of them could be seen swimming around near the surface. Some of them were large specimens, around two feet in length and 'as thick as your wrist . During the First World War, the minesweeper crews on the Adriatic Patrol used to catch them in region of Andipaxoi Island (near Corfu) on handlines baited with brown shrimps. The garfish bit readily and often and were regarded as quite a delicacy to eat.
3. Herring (Silver Darling, Digby).
This fish was the cornerstone of the prosperity of both Yarmouth and Lowestoft for centuries. And its importance was so great generally throughout the whole of Western Europe during the mediaeval and modern periods that wars were fought over the right to catch it and herring developed its own folklore and mythology. The information concerning the herring is set out largely on a location basis, according to the various voyages once undertaken for its capture. Other references follow in the form of specific matters relating to wind, tide etc., having been drawn from the observations of fishermen as they went about their business. Almost inevitably, there will be a degree of repetition, but I have tried to keep it to a minimum.
From about 1900 (and possibly earlier) until the mid/late 1930s, a number of East Anglian drifters used to go round to the Devon port for a six to seven week voyage. They would leave a day or two before Christmas and, after the fishing was over, a number of them would then re-gear for mackerel fishing at Newlyn. Others would return to Lowestoft and Yarmouth either for laying up and maintenance work or for various kinds of spring fishing, while other would move on up to Dunmore, Milford Haven and Ayr (after herring). The herrings caught at Plymouth were good specimens, large and full, and at a time of comparative scarcity~of fresh herring they were able to command big prices; especially from London buyers. As much as £7 a cran was made at times, and this was in the 1920s. Hauls were never large (often in the 10 to 20 cran range), but the good price at market more than made up for this. Another attractive feature of the voyage was that the grounds were not very far from port, so the boats were in and out all the while and expenses were reasonably low. The nets were usually shot between about 1600 and 1700 h and the boats back in Plymouth by 2000 h: 'Out and in agin in time for second house at the pictures is the way one sometimes hears it put. The number of boats that went on this voyage was never large (some 20 or 30) and it was not much undertaken after World War II. Apparently, the herring 'took off', as the saying goes, and one theory as to why this happened is that French trawlers, which worked the grounds increasingly throughout the 1930s, roughed up all the bottom. The main grounds worked by the drifters were The Rutts and the West Rutts, between Bolt Tail and Bolt Head, but they also went out between the Eddystone and Bolt Tail. Start Bay herrings were not rated so highly because they were smaller, but they were there to be had if desired. New nets were always used on the Plymouth voyage, with a mesh size of about 20/31/32 rows per yard, but they were only worked in half-fleets (30 to 40 nets) because of rocks in the areas fished.
b. Dunmore East.
Quite a reasonable winter fishery once existed off the south east coast of Ireland in the region of Waterford Harbour. Some of the East Anglian drifters would either fish here for a week or two after the Plymouth voyage was over, or make it a voyage in its own right before passing on up through the St George's Channel to more northerly grounds. After World War II, in the late 1940s and the early/middle SOs, a number of the Lowestoft drifter-trawlers (steam and diesel) used to go round there just before Christmas and work a six to eight week voyage, before proceeding on up to Ayr. The herrings at Dunmore were a good size, with a roe in them. Medium-sized and large shots were run across to Milford Haven, while small quantities were taken up to Waterford.
c. The Smalls.
There was a notable summer fishery here at one time, but it was one that declined as years went by. It was never a main centre of operations for the Lowestoft and Yarmouth boats, but a number of East Anglian fishermen based at Milford Haven and Fleetwood in the 1920s and 30s talk of herring being trawled up in their gear as they went after various demersal species. Many of these fish were full, and it is always said that this area was subjected to intensive, specialist, herring trawling by French boats using small-meshed nets, a process that began in the 1930s. There was also a winter fishery on The Smalls ground just after Christmas and, again, the fish are said to have been full. They were also, apparently, very oily.
d. Isle of Man.
This was a later summer/early autumn season for full and filling fish, which had a good fat content and which (in the opinion of most people who went there) made very good kippers. The number of East Anglian boats that worked there was not great, but those that did so had a fair degree of success. One particular boat which fished the Isle of Man grounds in 1940, 41 and 42 (the "Golden Ring", LT 593) did very well, getting regular shots of 80 to 160 crans from a fleet of 73 nets. The money was made at this time running the catches into Fleetwood and getting the government control price of £4-18-0d a cran. The three favourite locations were off Douglas Head, off Port Erin and off Peel, and on all three grounds a mesh size of about 33/34 rows per yard was used. In the case of Peel, the boats used to run off only about six miles from land and shoot their nets. The voyage as a whole seems to have conformed admirably with the classic principle of "shooting with the close" and the aim of most skippers was to get their nets over just before dark. Quite often, they would be ready to haul in an hour or so and there would be a fair catch stowed away well before breakfast time. According to one of my informants, a lot of Scottish ringnetters began to come down to the Isle of Man in the early part of World War II because they could, as he put it, "fill theirselves up in about an hour".
e. Morecambe Bay.
There was no actual herring fishery in the bay itself during the period from which I have gathered information, but one or two of my informants who went round to Fleetwood on drifter-trawlers in the 1920s and 30s, eventually settling there, talk of trawls coming up "matted with spawn". This was a winter phenomenon in late December/January/early February. The particular locations where it occurred are as follows: 12 to 15 miles out from Langness down to a similar distance out from Maughold Head; then from here across to a point off St Bees Head, via the King William Buoy; finally, from St Bees down the coast past Selker Point almost to Barrow-in-Furness. Herring spawn was trawled up along various parts of this "chevron" right into the 1950s. During the Second World War, full herrings were trawled up in winter by boats towing westwards from Great Ormes Head, past Puffin Island, into Redwharf Bay. Sometimes there were as many as 20 to 30 kits per haul (7 to 10 crans, roughly).
This season used to open towards the end of December and lasted for three or four months, with the fish being full at the beginning and spent at the end. The actual CLyde herring were highly rated by the German klondyke firms at one time, being short and plump and ideally suited for export over to Hamburg in salt and ice. A lot of Scottish ring-netters used to operate here, providing good quanties of fish to be transported overland by rail to Grangemouth, whence they were shipped to Altona. The most systematic exploitation of this voyage by East anglian boats was practised by the firm of Jack Breach Ltd in the 1930s. Breach himself had a fleet of about eight to ten drifters and driftertrawlers in these waters, and the mode of operation was to use one of the boats as a "mother ship" to run the catches into Ayr every day. As well as the Clyde, the boats also fished off north-western and northern Ireland for much of the time, from as far round as Donegal Bay, off Aran Island, off Tory Island, into Sheephaven and Lough Swilly, off Lough Foyle and Rathlin Island. One particularly good spot was reckoned to be in Lough Swilly itself, off the Limeburner Buoy.
g. Scottish lochs and the Hebrides.
This was a favourite summer voyage with some of the East Anglian boats from well before the First World War. It never attracted the sheer number of vessels as the Shetland fishing, but those drifters that went did reasonably well on it, either moving up from Buncrana and Ayr, or coming through from the other side along the Caledonian Canal. The herring caught along the west coast were larger than the Clyde variety, which necessitated a change of nets, and the ports used included Campeltown, Tobermory, Oban, Mallaig, Ullapool, Castlebay and Stornoway. Regarding the actual loch fishing, this was not only done by the local crofters in their small boats, but by some of the steam drifters as well, during and after World War I. The Ullapool area was especially popular, and the ordinary Scotch drift nets were used. A warp was not worked because of the danger of foulin~ the bottom, but the nets were buffed up as usual, put out about 11 at a time and secured to dan gear at the pole end. Three or four individual lots were shot at varying intervals down the loch and the fishing was a night one, with the wash of the current serving to keep the nets clear of rocks. As well as the summer season, a few of the boats also worked a winter fishing as weIl, basing themselves at Stornoway, where they would celebrate Christmas. Winter hauls off Stornoway could be very large sometimes, with fleets of nets being lost with the weight of fish. Hence it became common to work small fleets of around 27 to 31 nets, which used to take catches of 100 crans or more quite often. During the 1930s a fair number of East Anglian steam drifters and drifter-trawlers used to arrive at Stornoway for a specific summer voyage. Some came straight from Lowestoft and Yarmouth through the Calidonian Canal; others through the Pentland Firth from Shetland if things on the voyage there were not too good (one, "Torbay II", YH 103, earnt £3500 in ten weeks in 1934, mainly in July and August): while the boats belonging to Jack Breach, mentioned in (f) above, moved up from Buncrana. The herrings off Barra (out from Castlebay and off Barra Head) were generally reckoned to be the finest, but their large size caused problems. Even with a mesh size of 29 rows per yard, a lot of them used to drop out, necessitating "baling" of the nets as they were being hauled, or using a "thief net" off the side of the boat underneath the incoming fleet. Both the "Sarah Hide" (LT 1157) and the "Margaret Hide' (LT 746) used to work this latter device very successfully. After World War II the west coast Scottish voyage diminished greatly in importance for the East Anglian drifters.
h. North of Scotland.
The main ground worked here was the Whiten Head Bank, but it was only ever of passing interest to East Anglian driters. This was quite literally so, because they would only ever spend a few days there, landing in at either Scrabster or Thurso as they passed from the Shetlands to the Hebrides, or vice versa. One big problem in this area, as had been noted earlier (see number 30 above), was the large number of spur dogfish that seem to have gathered there during the summer months.
The former group of islands was of lesser importance than the latter when it came to herring fishing, though there were a number of vessels (Scottish mainly) that worked from there. However, the great bulk of the main North Sea summer voyage was based on Shetland. The East Anglian boats descended on Lerwick in large numbers usually, leaving the home ports about the second or third week in May and staying away until the end of July/beginning of August. The first steam drifters began going down about 1902-3 and the voyage soon gained rapidly in popularity, filling in as it did a slack time at home in Yarmouth and Lowstoft. However, there were drawbacks because large catches landed in at Lerwick often glutted the market and led to a lot of dumping. And besides this, the Shetland herring were very soft and oily, leading to poor keeping qualities and requiring careful treatment from Scotch curers and klondykers alike. Fish from the Fair Isle grounds were especially perishable, it is always said, with a "black gut" inside them that put the Scotch curers off buying them and made the German Klondykers often unwilling to purchase. These were caught latish in the season, after the West Side (of Shetland) shoals and those off the Isle of Noss had "fallen off". The West Side grounds were never as productive as those on the east side, but some very good quality fish were taken in mid-season off Scalloway (small and medium-sized shots). Favourite locations on the east side were about 20 to 25 miles off Score Head or 15 to 20 miles off Bard; but the boats might also run out as much as 60 to 70 miles from either of these points. Another ground was off Sumburgh Head, about 10 to 12 miles out, and this afforded good catches. In the opinion of many fishermen, the herrings on the east side of the Shetlands were much closer to land in the post-war years than they had been before 1939, but both before and after the conflict the pattern of working the Shetland grounds tended to be the same. As a generalisation, most of the boats seem to have worked Shetland from north to south, beginning by using the north entrance to Lerwick harbour and running out to the Bressay Ground. They would then come gradually south onto the Forty Mile ground and Bressa Shoal, using the south entrance out of Lerwick, and finish up by working off Fair Isle. The fish caught on the early part of the voyage were small to medium in size, and plump. Then, as the season went on, larger specimens were caught, finishing up with spents among them. Two fleets of nets were required for the voyage: 34/5 rows per yard to start with and 31/32 later on. Another feature of the Shetland voyage was the use of long strops on the buffs: they were three fathoms in length and they were kept at this most of the time. However, if the shoals were adjudged to be swimming up higher than usual, then they were shortened up by putting a bight in each one.
As an extension/development of the Shetland voyage, some of the large drifter-trawlers used to run down to Aberdeen in the late 1920s, throughout the 30s, and even during the post-war period, in order to fish a voyage that lasted from March until the opening of the Shetland fishing proper in May. The area mainly fished was the Viking Bank, and the herring were followed as they moved in an easterly direction ("half a point o' the compass every week") into the Norwegian Deeps. The "Margaret Hide" and "Sarah Hide" were two of the most successful boats on this particular fishing, each working a fleet of 121 nets. Their moneyearning capacity prompted Harry Eastick Snr. to have the "Lydia Eva" (YH 89) built for this kind of deep-water fishing, but she was so awkward and bluff-bowed that she pulled the nets about too much when hauling was in progress, and so she was withdrawn from this area of the North Sea. Aberdeen, Peterhead and Fraserburgh were also worked at the end of the Shetland voyage proper, with the boats coming ever southwards into the Moray Firth, while others that had finished at Stornoway came through the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness for a week or two's fishing from mid-July to the beginning of August.
Before World War II a small number of East Anglian drifters took part in the winter/spring season in the Firth of Forth. The boats used to work around May Island and the herring they took were spents. One thing noticed by the crews was how many of the local men used white, untanned nets, in the belief that these caught more fish (a similar belief existed among Southwold longshoremen 50 or so years ago). The season at Anstruther opened up in January, but did not get into full swing until February and March, lasting through till April and May. The Dundee coal miners used to catch herring in the Firth of Tay at this time of year, working small ring nets from rowing boats. Most of the catches were very small fish ("seed Herring"), but there were a number of larger ones amongst them. This area of the Scottish coast was important enough, before 1914 and during the 1920s and 30s, for the German klondyke firms to set up a spring base at Anstruther for the export of herrings over to Altona.
1. North Shields/Whitby/Scarborough.
Once the Shetland voyage was over, the next big time for the East Anglian drifters was the autumn "Home Fishing". However, the month of August saw a good deal of activity based on the Northumberland and Yorkshire ports, both for boats returning home from Lerwick, Aberdeen etc. and also for a number of vessels that had set out from Lowestoft and Yarmouth for a short "warming up" voyage before the real thing. The Shields herring were very small, very oily and had a red gut in them, but they made excellent eating if kept in good condition and produced superb kippers. The boats coming down from Shetland would usually try a shoot in the region of the Longstone lighthouse on the way to Shields, and they would continue to work their "Scotch Voyage" nets of 31/32 rows per yard. Those drifters that came up specifically from Lowestoft and Yarmouth just for the Shields fishing brought smaller-sized nets with them, the so-called "shilling mesh" of 36/37 rows per yard. Crews employing the bigger meshes hoped to make their money by getting a better price for better-sized fish. Some of the East Anglian boats that went to Shields used to leave home as early as May and work a whole season off the north-east coast of England. Among the reminiscences one hears concerning this voyage is how, sometimes, boats steaming out of Scarborough to the fishing grounds (about 12/15 miles from land) used to turn herring out of the water with the bow wash and the screw - this during the late afternoon and the early evening.
m. North Sea.
At one time most of the Lowestoft boats used to like to get home from the Shields/Scarborough fishing for the town regatta (last Thursday in August). After this was over, they would then make up for a short voyage of three to four weeks " going down on the North Sea". Before the First World War this meant working out of Grimsby, but during the 1920s it became the practice, increasingly, of running backwards and forwards between the home port and the fishing grounds. The grounds mainly worked were those out east by north, east, east by south and east-south-east of Grimsby: the Great Silver Pit, the Skate Hole, the Well Hole, the Sole Pit, the Little Silver Pit, the Dowsing etc. Some of the boats also used to run down a bit further to The Hills and the Eastermost Rough and try a few shots there. The Dowsing Ground always yielded good catches, but the herring were sprawny and the water shallow, which necessitated taking up the strops on the buffs. Before World War I catches of 200 crans plus were not uncommon from 65 or so nets, the fleets worked then generally being smaller in number than those in the 1920s and 30s. Another remark made about the Dowsing is how localised the shoaling activity was. It is commonly said how one boat could fill herself up, while another two berths away would not get more than ten or a dozen crans. Some hauls of herring on the Dowsing were so heavy that the lint tore away from its rope
frame. It was this kind of occurrence that compelled most owners to equip their boats with old nets when working the Dowsing, but there were also a number of other who would not send boats there, believing that it just was not worth the risk of losing gear. Regarding the Great Silver Pit, mentioned earlier, a favourite way of working here was to get onto the eastern edge and work a tide up or down.
n. Home Fishing.
The great East Anglian autumn voyage really got under way at the beginning of October, and from then until midDecember it was nothing but herrings. The area of the North Sea worked stretched from The Shoals area north-east of Cromer down into the Strait of Dover, and it was a bonanza time for everybody. Failure to make the Home Fishing pay invariably meant a bad year financially for the drifterman. Among the favourite grounds fished were the Swarte Bank, the Broken Bank, the Well~Bank, the Leman and Ower, the Haddock Bank, the Haisbro Sand, Hommonds Knoll, the Hearty Knoll, the Long Shoal, Smiths Knoll, the Knoll Deep, the Knoll Flat, the Brown Ridges, the Gabbards and Galloper, the Hinder, the Falls and the Sandettie. There were others as well, of course, but these are the ones that are mainly spoken of, especially Smiths Knoll, which was always referred to simply as "The Knoll". It was undoubtedly the world's greatest herring ground at one time and it has established a folklore all of its own, perhaps the most evocative reference being to the sheer number of boats that were out there on an autumn night, looking for all the world like "a town lit up". Apart from the sheer quantity of fish caught, the autumn herrings were reckoned to be just right for nearly every kind of treatment, having a low fat content and being good, full specimens. The would bloater, kipper, red, klondyke, rough-pack, Scotch-pickle and vat, which kept just about every branch of the trade happy. Particularly esteemed were the so called "black-nosed school" that were caught in the stream of The Knoll in November, a larger herring than the October one and ideally suited for vatting. During the late 1920s these black-noses hung on in the Smiths Knoll area well into December, which was somewhat later than normal. This happened on other occasions as well, and the reason given is that fine weather kept them localised. Once conditions got bad, the herrings "took off". At least, that is what the fishermen say and it is often difficult to get them to agree with each other about anything! Another matter on which they concur is the best way of working the Smiths Knoll ground, which was to take a half-tide down from the Knoll Buoy almost to the South Lemon Buoy and then come back up again on the next tide. Obviously there were other ways of going about things, but this one seems to have been the favourite. There is also a measure of agreement regarding the shortening-up of buff-strops on the Home Fishing, with these beginning the season at two fathoms in length and being taken in to about four or five feet as the boats moved southwards across the Knoll Flat and down to the Gabbards and Galloper. Any specific bank fished would require its own arrangements, especially the Long Shoal, where not only the strops were shorted, but the seizings as well, to prevent the warp from fouling the bottom. The Brown Ridges gave good hauls of full herring, in spite of the considerable competition from Dutch boats; so did the Gabbards and Galloper, especially lO to 12 miles outside the actual banks; and so did the North Hinder. The only trouble with these southerly grounds was the nuisance caused by prey gurnards rising after dark (see number 11 above) and rolling themselves up in the nets. The few local skippers who worked there regularly used to shoot small fleets of nets (30 or so) three or four times a night, right on top of the sands, with everything stropped and seizinged up (is there such a verb?) as shallow as they could get it. It seems to have worked, and one boat particularly ("Primevere", LT 345) did very well there in the 1930s. Regarding the Sandettie Ground, not many of the East Anglian skippers liked it that much because it was a long way from the home ports, the strong tides there made fishing difficult, and there was intense competition from the local French herring trawlers. Those boats that did go there used to work somewhere between about 50 and 60 old nets, steam back to where they had started from after hauling, and shoot the same quantity again. Once echometers came in and allowed the shoals to be located, even smaller numbers of nets were shot. Most of the herrings caught on the Sandettie were spawning or about to spawn, but there was also a spot near the Varne Lightship where full herring were caught, while about three miles off Cape Cris Nez they were nearly all spents. In amongst these last-named was a mixture of pilchards and "cock" mackerel, the latter being about seven inches or so in length. The Gris Nez fishing lasted for about three weeks after Christmas, and the same time good-sized full herring were caught in Rye Bay and off Dungeness. Two driftertrawlers, the "Fellowship' (LT 65) and the "Three Kings" (LT 517), did very well there between the wars.
o. Local Spring Voyage.
Before 1914 a fair number of boats used to take part in a season lasting from the middle/end of March until early May. This declined during the 1920s and was hardly bothered with at all in the 30s, as much for economic reasons as lack of fish. The herrings caught were spents for the most part but they had some importance locally at one time because they were all that was available. They were mainly caught out east of Lowestoft, on the Knoll Flat, but they were never highly esteemed for flavour and quality. It is interesting to note that there was one late flourish of this voyage in 1936 or 37, when one or two of the Lowestoft drifters dropped on to some herring in the April. Several more joined in and for a week or two there was a good fishing. Many of the hands working for the German klondyke firms, who were then at Anstruther, were transferred to Lowestoft to handle the catches. Things were very slack on the Firth of Forth at the time and the Lowestoft shoals provided a useful fill-in.
I have given the piece that follows an identity of its own because it is drawn from the recollections of a man who worked Pakefield Beach in a "semi-professional" way for about 40 years (1930-70). The earliest herring caught appeared in February and March, small specimens but with roes inside them, and these were followed by the spring herring proper in later March and April. As with those mentioned in (o) above, they were also spent fish. In June and July midsummer herring would be caught, but never in such quantity as they had been before World War I. These fish were fulls and they were also very oily which meant that they fried very nicely in their own fat. Apparently, they were able to be caught at any time of the day or night, especially after a good downpour of rain or following a thunderstorm. The main longshore season, of course, was the autumn one, which began at the end of September/beginning of October and finished about the middle of November, and the method of fishing was always the same. A 17 foot beach boat shot about 12/13 nets, but it would not hang to them all the time. Instead, it would be rowed up and down the fleet of nets by one man, while the other one would pull the lint up and check it for fish. Any that were meshed would then be removed and put in the
bottom of the boat. In this way the nets never became overloaded. The herrings were caught at varying distances from land: anything from the actual breakers to about 400/500 yards out. If they were in the breakers, it was regarded as a bad sign, not only because of the difficulty of working nets in broken water, but also because the shoals seemed to diminish in quantity in the days following the phenomenon. The old belief was that if the herring were so close in, then they were kissing the beach to say goodbye. While they were there, though, they shoaled densely and nets might well go down with the weight soon after being shot. Further out from land, working the tides was the order of the day. There were various ways of doing it. One was to take the last of the flood up to Benacre Ness and come back down on the ebb, even running as far as the Claremont Pier. Or sometimes the boat was rowed up to Benacre against the ebb and then allowed to drift back to Pakefield after the nets had been shot. It all depended on what a particular man had in mind and what the fish were doing, though it was noticed that the herring generally swam further out from land on the ebb tide than they did on the flood. The best winds to catch them in were a southerly or a south-westerly, with a westerly not too bad in its effect. Easterlies were the worst as they made the fish "take off", while northerlies and north-westerlies created a heavy ground-swell (the so-called "logie swell") that created difficulties in handling boat and nets. Thick, oily water was usually regarded as the best sign of herring being about and the importance of the moon is also stressed. This has nothing to do with the theory of lunar periodicity; it is just the old belief that herring swim up well when the moon is shining brightly. Regarding the actual state of the sea itself, the remark is usually made that the best catches were taken when there was a bit of "chop" or turbulence on the water. A flat-calm is always said to have resulted in poor catches. Double-swims, apparently, were quite rare in longshore nets and seem to have occurred only when a boat drifted up on the flood an~ came back down on the ebb. Apart from this, the distribution of fish over the nets varied quite widely. Depending on whether the herring were swimming up or down, and when the nets themselves were shot, the fish could be evenly spread, in the top of the net, or in the bottom. One particularly good autumn season, post-war, came in 1957, when one Pakefield boat (the "Mollie") caught 32 crans of herring in eight days in mid-October. The biggest single shot was one of four crans, but it was also followed on the same night by two more of two crans each. And all this between 1730 h and 0630 h. On another occasion during the same season two crans were caught off Pakefield Church, right close in to the beach, in the first halfdozen nets.
q. Swimming times.
The normal statement from driftermen regarding the time that herring rose from the bottom is that they swam up "at the close" (i.e. at dusk), but a rising around midday was also noted . This "daytime swim", as it is sometimes called, is often talked about with reference to the autumn Home Fishing. Smiths Knoll gave good daylight catches in October and November, while one also hears accounts of boats only 10 to 15 miles out of Lowestoft and Yarmouth in the Cross Sand area seeing the buffs dip almost before the stem-end net had been short . When this happened, the water was invariably "milky", and it was occasions like these which enabled certain vessels to land twice in a day with shots of 100 crans or more . On the other hand, there were also times when skippers missed "shooting with the close", only to find that they became the benef iciaries of a large catch af ter midnight . One such instance occurred in 1947, when the drifter-trawler "Patrica" (LT 178) won the Prunier Trophy with a shot of 253 crans. The boat let go its nets after dark (about 2000 h) just below the Haisbro Lightship. The look-on at midnight indicated no herring, so the skipper let another four hours pass. At 0400 h the fish were there, thick and heavy. Another aspect of herring shoal behaviour commented upon is the swimming-up just after sunrise, which could be so potent as to make the buffs start up out of the water like "big balloons bein' blow up". And this was not just on the Home Fishing; it was noted all around the British coast. On the summer voyage to Shetland, the comment is always made as to how long it took for darkness to fall, and how the herring would not swim up until it had . Yet even so, there were as many daylight swims there as anywhere else !
r. Signs of herring.
There were a number of ways of detecting the prsence of herring shoals in the days before echometers, and even after science had given skippers the benefit of such devices they still continued to use the old indicators along with their new equipment. The presence of gulls and gannets was reckoned to be one good sign, especially if they were diving down onto the water (and into it), while round on the West Side, in addition to these birds, guillemots and razorbills also served to show the presence of herring. Then there were the various species of whale to inhabit our waters - these were always welcomed as a sign of success when spotted. And so were porpoises and dolphins. Apart from birds and mammals, the colour of the sea was very important, the best water being the "puddly" or "ginger-pop" kind, which was greyish-green in hue and full of little air-bubbles, as if on the boil. Another kind of "thick" water was milky white and oily in appearance, and again this was accepted as a sure sign of herring. Some old skippers actually used to draw a bucket of water from over the side of the boat, not only to have a close look at the colour, but to taste it as well. An added aid to good judgement at one time used to be to have the rudder and screw painted white, so as to be able to estimate the water's consitency against a pale background. One thing was certain to the drifterman in the matter of judging water and that was that clear ("sheer") water was no good whatsoever. One hears of occasions when a good-coloured water was very localised and small in area, resulting in a boat having one end, or even both ends, of its fleet of nets in clear water. There would not be any herring in these nets; they would all be in those suspended in the thick water. On the summer voyage to Shetland another colour in the sea was encountered - a pronounced reddish tinge ("like blood"), which presumably denoted concentrations of plankton and which, again, was judged to be propitious for the catching of herring. Further south, the fishing off North Shields/Whitby/Scarborough was notable at one time for the numbers of tunny that were seen, and presumably these fish were there to feed on herring. One of the Scarborough steam drifters, the "Silver Line" (SH 50), even used to charter out to angling parties, finding it a better economic proposition to do this than to go herring-catching. Perhaps the most frustrating sign of herring, as far as the fishermen were concerned, was a "flutter" on the surface of the water during the daylight hours. This denoted shoaling activity, but the fish seem to have gone straight down again because only very rarely were any caught. Finally, I feel obliged to say this: The only skipper's record book connected with herring fishing that I have ever seen often seemed to have been in contradiction of the generally accepted criteria for success in catching fish. The boat in question was the diesel drifter-trawler, "George Spashett" (LT 184), and the year was 1951. The period covered by the book went from 21 September to 31 October, with a total of 33 days being worked out of the 39. On only seven occasions was more than 20 crans caught, and on each of these the signs differed - with the exception of one thing, that is, because there were gulls or gannets present when these hauls were made. And significantly perhaps, in the case of the biggest catch by far (188 crans, taken mainly from 35 nets out of a fleet of 87), the water was also very oily in texture.
s. Effect of the wind.
South-westerlies were generally reckoned to be the best breezes for catching herring, especially at around force four, five or six. This seems to have been the case all round the British Isles, and westerlies were not far behind in their beneficial effect. Northerlies and north-westerlies were disliked because of the ground swell they produced, especially in deepish water, but good catches were sometimes made after there had been a strong north-westerly blow and the weather then fined down. In fact, it is often said that when the wind dropped from a stiffish six or seven down to a two or three, there were always good catches made. "They used to swim up then and stick their snouts in" is one way I have heard the herrings' behaviour described. Easterlies were no good to anyone, though, because they made the fish "take off" yet there again, many of the Lowestoft and Yarmouth men were quite happy to steam over to the Brown Ridges and the Broad Fourteens in an easterly and catch herrings there. And good catches often seem to have been made after a strong north-easterly blow, all over the North Sea. It is so difficult to make any firm pronouncement about wind direction because there seem to be so many exceptions to any one "rule" that one begins to doubt if any rules actually exist! For instance, it is often said about the Shetland voyage that a force five or six was just the thing on the Fair Isle~grounds, while off Bressay Island much less wind was desirable.
t. Effect of tides.
A tendency was noticed on the Home Fishing for herring to swim up on high water, particularly the highwater slack, and this was parallelled by another rise sometimes on the low-water slack. The daytime swims that occurred from time to time are put down to this tidal effect, especially in the Smiths Knoll area, and some boats would shoot their nets specifically to catch these slack tides. If possible, skippers used to like to shoot along the tide if they could, on a south-east/north-west alignment, because they believed that this brought the best results. If this was not possible, then a south/north or a south-east/northwest lay would do. Double swims seem to have been got when a boat had drifted on a tide in one direction and then came up again to its original berth when the tide turned. This phenomenon was not common, but when it did happen the fishermen looked upon it as a great nuisance because the herring were meshed on both sides of the net and took a lot of scudding out. In calm weather drift nets often lay zig-zag in the sea, even with fish in them, which may have been due to insufficient movement in the water to keep the fleet stretched out ahead of the boat and also to cause the boat itself to pitch and roll, which exerted a considerable pull on the nets. This lack of "way" is usually put down either to "dead tides" or no wind (or both), but another contributory factor may have been the shoaling behaviour of the fish and their distribution as they swam into the nets. Whatever the cause, it was noted as a regular occurrence in the Winterton Ridge/Smith's Knoll area in fine weather in the autumn. However, it did occur in other locations as well. Usually, the zig-zags were composed of half-a-dozen nets or more on each "leg" and the angles could at times be quite sharp. Finally, I have heard it put forward as an honest opinion that the most drastic tidal effect of all came in February 1953, when the great surge inundated the East Coast. This, it is claimed, together with the fierce gales that blew, stirred up the sea bed so drastically as to destroy not only spawning grounds but the equilibrium of nature herself almost!.
u. Influence of the moon.
As in section (p) above, concerned with longshoring, the remarks made here have nothing at all to do with lunar periodicity. They are simply the oft-stated beliefs of the East Coast fishermen regarding the effect of the moon on herring. It is always said that the greatest catches of fish on the Home Fishing were made around the time of the October and November full moons, and one reason given for this is that the full moon caused stronger tides and therefore more pronounced swimming-up from the shoals. Another thing that one hears about this "lunar pull" is that herrings swam up higher on the full, which brought about the practice of shortening up the buff-strops at this time of the month.
v. The effect of noise.
There was a belief current among driftermen at one time that making a lot of noise on board ship after the nets had been shot would cause the herring to rise. This seems to have been borrowed from the Yorkshire coblemen, and some of the Lowestoft and Yarmouth skippers adopted the method while engaged on the Whitby/ Scarborough summer fishing. They would have the boat free of her nets and steaming up and down them, with all the crew members on deck, rattling and banging pots and pans, shouting, clanking chains etc. The best known boat to work this stunt was the first "Dick Whittington" (LT 61) and it was known as "running herring" or "banging for herring". Strangely enough, though, it does not seem to have been tried on any of the other voyages. Or if it was, I have not come across it.
w. Fresh water.
One hears the opinion expressed from time to time that herring have a liking for fresh water. This is given as one reason for the good hauls made in the Scottish lochs by both local crofters and by steam drifters, on such occasions as the latter went loch fishing. Then there are the comments made about the Essex herring of west Mersea, which again are something of a "freshwater species", but which are not rated very highly for quality and flavour among the men of Lowestoft and Yarmouth. "Mud herring" is the contemptuous term by which one usually hears them referred to. Regarding the deeper water shoals, it is often said that on the Shetlands and North Shields voyages, as well as round on the West Side, a sudden shower of rain (especially if a bit thundery) would bring herring to the top during the daylight hours.
x. Herring in trawls.
Most of the positive references I have come across concerning any quantity of herring in otter trawls are directly connected with known spawning grounds. Maisy herring were often brought up in the summer off the east coast of the Isle of Man, on the Dowsing Ground in the late summer/early autumn, and down in the Straits of Dover during December and January. Apart from these three, there is also the reference to trawled herring in (e) above.
4. Mackerel (Gayback).
During the second half of the 19 century and the early part of the 20, this fish was of great importance in the respective economies of Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and it is worth remembering that for many years after its completion in 1883 the Waveney Dock was always referred to as the "Mackerel Market". However, although there was money to be made from catching the species, mackerel were never highly regarded by East Anglian fishermen. They were believed to be a "dirty" fish, quite capable of poisoning the blood in the summer months, or at least of upsetting the digestion, and the great bulk of the catches landed were sent by rail either to London or the Midlands. Apart from its undesirability as a food fish (in local opinion, anyway), the mackerel probably also suffered from comparison with the herring, which was of course very much "King" along the East Coast.
a. North Shields/Whitby/Scarborough.
Some good catches of mackerel were taken in the summer months by drifters fishing the North Sea grounds off the Northumbrian and Yorkshire coasts. The boats were there for herring, of course, but those which were working south on the way home from Shetland, and had not changed their Scotch voyage nets for smaller-meshed ones, used to drop onto some notable shows of mackerel. This would be any time from the end of July until about the third week in August, and the shoals were often close in to land. Just how close was brought home to me in the course of a conversation I had with a colleague not all that long ago regarding the seaside village of Sandsend, just out of Whitby. The lady in question was born and brought up in Middlesborough and, during the 1960s, she often used to go down to Sandsend with her parents and brother for a day out. While they were down there, part of the afternoon fun used to be catching mackerel by hand, and in small shrimp nets, right in the shallows. They always used to go home with enough for a good fry-up, apparently, and so did many of the other families disporting themselves in the best tradition of the English at play!
b. Local spring voyage.
Before the First World War the month of May used to see a considerable mackerel voyage out in the North Sea off Lowestoft and Yarmouth. A particular spot was about 17 to 18 miles east-south-east of Lowestoft, and the fish seemed to run in a "belt" from there all the way down to the Gabbards. There were also good quantities caught further out on the East Deep Water and across on the Ijmuiden Ground as well. The fish taken were of good size, if a bit long and thin, and the way to catch them (on the Knoll Flat, anyway) was to shoot the nets, drive up with the flood towards the Gabbards, haul, and then come back down again on the ebb. Some good shots were had this way, even well into the 1930s. The Hinder (especially inside the North Hinder) was another area for them and there were a number of boats that worked there right up until World War II, most of them getting in a week or two's fishing after they had returned from the main voyage to Newlyn. Finally, spring mackerel were also to be had on the Cross Sand/Hearty Knoll/Winterton Ridge shoals, though the number of cargo boats passing up and down in this part of the North Sea proved to be quite a nuisance.
c. Local autumn voyage.
This was the more important of the two East Anglian mackerel seasons and one which, in its day, saw special fish trains leave Lowestoft every afternoon for London and the Midlands. October was the month for the fishing and the chief ground for the boats to work was The Wold, off Cromer. Hauls were large and numerous casual workers were set on to help the crews pick the mackerel from the nets (in the event of a good shot, the fish were left in the meshes until the boat reached harbour). The fish varied in size, but the true "Wolder" (caught between the shore and the Haisbro Sand) was reckoned to be a medium length fish, 10 to 12 inches or so, and very plump. The shoals obviously used to be a bit further out than this as well, because mixed shots of herring and mackerel were often taken on Smiths Knoll in the month of October. As they were medium-sized fish that became enmeshed in the herring lints, they might well have been the "Wolders" referred to just above. Another mackerel/herring "mix" used to be encounted on the Sandettie Ground in December, and also a bit further off at Cape Gris Nez, but it is the East Anglian coast that provides most of the references. As well as the accidental hauls, large well-fleshed mackerel were also caught in numbers off the north-east coast of Norfolk in the days before World War I, and it is these that one sees hanging from the meshes of drift nets in Harry Jenkins's photographs of that era. There were also hauls made in the Cross Sand area, and there was a minor craze during the 1930s among longshoremen who had engines in their boats for going after mackerel in this vicinity. Generally speaking, it seems that mackerel have/had a fairly wide distribution over the North Sea between the East Anglian coast and Holland, because a friend of mine who sails regularly from Southwold to The Hague and Ijmuiden (and who has done so for a number of years) catches small and medium-sized fish (thinnish ones) on a paravane device that he works from his cruiser. This is usaully during the summer months. A longshore fishermen has told me, too, that there are considerable concentrations of mackerel in July, just off Lowestoft's south-east buoy, and that before the Second World War anglers used rod, line and feather had some measure of success in catching them. He never bothered with them himself, his only experience of mackerel being the small "Cocks" that found their way into his herring nets off Pakefield beach in the autumn.
The main mackerel season for East Anglian boats throughout the first half of the 20 century was the annual voyage round to Newlyn. This had begun as early as the 1860s, grew steadily in importance as the century drew to a close (culminating in the famous Newlyn Riots of 1896) and became part of our local folklore and heritage. The boats used to leave Lowestoft and Yarmouth in February and stay round on the West Side until the beginning of May, when they would return home to re-gear for the summer herring voyage to Shetland. Among the favourite grounds fished were those off the Bishop Rock, the Seven Stones Light Vessel and the Longships and Wolf Rocks, for there the mackerel were both large and prolific in number. Anything up to 240 nets might be shot, with perhaps a quarter-fleet of the old rough nets at the pole-end and Scotch nets the rest of the way. Some of the drifters also ventured up into the Bristol Channel, north of Ilfracombe and Minehead, but the fish were not nearly so good as those at the Scillies, being much thinner. The Wolf mackerel seem to be the ones reckoned best, with not only plenty of meat on them but with a good oil content as well, which meant that they fried very nicely without a lot of fat being put in the pan. Another comment one hears made about the Cornish mackerel is how clean their gills were out in the deep water as compared with those taken on handlines in the various harbours. One of my informants, who was stationed at Fowey in the patrol service during World War II, recalled the water being "alive" with mackerel - a natural prey and windfall for the local boys, who sought them with rag, feather and silver paper lures. But he also commented on how "mucky" the gills were. e. Southern and south-east Ireland. While fishing primarily for herring, a number of the East Anglian driters and drifter-trawlers also used to go fishing for mackerel off Dunmore in the1920s, 30s and 40s, landing their catches in at Kinsale, Cork and Waterford, or running them across to Milford Haven. This voyage would begin in December and run through until about the end of February/beginning of March. The mackerel caught were large and full, but towards the end of the period the fish were full of "red Bait" (the copepods on which they fed) and this tended to infect the hands of the fishermen. The usual grounds fished were off the Fastnet Rock, off the Head of Kinsale, off the Conningbeg Light Vessel and off the Tuskar Rock. The Fastnet mackerel particularly were very big, often dropping out of the meshes (26 to 27 rows per yard), and they were also sought by the boats based at Newlyn, which used to venture up to the Rock towards the end of their spring voyage. The fish by this time were quite close to land and, in the parlance of the fishermen, "as thick as your arm, damn near". Those vessels working Dunmore primarily for herring used to carry somewhere between 40 and 50 rough nets or Scotch mackerel nets, and they would work these as time and opportunity afforded.
f. Welsh coast.
It was noticed by the crews of driftertrawlers working out of Milford Haven in the 1920s and 30s that a lot of mackerel was caught in Cardigan Bay during the summer months. This was rod and line fishing, done by local people and employing feathered hooks, and it was most prevalent off Fishguard and in the Strumble Head/Dinas Head area. Before the Second World War there were a number of smokehouses in Milford Haven curing the local mackerel and also those brought across from the Irish side. Two or three Lowestoft curers used to rent premises there and several women used to travel down from East Anglia after Christmas to split the fish. The fish-houses were intended primarily for kippering herring, but there were also enough mackerel landed to make their smoking a commercial proposition as well.
g. Isle of Man.
Some mackerel were taken in drift nets in Manx waters during the summer months, but they were incidental to herring, which were the main quarry. The herring nets used on this voyage were usually 34 to 35 rows per yard, so the mackerel caught were only modest-sized ones. However, the quality was reckoned to be good and one place where they were regularly encountered was off Peel, about six miles out from land. They were also to be seen quite clearly in Peel harbour, swimming around in numbers. One or two of the East Anglian boats that worked the Isle of Man regularly would also carry a small fleet of mackerel nets in addition to their herring lints, so they could fish for mackerel as a main item (and catch the larger ones as well) when the opportunity arose. Mixed shots of herring and mackerel were something of a mixed blessing, of course, with the latter not easily removed from the nets.
h. The Hebrides.
Mixed shots of herring and mackerel were often taken in the Northern Minch on both the summer and winter fishing voyages made there by the Lowestoft and Yarmouth drifters. This was a great nuisance as far as the fishermen were concerned because the mackerel could not be shaken from the nets, and both they and the herring had to be left in the meshes until the boat reached port. Light shots could be handled at sea, but not the heavier swims, and this meant that valuable time was lost picking the fish out in harbour. And what made it worse at one time was that mackerel were not a very saleable commodity on the west coast of Scotland. The waters off Stornoway were very likely to give mixed shots, and so were the grounds further south off Castlebay and Barra Head - though, there again, it sometimes happened at Shetland as well.
i. Swimming times.
The usual comment made by fishermen is that mackerel had no specific swimming time, like herring, but were caught at all times of the day and night. Tribute is also paid to the speed at which the fish swam. One old fisherman's joke has it that there is only one fish faster than a mackerel - a kipper, because it is flat out! I have also heard this said: "That dint matter where you were or what time it was, there'd allus be mackerel swimmin'." Admittedly, this is a comment about western waters rather than the North Sea; but one reason for that could be that the bulk of the fishing effort for mackerel, within living memory, was concentrated round there. With there being no set pattern of shoaling activity, it is perhaps surprising to find that many skippers shot their nets for mackerel "at the close", just as they did for herring. Perhaps this was a hang-over from herring fishing, or perhaps it was a favoured time for catching the "gaybacks". I have tried to pin down a clear-cut explanation, but have not really come up with anything conclusive. One thing that is commented on, though, regarding the behaviour of mackerel round on the West Side is that their active and obvious swimming around near the surface of the water was less noticeable in the winter months than it was during the spring, summer and autumn.
j. Signs of mackerel.
The classic sign by which to detect the presence of mackerel in the North Sea is always said to be the brownish-coloured water, which indicates concentrations of the pytoplankton, Phoecystis. The fishermen refer to this either as "tobaccer juice" or, more commonly, by the term "hoss-pissy water". It was regarded as a sure sign of mackerel anywhere north-east, east, or south-east of Lowestoft, at any distance out from land, but it was most unpropitious for herring. One also hears of its strong smell referred to and its slimy consistency on the nets, when they were hauled (they used to dry white in colour, those left exposed to the air and sun). Round on the Westward Voyage, this kind of water was seen a great deal less, but there were other signs that the fishermen used to go by, some of which applied in the North Sea as well. The one talked about most consistently is what is called "schooling". There would be an obvious "flutter" on the water's surface, which was both visible and audible, and which apparently gave a fairly accurate picture of how big the shoal was. However, and this was the irony of such a show, the boats never seemed to catch many fish when this phenomenon was seen. They were reckoned to be "too near the top", but such activity did at least give hope that a reasonable haul might be taken in that particular part of the sea. Another theory I have heard put forward about this feature (which was described by the man in question as being "like a breeze catchin' the top o' the water") is that it was swimming activity prior to the fish making their way down to a lower level. Various seabirds are also said to have acted as indicators of mackerel shoals, gulls, gannets and guillemots being the usual ones mentioned - though what kind(s) of gull has never been specified (black-backeds, I suspect, or herring gulls) and I do not have the specialist ornithological knowledge to be certain whether guillemots would be attracted by mackerel swimming near the surface. One specific West Side feature often commented on is the amount of phosphorescence the mackerel gave off at night, as they swam about near the top - "You'd see 'em shootin' about all over the place" is a remark frequently made. Another one is the presence of "beads" on the surface of the water, these being concentrations of small oil globules.
k. Effect of the wind.
The men that went mackerel-catching, both round to Cornwall and out in the North Sea, maintain that the best catches were usually made when there was "a bit of a breeze", or when the weather had fined down after a storm. There is general agreement that a fine, calm spell resulted in low hauls. This apparent "liking" for a bit of turbulence in air and water is reflected in an old, traditional fisherman's rhyme, which goes as follows: "The herring loves the merry moonlight/And the mackerel likes the wind".
i. Presence in trawls and seines.
Among the references I have come across regarding mackerel being brought up in trawls, the following are the most positive ones: inside Smith's Knoll during the summer months (June, July and August); on the Dowsing Ground at the same time, working south-north from the lightship; and on the South Rough of the Dogger Bank (summer again). Whether the fish were brought up from the bottom, or whether they were caught as the trawl was being hauled up through the water, has never been made clear because my informants are not sure themselves. An interesting gloss on the mackerel caught in trawls on the South Rough is that if the drifter, "Silver Line" (referred to in 3r above), happened to be in that vicinity, it would stop and purchase a quantity of the fish as bait for its charter anglers on board. On one notable occasion during the 1930s it not only bought some mackerel from the steam trawler "Fidelia" (LT 187), but some small codling as well. A wellknown sporting lady among the angling party went on to catch a record-breaking tunny on codling bait. Regarding West Side fishing, some of the spring and summer grounds in the Irish Sea and St George's Channel saw mackerel brought up in trawls, but again it is not clear at which depth they were caught. The Lucifer area was especially prolific during evening and night-time tows in June, July and August, and the fish were large ones with roes in them. Mackerel were also found in seine nets during the spring and summer months down on the Dogger Bank, the particular areas where this occurred being those grounds referred to in 15c above.
Sometimes as the boats lay to their nets at night, either out in the North Sea or in western waters, mackerel could be seen swimming around and underneath the hull. A light shone down into the water seemed to attract them greatly and the crew members on watch sometimes diverted themselves by dropping a "ripper" down among the fish and yanking it back up straight away, thereby foul-hooking the fish. No bait was used, but a considerable number could be caught by anyone who was deft enough to handle the tackle efficiently.
5. Pilchard (Pilcher).
This fish was mainly encountered by the East Anglian boats on their voyages round to Newlyn for the mackerel season, but catches were also taken sometimes in the North Sea. A ransacker told me that a diesel drifter-trawler ("Norfolk Yeoman", LT 137) belonging to his company once netted a large haul of pilchards out on Smith's Knoll, early in the Home Fishing, some time during the late 1950s. Apparently, that particular fleet of nets lasted longer than any other set he had known, which he put down to the preservative quality of the pilchard oil. In fact, he said that this could be smelt every time the nets were tanned. Mixed shots of herring and pilchards seem to have been quite common over the whole of the southern North Sea, but they were a considerable nuisance to the fishermen because the pilchards could not easily be scudded from the nets and had to be picked out by hand. The greatest concentration of pilchards seems to have been down in the Dover Strait, because they were often caught on the Sandettie Ground and off Cape Gris Nez at the tail end of the main herring season. In fact, the Cape Gris Nez fishing was an extension really of the Home Voyage, lasting for about three weeks after Christmas. Pilchards and herrings were also taken together off Newhaven, Beachy Head and Dungeness during the same period. On the actual mackerel voyage to Newlyn, mixed shots of mackerel and pilchards were often had again, much to the annoyance of the fishermen, because the picking out was very hard on the hands. This was due to the spines on the front dorsal fin of the mackerel pricking hard and often as the pilchards were removed from the meshes. Apart from these mixed swims, which were encountered by the drifters on their traditional grounds off the Bishop, the Seven Stones, the Longships and the Wolf, crew members also comment on similar hauls made in Mounts Bay by the Penzance and Newlyn fishermen in their own boats. Wherever they were taken, though, the hardness of the pilchards' gills is always commented on, because it constituted an extra dimension in work that was already physically demanding. Great care had to be taken in extricating the fish from the meshes because if they were merely yanked out of the cotton strands would break, leaving a spoiled net full of "spronks" and "crow's feet". Oily or "milky"
water is said to have been a sign of pilchard shoals in either the North Sea or western waters, while the Cornish environment also showed a pronounced phosphorescence at night - a feature that was much used by the Penzance and Newlyn men at one time in their hunt for the fish. From the Middle Ages, right through until the latter end of the 19 century, pilchard shoals off the Cornish coast were spotted during the hours of darkness by lookouts posted on the clifftops (they also functioned by day as well, when bird activity and turbulence on the water's surface revealed quantities of the fish). At a given signal from these strategically positioned people, the small-boat seiners would rush into action, with the great traditional cry - "May the streets run blood and the cellars run train oil!". And that should really be that, a high note on which to end. As it is, anti-climax has to have the last word about the pilchard, because it was encountered by East Anglian longshoremen in their herring nets (though never in large numbers) during late September and early October.
6. Scad (Horse mackerel, horse marine).
This creature was greatly detested by fishermen because it was very difficult to pick from drift net meshes and because its gill covers and dorsal fin pricked the fingers, often causing infection. "Punctured hands" were a frequent cause of people being laid off work, which was no joke to a share fisherman in the 1920s and 30s. Moreover, once extricated from the nets, scads had little or no economic value - except as bait, for which purpose they were usually sold. Round on the westward mackerel voyage, they were often bought by French crabbers and liners, and there were occasions when the driftermen let their continental colleagues have them for nothing - provided the latter picked them out of the meshes! Cleaning scads from drift nets was nearly always done in port. Among the mixed shots one hears of are (i) herring and scads, (ii) mackerel and scads, in the North Sea; (i) pilchards and scads, (ii) mackerel and scads, (iii) herring and scads, in Cornish waters and the Irish Sea. Sometimes they were caught shoaling on their own, but wherever they were present a pronounced whitish tinge in the water was always noticed. Their presence near the surface could also be detected by a visible stir on the water and it was possible to near a fluttering noise as they swam - "Somethin' like a motor," I have heard it described as. Large numbers of scads were caught off Cape Gris Nez and Calais in December and January, and both French and Dutch boats went there specifically to catch them for pickling in brine. As with both mackerel and pilchards, scads seem to have given off a fair degree of phosphorescence at night in western waters, and it was possible to distinguish them from the other two species. Pilchards formed a much larger and denser mass of "fire", while mackerel swam about much more rapidly than scads did. The scad never caused as much trouble for the East Anglian longshoreman as it did for his deepsea counterpart, though they did often find their way into longshore herring nets during the autumn season and also into drawnets during the summer months, when the fishermen were after sea trout.
7. Allis shad (Srad, King Herring).
This fish was occasionally taken in drift nets on the Home Fishing. Its superior size and deep blue back led to the belief that it was the shoal leader or "King Herring". When discovered enmeshed, it was always picked out and thrown back into the sea, so that it might live to lead future shoals into the nets. It was also caught alongshore as well, but not in drift nets. Those shad that turned up close in (off Lowestoft, Pakefield and Kessingland, at any rate) were invariably taken in draw nets at night during the summer period, when sea trout were the object of the fishermen's attention.
8. Smelt (Cucumber smelt).
This species was once widely fished for with draw nets in estuaries and creeks along the whole East Anglian coastal strip, a practice that was well-established during the mediaeval period and which hung on until the early years of the 20 century. The season was a spring one and there was a particularly productive fishing during the 17, 18 and 19 centuries along the River Blyth at Southwold. Large numbers of smelts were also caught during the summer months on hook and line (they still are) in all parts of the inner and outer harbour at Lowestoft. There was quite a sale for them between the wars among the country hawkers and inland fishmongers, and even the market hands (as well as the inevitable boys!) used to go for them with all sorts of offal bait. Smelts were also found in longshore shrimp trawls during the summer period and in drift nets during the early autumn.
The main economic importance of the sprat along the East Anglian coast was to the longshoremen, primarily as a catch for sale in the months of November and December, but also to a lesser degree as longline bait for cod and whiting. The fish shoaled very densely close to land during the autumn and winter, and those photographs one sees of steam drifters running into and out of Lowestoft, with large numbers of gulls following, owe their naturalistic appeal partly to sprats. What happened was that a boat's screw would turn the fish out of the water, more or less serving them up on a plate for the waiting birds. A small number of sprats used to be found in drift nets, too, on the Home Fishing, especially if the boats were working the Lowestoft Flats, not far out east of the town. They would usually be gilled right at the very top of the net, below the cork-line, in the half-meshes where the oddie was marled to the sidecords. The longshoring season for sprats began early in November and went through to about Christmas. Sometimes it lasted well into the New Year, and sprats might be caught as late as March (the so-called "Yowlers") and the mix never commanded much of a price. The best weather for sprats was reckoned to be the mild, muggy sort that sometimes occurs in winter, with a gentle southwesterly or southerly breeze blowing. The Pakefield men always shot their nets on the ebb tide when working inside, taking the last of the flood up to Kessingland and then coming back down on the first of the ebb, or rowing up against the first of the ebb and coming back down on the second half of the tide. It is always said that sprats were only caught on the ebb tide inside the buoys, and only on the flood outside them. One man put it this way: "That seem as if they went up on the flood t' Sowle (Southwold) and then come back down on the ebb." There was a preference for shooting nets at dawn, but this was subordinate to the dictates of the tides and the times when they were running. Two definite signs of sprats were gulls swooping down and an oily ("milky") quality in the water, not unlike that which was taken to indicate the presence of herring. While the nets were in the water, the boats used to under-run in the manner described in section (p) on herring, but there was one major difference - the sprats were never picked from the meshes. They were always left in and scudded out onto a tarpauline spread on the beach, when the boat landed. Sometimes, when a good swim of sprats hit the nets (the usual number worked was about 12 or 13), the lints hanging where the shoal was densest might have their entire spread brought up onto the surface. When this occurred, all that could be seen, in fishermen's parlance, was "loads of little ow green snouts stickin' up out o' the water". What had to be done then, and quickly, was for extra buoyancy floats (tin gallon cans were a great favourite) to be secured to the headline before the fish swam down and took the nets with them, or before their dead weight had the same effect. At one time sprat shoals were obviously clearly visible from the land, because from the Middle Ages through to about the second quarter of the 19 century there was a system of wooden lookout platforms along the cliffs and beaches of East Anglia from which (among other things) the fish were spotted. Herring were sighted in exactly the same way and the word passed quickly to the fishermen waiting near their boats. As well as drift nets, another device was worked off Pakefield Beach (and probably in other places as well) prior to 1900, in order to catch sprats. This was a kind of filter net, not unlike a small stow net to look at (though it was not worked underneath a boat), and it is usually referred to as a "set net". It was a tapering bag fixed to a wooden frame, the latter having a small anchor on each of its lower corners and a float on each of the upper ones (there was also a float on the cod end). It could be worked at various depth, according to liking, and the strong tide that runs along Pakefield beach was good enough to keep the sprats down in the cod end. Again, it was the ebb tide (north-flowing that was mainly worked and the operator had to be sure to haul his gear before the tide turned to the flood. On a general note now, it is worth noting that although sprats came close in to land, they were never drift-netted in the actual breakers in the way that herring sometimes were. Finally, it seems generally agreed that sprats were much more plentiful in the pre-war period than they have been since 1946.
10. Trout (Sea trout).
These were fished for off local beaches with draw-nets, the season lasting from May right through to September. The nets were always worked down-tide and were shot from a boat that was rowed out in a semi-circle from the beach and back in again. Shooting used to take about half-an-hour and hauling-in about 20 minutes; then there would be a further period of time sorting out the net prior to the next shoot. This kind of fishing was done at night and it required reasonably fine weather. On a good night, in three or four tries, as many as 40 trout might be taken, weighing anything between a pound and a half and about seven pounds. The latter size was an exception, however, rather than the rule, and the fish were usually in the lower weight range. Sea trout were also sometimes taken in longshore herring nets during the autumn period. The great impediment nowadays to draw-netting along many of our beaches is, according to one man I know, the sheer number of paternoster leads and traces lost by beach anglers, which lie on the bottom and foul the foot of the net as it passes along.
1. Crab. Crabs were trawled up a good deal all round the British Isles, particularly off rocky coastlines and where the bottom was rough. They were always allowed to crew members as a perk, being counted as part of their stocker bait. Sometimes, in the event of a boat coming in with a large number, the crabs were sold off and counted in as part of the trip. Such occasions are always quoted as first-hand evidence of how tight-fisted boatowners were in the old days. Round on the West Side, an especially good crab ground was to be found off the coast of Eire, close in to land, between the Saltees and Keragh Island, in Ballyteige Bay. Some of the driftertrawlers used to go there specifically for a haul or two of crabs for "stockie" though their forays were of course highly illegal. Within the East Anglian area worked by near-water boats, such as the motor-smacks and smaller drifter-trawlers, some good hauls of crabs used to be made off Southwold, just outside the limitline. The Lowestoft and Pakefield longshoremen never bothered a great deal with crab-pots, though a number of them were dropped off the' north and south beaches at varying distances from land and with varying degrees of success. One reasonably productive place between the wars was the collection of debris off Pakefield beach known as "Hubbard's Rocks". This was mainly brick and concrete rubble from the drastic sea erosion of the early l900s, together with an accretion of material from the 1920s. One local man has told me that most of this reef is now sanded over, a process that has been going on since the big tide of 1944 scoured much of the upper beach levels away. The drift of sand alongshore is the main reason why he himself never bothered with pots; he said that they tended to fill up with sand very quickly. A good number of crabs, however, were taken along Pakefield beach in the summer months in longshore beam trawls.
2. Crawfish (Crayfish).
All the references I have regarding this creature are connected with West Side fishing. Numbers of them were taken on the Padstow sole grounds in the spring months, and they were also encountered off the Longships, Round Island and Tresco. They were much prized among crew members for the succulence of their flesh and they constituted a very desirable stocker bait item. Another place where good quantities were to be had was on the sole grounds off Lundy Island, and the Welsh bays were also productive especially Cardigan. The crawfish here were taken fairly close in right round the whole sweep of the coastline, and they provided those fishermen on trawlers and drifter-trawler at Milford Haven during World War II with a handy source of extra income. This consisted of goods in kind (tobacco and spirits), which the naval personnel at Milford gave to the fishermen in return for the crawfish and lobsters they had trawled up.
3. Dublin Bay prawn (Scampi).
These were trawled up on the fishing grounds off south-east Ireland, especially in the Conningbeg/ Barrels/Tuskar area, wherever the bottom was muddy or soft. Good quantities were also had off Bailey (hence the creature's name, presumably), off Lambay Island, off the Mourne coast and off the Isle of Man. Again, the bottom-types were soft. Peel was the most favoured place in the Isle of Man; there used to be large concentrations of scampi during the summer months off this port and the Fleetwood near-water and mid-water boats went there for them regularly. The man who told me this, a successful skipper in the Lancashire port for over 30 years, also said that in the last few years before he retired (the early/middle 1960s) there were not very many to be had. His opinion was that they had been fished out.
The first reference concerning this desirable bottomcrawler is a dubious one, because it reflects a bit of sharppractice on the part of the people involved. Some of the driftertrawlers, when working the Leman and Ower banks in the summer months, would steam to the Sheringham Bank at the end of the trip and have what was called "a haul for mother". The quarry was lobsters and if someone's pots came up in the trawl, then anything they contained was emptied out and thrown in with the rest. The other grounds in the North Sea where lobsters of good size were trawled up, and in good numbers, were the Gabbards and the Shipwash. Again, this was during the summer and the numbers might well run into several basketsful at the end of the trip. Lobsters were also caught in longshore beam trawls during the summer right the way along the whole of the Suffolk coastline, whether it was shrimps being sought, or flatfish. By far the most talked of ground on the West Side of the United Kingdom where lobsters are concerned is Cardigan Bay. Caernarvon Bay yielded them as well and there were good specimens taken in even the Mersey estuary at one time.
Although this was found in trawls over much of the North Sea, the only place that I have ever heard mentioned as being at all prolific is the Dogger Bank. And even then, only in particular locations. The Great Silver Pit and the Botney Gut are the two main ones talked of, with the Hospital and Botney grounds also affording a certain amount. Round on the West Side, prawns were trawled up "all over", to use the fishermen's phrase, the Isle of Man grounds and the northern Minch being especially productive.
There are customarily two lines of demarcation given regarding where pink shrimps end and brown shrimps begin, and both are pretty vague. One hears either Corton or Hopton mentioned and there the matter is left. However, two well informed ex-fishermen, both of whom know the local coastline extremely well, are bold enough to pin it down to the sewer outfall on the bottom of Baker's Score, Corton, though whether they intend their fixing to be taken to the last inch must remain conjectural. A further comment about the two varieties that I have heard made in the last year is that the pink shrimps off Yarmouth are now further out, in deeper water, and have been replaced close in by the brown ones. Whatever the type, though, shrimps were once an important summer catch for the longshoreman - especially for sale among the holidaymakers - though it was usually the inevitable middle-man or retailer who made the money. Nowadays, they are not nearly so important a summer catch as formerly, but have assumed a growing significance in recent years as a winter bait for longlines (largely owing to the sharply increasing price of lugworm). In certain places along the Norfolk coast, especially in the Bacton/Mundesley area, they are caught during the spring and summer months very close in to land. The fishermen work individually at low water, dragging a small beam trawl by hand just a few yards out from the beach. The towing distance is usually 400 yards or so and the length of the beam about 8 to 10 feet.
The men who worked on the drifters longlining from Milford Haven refer to "woodlouse things what ate the fish". Specifically, this would seem to refer to one of the genus Cirolana. They are said to have been prevalent on the fishing grounds of the southern Irish Sea and down on the Melville Knoll. Whiting and ling were the two species most susceptible to their ravages, with "nothing but the head, the backbone and the skin left" when the fish were unhooked. Presumably such specimens were already sick or damaged when the scavengers struck. Or perhaps the fact of their being caught on longlines gave the latter their chance to attack.
There is not a great deal to say about this creature as it was not very highly rated as bait by local longliners, owing to the fact that it did not stay on the hooks very well. If it was used, it was very much as a last resort because nothing better could be got. Probably the most important comment about the mussel that has come my way from fishermen is that large ones used to be trawled up in quantity off Anglesey, about ten miles out from the Skerries Light in both north-westerly directions. In fact, a "belt" of mussels is said to have run from Point Lynus to the Skerries, and it was on this that cod and roker got much of their feed in the winter and spring.
This shellfish does not figure very much in fishermen's conversation, but some of the smacks and steam trawlers working off the Dutch coast, near Terschelling Island, used to bring up smallish quanities of them. So they did on the Borkum Ground and, inevitably I suppose, on the Oyster Ground itself.
3. Razor shell.
A lot of these (both Ensis siliqua and Solen marginatus were trawled up in Cardigan Bay when the boats were there after plaice and roker. A fairly general distribution seems to have been the rule, in water 20 fathoms and shallower, and the shells were sometimes empty, sometimes "occupied". Caernarvon Bay had a similar spread of the creatures.
Rather more scallops (both the Great Scallop and the Queen) seem to have been trawled up round on the West Side grounds than were taken in the North Sea. During the 1920s and 30s they were the perquisite of skippers, which proved a nice little sideline because Cardigan, Caernarvon and Morecambe bays were full of them. One good location was near the King William Buoy, but the best ground of all was reckoned to be west by south from Fleetwood, between the Skerries and the Calf of Chicken Rock. Trawls were quite likely to split wide open with the sheer weight (especially of queens) and only short tows were needed to fill up a cod end. Both varieties were met with incidentally, of course, but there were also occasions when they were deliberately shot for in order to make a bit of "pocket money" for the skipper - which, if he were generous, he would share with the crew. The great scallops were known as "Tanner Organs", but they were not as highly esteemed as the smaller queens. Morecambe Bay particularly was very rich in queens at one time, but it eventually became fished out by French and Belgian boats that went there specificially to trawl for shellfish. Great scallops were plentiful off the Isle of Man, especially on the grounds off Maughold Head and Douglas Head, while the place for queens in the Irish Sea was the deepish water to the south of the Kish Bank. Finally, both varieties of scallop were trawled up in the Conningbeg/Saltees vicinity, especially inside the limit-line.
This creature figures largely in local conversation as the favourite bait used by the drifters which went on winter longlining voyages. The Longshoremen did not use it to anything like the same extent, largely because it had to be "imported" from the Wash or the North Norfolk coast and therefore cost a fair bit of money. Furthermore, cheaper and more readily available alternatives were always to hand. As far as the deep sea fishermen were concerned, the whelk had two great advantages to commend it as a bait: the North Sea cod fed upon it readily and it also stayed on the hooks well, even in rough weather. Near to home, there were at one time fair numbers of whelk on the Corton Sand, though whether or not they are still there seems open to debate.
These were caught in both trawls and drift nets all the year round, with the greatest discomfort and nuisance being caused to herring fishermen in the summer and autumn months. It is difficult to be definite regarding what varieties of jellyfish are being talked about by fishermen, but apart from the common one it is likely that they also encountered Chrysaora hysoscella, Cyanea lamarckii, Cynanea capillata and Rhizostoma pulmo at different times and in various places. Two locations clearly emerge as being the worst for "jelly stings" in the North Sea and both of them were summer venues for the steam drifters seeking herring. First of all, there was the Aberdeen /Peterhead area and the Moray Firth, then the Northumberland /Yorkshire coast off North Shields/ Whitby/Scarborough. On both of these voyages the stings could be very painful and the fishermen adopted various expedients to protect themselves about the face. One was to wear an old sou'wester back-to-front, with holes sometimes cut in the longer brim. Another was to wear a rush bag over the head, with eyeholes cut in, and I have even heard of buckets being worn in this way! Nor were the fishermen the only ones to suffer from the effects of jellyfish, though admittedly they bore the brunt - both beatsters and ransackers received various irritations and rashes from the nets when they eventually came onto the store for repair and tanning. Round on the West Side, the Portuguese Man-o'-War was sometimes seen on the fishing grounds off Cornwall and southern Ireland, and in the Northern Minch as well for that matter. But it was never much of a problem. What did cause trouble to the trawlers were the varieties (at least, I think it was these ones) Rhizostoma plumo, Cyanea lamarckii and Aurelia aurita. Sometimes trawls became so full with one or other of these that the square of the net had to be cut by a knife on the end of a pole. Ripping down the length of the net did at least save the gear, even if there was a lot of mending then to be done. Morecambe Bay used to have large congregations of jellyfish in the summer months, particularly off St Bee's Head, while the Isle of Man had them in the deep water off Peel and also off the Calf of Chicken Rock. It was off Peel that the driftermen had a lot of trouble with jellyfish on the summer herring voyage.
In the early spring large numbers of Green Sea-urchins (Psammechinus miliaris) were trawled up in the North Sea on the Terschelling and Borkum grounds. Sometimes the weight was enough to cause loss of gear, which made the creatures very unpopular with fishermen. They were usually known as "Dutch Farts", although if an old North Sea ranger is being polite he may refer to them as "Dutchmen's Mudballs". It is always said that no fish were caught on bottoms where the sea urchins had set in. Apart from this variety, the only other one that is easily indentifiable from fishermen's talk is the Edible Sea-urchin (Echinus esculentus). Numbers of these used to be trawled up on the Padstow sole voyage, especially off Pendeen Point.
It is difficult to be certain a lot of the time as to what type(s) of bittle-star the fisherman is talking about, but three or four locations emerge where these creature were a real nuisance to trawlers. One was off the Dutch coast on the Texel and Terschelling grounds. The variety here would seem to be Ophiura texturata, which was known as the "Camperdown Crawler", and there were considerable concentrations of them in the spring and summer months. The same species was also met with in Morecambe Bay, in a deep, just over the halfway distance from Fleetwood to the Isle of Man. They seem to have been there for much of the year. Then again, the sole ground off the Point of Ayre had so many common brittle-stars (Ophiothrix fragilis) in the summer that the fish caught just were not worth the trawls lost with the weight of "crawlers". The Kish Bank too had its fair share of them, but nothing like to the same extent. Finally, on the sole ground off St Gowan's Head (Pembrokeshire coast), which was a fairly rough bottom, there were also sizeable numbers of common brittle-stars in the summer months.
The worm that one hears most about is the "Pikey" or "Pipey" that provided such an abundance of food for plaice in the Gut of the Knoll during the months of spring and early summer. From the way the creature is customarily described ("little gold and silvery things about as long as a matchstalk"), it would seem to be either Sabellaria alveolata or Pectinaria koreni. One thing is certain: it gave very good fishing for the two to three months it was concentrated in this particular area, the only drawback being that trawls became matted with the stuff and often took a good deal of effort to clean. Morecambe Bay and the Calf of Chicken ground (about 20 miles south-west of the rock) had concentrations of pikey in the late summer and autumn, with the same effect as the Smiths Knoll area - good fishing, but lots of cleaning nets. Between the Lambay Deeps and the Calf of Chicken Rock itself was an area where "Muddy Pikey" or "Cutch Worm" was trawled up. Again, this tended to mat the trawls but it provided excellent feed for "long fish" and flat fish alike in the spring and summer. Descriptions suggest that the variety of worm might be Potamilla reniformis, and the way trawls were usually cleared of it was for the boats to tow onto the hard ground to the south east of the Chicken Rock (the so-called "Concrete") to shake it loose. Also, in the Lambay Deeps and off Rockabill, and across between Fleetwood and the Isle of Man, there were large numbers of the quaintly named "Honeysuckle Twists", which would seem to be one of the Amphitrites.
There are two varieties of sea anemone that one usually hears talked about. First of all come the "tits and stones", which were trawled up all over the place on roughish bottoms (Metridium senile) and which seem to have been present in large numbers on the Dowsing Ground. Secondly, there is the red variety of the Beadlet Anemone (Actinia equina), which again was trawled up all round our shores on rough and rocky bottoms and which rejoiced in perhaps the more graphic and basic of all fishermen's nicknames - "Open Arsehole"!
As with the sea anemones mentioned immediately above, rough bottoms also seem to have attracted colonies of the so-called "Dead
Men's Fingers" (Alcyonium digitatum), which often came up in trawls (again, especially on the Dowsing Ground) and which are often said to have been a sign of good fishing - albeit one that resulted in a fair amount of mending!
There is not much to say by way of "mopping up", and what there is falls into two categories. Both are the result of impressions left by the sum total of the extraction process that has resulted in this report, and both are generalisations. First, there is the tendency (if, indeed, it is tendency) shown by demersal fish to come inshore into estuarine reaches during the spring and summer months. Some hint of this may be gleaned by looking at the notes on individual species, and it seems to be more pronounced in flat fish than in the so-called "long stuff" and to have figured much more in western waters than in the North Sea. I am aware of the unsatisfactory nature of such a statement and how there are many qualifications that ought to be made to it, but I feel completely inadequate to do anything more than simply present a matter that seems to have arisen by consensus of opinion among my informants.
The second item is also the result of such consensus, and it is this: that the best hauls of trawl fish, both flat and long, were taken in gulleyways. A number of these have already been referred to in the various sections above and they reveal interesting geological features - such as the chalk that was in evidence on otter doors after a boat had towed into the Codling Bank on dead tides, or the blue clay that was picked up along the edge of the deeps between the Calf of Chicken Rock and the Mountains of Mourne. I just have not had the time to go into bottom types in any real detail, but my conviction is that the fisherman could reveal a great amount of information to both geologist and geomorphologist.
Details of gear
A. Drift nets
1. Herring nets. Before World War II the Scotch nets used on board the Lowestoft boats were generally 18 score meshes deep, but in the post-war period 17 score became the norm. There was also a tendency on the part of many boat-owners to standardise their mesh size at 31 rows per yard, whereas in the 1920s and 30s there had been a variety of sizes to cater for the different voyages undertaken. These have all been referred to earlier in the notes regarding the herring, so there is no need to repeat them here. It is usually said that Egyptian cotton made the best nets, both from the point of view of fishing capability and also from that of strength. Tribute is also paid to the "Pearl Twists", which were popular at one time and which are described as a "hard" net. One ransacker told me that this particular quality meant that they meshed plenty of fish, but that a good number tended to drop out as the nets came up from the water. General dislike is expressed for the nylon lints that came in during the l950s because they were hard on the hands and ended to decaptitate the herring when scudding was in progress.
2. Mackerel nets.
Most of the mackerel nets used on the Westward Voyage and out in the North Sea were set in to a working length of 21 yards and were around 10 to 12 score meshes deep. The so-called "rough" nets were made of hemp twine at first, but this was later superseded by heavy cotton. Flat, oblong corks were norselled in along the headline and the nets were further buoyed up by having wooden bowls, or clusters of round corks, or even small buffs, at periodic intervals. The nets were not seized to the warp in the same way as herring lints because the seizings ran down from headline to warp and the nets hung loose at the bottom. In order to make them hang down in the water more efficiently, it was customary to fabricate what was known as a lint foot-rope, which consisted of rolling up the bottom of the net for about 8 to 10 meshes and then lacing along it. The so-called Scotch mackerel nets (or "mackerel-herring-nets", as they were sometimes known) were worked much the same way as the Scotch herring nets, but they were made of heavier cotton than the latter and wee the same dimensions as the old style mackerel lints. Large fleets of nets were worked on the Westward Voyage (220 to 280) and the difters' holds and roperooms had their wings gutted out in order to accommodate the extra nets and warp. Much smaller fleets were used in the North Sea, because the shoals were generally much lower in their collective numbers and because the reaches fished were shorter in length. The men who went mackerel fishing generally preferred the rough nets to the Scotch ones, as it was easier to pick the fish out of their meshes. The "softer" nets tended to lead to gills getting broken. However, as the 1920s went on, more and more boats went over to using the Scotch nets, though some skippers (for old time's sake perhaps) continued to worked as much as a quarter-fleet of rough nets at either the pole-end or stem-end. All mackerel nets, of whatever kind, were floated up much closer to the surface than herring lints.
3. Longshore herring nets.
Most local longshoremen made up their nets either from second-hand Scotch nets or from brand-new lints off the loom. Five or six longshore nets could be made up from a single Scotch net, and the dimensions would vary from about 25 to 30 yards in length and six to eight score meshes deep. Six score ones were those used for close-in; seven and eight scores were for deeper water. Their framing and norselling tended to be very individualistic, but generally speaking flat corks were used on the headline, spaced at a distance of eight inches or so, and with norsels put in at every fourth mesh. The oddie was only at the top of the lint, about eight meshes deep, and the net hung loose at the bottom. In order to make it hang properly in the water, pieces of lead were secured along the bottom in calico strips, or sometimes a "reining" of old net was marled along. These weighting techniques were required with nets made from old lints, but not with those produced from new ones. And there was quite a preference for the latter, which were kept white in the belief that they fished better. In order to maintain this efficiency, the nets were treated with linseed oil (equal quanties mixed of raw and boiled) and paint thinners. The drying was the whole secret behind this proess, because good drying could give a net a working life of anything up to 15 years. There was only the one treatment of linseed and thinners, so if done properly it certainly lasted! The nets were usually floated up on a variety of tin cans, and the mesh size was usually in the range of 36 to 38 rows per yard.
4. Longshore sprat nets.
These were often bought ready-made from the factory, and they were rigged and worked much the same way as longshore herring nets. They varied in length when set in to work, from 21 to 30 yards, and there was even an attempt at one time to use "double nets". These were some 60 yards long, but they never caught on, proving to be very unwieldy. Sprat lints were usually 10 score meshes deep, with 62 rows per yard the standard mesh size. Preservation was either by linseed oil, which kept the nets white, or by Cuprinol. Again, the process was the same as that used for longshore herring nets.
1. Beam trawl.
The usual length of the beam worked on Lowestoft smacks in the 20 century was somewhere between 32 and 40 feet, depending on the size of the vessel, though lengths up to 48 feet were not unknown on the largest boats. It is generally maintained that the beam trawl's greatest effectiveness was in catching flatfish, particularly soles and plaice, though it also caught rays pretty efficiently on grounds where they were active at certain times of the year. The groundropes were usually herring warp served with rounding and there were various preferences for weighting them down. One favourite was to have dangles threaded along, while other skippers preferred lengths of chain wrapped around the ground-rope. Elm bobbins, known as "beads", were sometimes threaded on when rough ground was being worked, while hides or false bellies were affixed to the cod-end to cut down the chafing effect of the net being dragged along the sea bed. With the group-rope weighted heavily down, most smack skippers did not bother with titlers, but there were occasions when a fine chain was worked on the bosom, or even from trawl head to trawl head. The rigidity of beam trawl is said to have been especially useful on grounds where strong tides ran, or where the bottom was "up and down" - such as across on the Broad Fourteens. In either case, it proved more robust than the otter trawl, being less susceptible to getting "turned" or having the square and belly pulled out by doors yanking up and dropping down. Finally, and perhaps this is partly in line with the comment made above concerning the beam trawl's effectiveness in catching flatfish, the pockets on each side of the net above the cod end seem to have been very useful for tapping soles.
2. Longshore beam trawl.
In most respects this was a miniature version of its "big brother" on the smacks, with beams of varying length according to the size of the boat towing, as well as the power available to pull the gear along. There were two basic kinds of beam trawl worked; one was used for catching shrimps and the other for flatfish. The former was the smaller of the two, with a beam about six feet long and with a fine-meshed net, particularly in the cod-end. "Fish trawls", as they were known, varied in size, but beams of between 8 and 15 feet were quite common, with the larger sizes being towed by boats with inboard or outboard motors. Back in the 1920s old car engines (Austin Sevens, small Renaults etc.) were popular with many longshoremen, because they were reasonably cheap to convert and instal. Regarding the nets themselves, most of them had pockets in for "trapping the ol' soles", as it's usually put, and some worked a flopper as well. There were various ways of setting up the ground-rope, with some men preferring the conventional type used on the smacks and with others improvising their own model from what materials were at hand. A typical home-made variety was a length of medium chain with old herring lint wrapped around it and then with net-rope marled around this. Extra chain could be wound on the outside of this if required, but sufficient weight was usually achieved without it by virtue of the bottom's sand finding its way through the loops of net-rope and then being retained in the lint.
3. Otter Trawl.
One advantage of otter gear over the beam trawl was its greater catching power where "long fish" (cod, whiting, haddock etc.) were concerned. It was a great favourite on the drifter-trawlers and smaller steam trawlers, and it usually went by the name of "on-the-door gear" to distinguish it from the "French" or "bridle" gear, which was a later innovation. Obviously the size varied a bit from boat to boat, but a typical otter trawl of the 1920s and 30s had a 78 foot long ground-rope (14 foot bosom) and a 63 foot headline. The headline was usually floated up by a single canvas buff in the middle if flatfish were being sought, but floats or bottles were added when cod and haddock were the main quarry. The custom was to have three times the length of warp out that there was depth of water, because this was reckoned to be the correct amount to ensure that the trawl fished properly. Skeleton groundropes were employed when "long fish" were being hunted (that is to say, ground-ropes with a wire core that had nothing fixed to them); but when soles and plaice were being "dug out", then dangles or lengths of chain were added and titlers worked. There were two of the latter normally, a bosom titler and a door-to-door one, and it is always said that the door-to-door chain was much the more important in its catching effect. On rough ground wooden bobbins were employed, either 12, 14 or 18 inches in diameter according to need. The Padstow sole grounds necessitated the largest-sized ones being used because of the slate outcrops on the bottom - obstructions that rendered the use of titlers pointless, because the chain was forever snagging up and breaking. Damage to the net itself was reduced by having wire strops or "legs" placed between it and the doors, through which any debris could pass. These legs varied in length between about three feet and ten and they were deemed very advantageous on scruff grounds. Any sizeable stones or boulders that found their way down into the trawl were got rid of by having a stone-trap in the belly of the net, not all that far above the flopper. It was a simple, but effective, device consisting of a crescent-shaped slit cut into the meshes that allowed any big stones to pass through and out onto the sea bed again. One very important factor in the efficiency of an otter trawl, according to the men who knew it well, was to have enough slack or "flow" in the bunts. Once this was achieved (often by letting lengthening-pieces of net into the lower wings), the effect was very noticeable - especially where soles and plaice were concerned. Both these species were often found in the bunts in fair quantity (as well as in the cod end and pockets) when a boat was on a good fishing.
Perhaps the most singular variation of the basic otter trawl was that worked by the famous Lowestoft skipper, "Oscar" Pipe, in the steam trawler "Blanche" (H 928) on his favourite grounds off south-east Ireland in the 1920s and 30s. He usually worked in shallow water, invariably inside the limit-line, and he devised his own gear and method for such fishing. The headline was conventional enough and in the 60 to 65 feet length range, but the ground-rope (some 30 feet longer) was not a rope at all in the normal sense of the word. A medium-sized chain ran from door to door, with dangles threaded along and secured to it, and linked to this was a combination fishing-line of wire and rope, which also had the bolsh-line attached to it. Apparently, the whole device was very effective at either bending over or cutting the kelp weed that "Oscar" Pipe loved to fish through. Then there was the method of working the gear that he adopted in order to tow the trawl square behind the boat. What he did was to have an eye spliced into the after-warp; then, when both warps had been blocked up, the messenger hook was put into this eye, which was out aft of the towing-block. The messenger had first been secured to the deck bollard on the port quarter and was passed under the stern to the starboard side. As soon as the gear came tight to the messenger, it was pulled round square on to the boat's stern. Another thing this particular skipper did, when working tight "nips" or turns to either port or starboard, was to leave the warps unblocked. They were simply left in the messenger, which was hove up tight on the winch and held in that position. When he decided to turn, messenger was simply slacked off and the warps allowed to spread. This sudden strain pulled the boat sharply round and the messenger was then tightened up again when the manoeuvre was complete.
4. Bridle Gear.
Just as the basic otter trawl was superior to the beam trawl in catching fish of the cod family, it was surpassed in its own turn by the Vigneron Dahl refinement in exactly the same sphere. In fact, it is interesting to note that during the l920s and 30s, the period that sailing smacks were declining towards eventual extinction, the "on-the-door" gear became the method of taking flatfish and rays. It was left to the bridle trawl to become the chief means of catching cod, haddock and hake, because of its lighter weight and wider sweep. As some of the men put it, the gear did not "bite" into the ground as much as its parent did, but pulled up rather more clear of the bottom and was thus more efficient at catching "swimming fish". Apparently, this was especially true of hake - and the longer the bridles for this species, the better. Some of the Cardiff and Swansea boats worked bridles 60 to 70 fathoms long on their hake trawls and had their headlines bottled up with between 150 to 170 glass floats. The ground-rope was very light and the gear performed well in deep water, with the one exception of having to replace the "bottles" regularly because they soon became full of water. During the inter-war period the Lowestoft and Yarmouth men were generally more in favour of the old "on-the-door" gear, as it was more versatile for North Sea fishing than its descendant, but many of the skippers who worked out of Milford Haven and Fleetwood regularly soon became converts to bridles.
1. Danish Seine. This method of fishing became very popular with the Lowestoft drifters and drifter-trawlers (and to a lesser extent with the Yarmouth ones) in the early and middle 1920s - particularly for haddock on the Dogger Bank. It was essentially a fine weather/ smooth bottom type of fishing, but a lot of boats earned considerable amounts of money from it. The season lasted from March to October and the hours worked on board were very long - usually from about 0300 h or 0330 h until midnight. As well as haddock, plaice were sought also, but there were differences in the size of the two respective nets used. The haddock seine was made of finer cotton than the plaice variety, its mesh size was smaller, and it was about 150 feet long as opposed to 120 feet. Both types of net had leads threaded along the group-rope and both had glass bottles on the headline: 25 to 30 for shallow water, 45 to 50 for deeper reaches. When extra weight was required on the ground-rope (which it was for plaice fishing), pieces of light chain were fitted along its length to give the necessary amount of drag along the bottom. It was customary to use eight ropes either side of the boat for haddock (each rope was 120 fathoms long) and 10 to 12 for plaice. Consequently, shooting and hauling for haddock was quicker (45 minutes to an hour) than it was for plaice (one and a half to two hours), and the difference was made more pronounced by virtue of the fact that the winch operated at a higher speed for haddock than it did for plaice. It was important to work the tides efficiently in order than the ropes performed their sweeping operation properly, and the boat had to be kept right down the line of the current when the net was being hauled in against it. Too much tide running would close up the ropes too soon and it might also cause the boat's anchor gear to drag.
2. Beach draw-net.
The details given here are of a net worked off Pakefield beach by some of the local longshoremen, fishing for trout during the summer months and codling during the autumn. It was made from old mackerel lints, was 100 yards in length and had a depth of 12 feet in the centre, tapering off gently to nine feet at either end. The net-rope along the top had flat corks along its length at normal drift-net spacing, and the back-rope was weighted down with lead pellets at four to five foot intervals. Each end of the net had two 30 foot bridles fixed to it, one at the top and one at the bottom, and these were attached to a single rope (warp) on either side. Shooting the net took about half to three-quarters of an hour and hauling it in somewhere in the region of 20 minutes. Two men stayed on shore, holding one of the warps, while two more went out in a boat on a semi-circular course, paying out the net (one rowed, one shot). On reaching the beach at the completion of the halfcircle, the two boatmen landed their craft and began hauling on their warp, in conjunction with their two compatriots on theirs. Both net-rope and back-rope were norselled to the lint in the normal way, but the norsels along the latter were shortened up so as to leave no avenue of escape for fish swimming down low. The net was always pulled in with the tide, as far as was possible. Dragging it in against the current was extremely difficult.
1. North Sea cod-lines.
Some of the Lowestoft drifters worked a variation of the Grimsby cod-line on a winter voyage before and just after World War I. About 15 miles of line were shot, always across the tide, with an east-north-east/west-south-west alignment down on the favourite Yorkshire grounds off Grimsby and Scarborough. The hooks were baited with whelk for the most part, with Norwegian herring as a supplement, and the main quarry was cod. Starfish, apparently, proved quite a nuisance at times, finding the bait a useful source of food. The lines were shot overboard by a man wielding a "shooting-stick" and they were coiled in wedge-shaped, open-ended trays known as "shutes". Each shute contained seven shanks of line at 60 fathoms length per shank, making a total of 420 fathoms, and the number of shutes employed was 32. The hooks (of medium size) were spaced along the lines at four yard intervals on snoods three feet long, making a total of 210 hooks per shute. They were shot overboard on the lee side of the boat from a table placed aft, near the taffrail, but the lines were always hauled in (by hand) for'ad of the wheelhouse. The lines were secured by large dans at either end and there were smaller ones, each also with anchors, at four-shute intervals. As an alternative to the shutes, willow-hooped, canvas-bottomed "pecks" were sometimes used, on which the same quantity of line was coiled and lashed down until shooting was immiment. Two shoots and hauls were achieved in a 48 hour period, with the actual shooting of the lines being done between 2100 h and midnight. Hauling commenced at four o'clock in the morning and went on for about 10 to 12 hours, with gutting, the recoiling of the lines and the baiting-up all being done at the same time. The line used was of similar thickness to that used on "ripper" handlines. All the details given here concern the gear worked aboard a boat called the "Excelsior" (LT 798).
2. Milford Haven conger-lines.
From the early l900s, right through till the late 30s, a number of Lowestoft and Yarmouth drifters used to go round to the Welsh port for a winter lining voyage. It lasted from about the third week in January until the end of May and the main species sought were conger eel, cod and ling, with blue skate and thornyback ray of lesser importance. The baits used were squid and Norwegian herring, with mackerel coming in towards the end of the season. In fact, some the boats used to base themselves at Newlyn at this time and work grounds off the Scilly Isles. One or two of the larger ones, such as the "A. Rose" (YH 69), carried a few "bait nets" (mackerel and herring lints) with which they used to catch their own supplies. The details given here, that now follow, are those concerning the gear worked by the steam drifter "Contrive" (LT 1123) when she was round at Milford Haven in the 1930s. The lines were coiled in baskets, with a rope coil around the wale in which to retain the hooks. They were shot overboard by hand from a position for'ad of the wheelhouse, but were pulled in by a steam-driven line-hauler fixed to the rail of the boat above the kid. Each basket held about 1000 feet of line, consisting of six individual lengths or shanks, with hooks on four and a half feet snoods at nine feet intervals. When working close into land near the Welsh coast or the Scillies, the boats usually shot 12 to 15 baskets of line, but in the deeper water out between southern Ireland and Lands End they would use the full complement of 45. The shorter length worked had dan gear at either end, while the longer one was also supplemented by a dan in the middle. Apart from the anchors on the dans themselves, no other anchors were used, and the lines floated up from the bottom on the pull of the tide, thus keeping the bait clear of scavengers such as crabs and starfish. The lines were always shot with the tide and hauled as soon as it turned. With the smaller of the two quantities of line used, it was thus possible to get in four shoots and hauls in a 24 hour period, but with the larger amount only one was possible in the same time. The method here was to shoot the lines at sunset or thereabouts, leave them all night, and then begin hauling about 0630 h. Hauling usually took until midday/early afternoon and then, after a meal had been consumed, it was time to get ready for the next shoot. The length of trip was generally about seven to eight days and it was possible for the boats to pay their way, though this form of fishing was never very profitable. The lines were three-stranded manilla, about half an inch thick, and they were always tanned in cutch annually once the first season's fishing was over. The final length in each basket had an eye in its end, through which the leading end in the next basket to be shot was reeved through the secured with two half-hitches. Both cotton and hemp snoods were tried, with the latter proving to be far better - there was a t~endency for the cotton ones to chittle up on the line. Number nine hooks were used, with swivel ends on them to facilitate hauling. Finally, the lines were attached to the dans just above the cork-float buoy section. There was a beckett here, which a running-line (of varying length, according to the depth of water fished) was secured to, before passing on down to the longlines proper. Again, there was an eye in its free end and the leading end of the first basket was reeved through this and fastened with two half-hitches. Another Lowestoft drifter to visit Milford Haven regularly during the 1930s was the "Boy Scout" (LT 17) and the details of her gear can now be recounted. She worked between 12 and 18 baskets of line, depending on local conditions, with each basket consisting of seven or eight hanks (lengths) of half-inch manilla. An individual hank was 240 feet long, so the total length per basket was either 1680 or 1920 feet. The hooks used were swivelled ones of about three inches in length and they were placed at 15 feet intervals along the line on six feet long snoods of tarred twine. There were no hooks on the first 120 feet at either end of a line and anchors were only used on the marker dans. The dans themselves were placed at either extremity of the gear and were rigged in the following way: the buoy itself was floated up on three buffs (four in areas of strong tidal conditions), with a dan tow of 720 feet length (made of one and half inch diameter manilla) attached to the anchor. The gear was always shot and hauled before the tide so as to facilitate ease of working. Hauling was done with the aid of a steam line-hauler, which was either mounted on the rail of a boat or which stood free in the kid.
3. Local longlines.
These were small relations, really, of the two varieties described above and they were subject to a great deal of individual variation. They still are, because winter long-lining is very popular along the east coast, being as much of a recreational activity nowadays as a way of earning a living. Anything between about 200 and 500 hooks used to be shot, numbers that are roughly comparable with boats off the beach today, and the favourite baits were whelk, herring, mackerel, sprat and clam (the last-named item being dug up from around the edges of Lowestoft's inner harbour). Mussels were also used, but they were never as popular as the other baits because, although attractive to cod, they did not hang on the hooks too well. Since the war shrimp and lugworm have gained in popularity as longline bait, the latter especially. Tradtionally, these small lines were always coiled in baskets, with pieces of cork secured to the wale in order to retain the hooks, or in tin baths, where the hooks were just hung on the edge. For the most part, the hooks were something like five to six feet apart on snoods two to three long, with the lines danned at each end and having anchors at periodic intervals along their length to keep them down on the sea bed. In the event of an extra long run of line, there would also be a dan in the middle. Usually, a shoot of 500 hooks would be accommodated in three baths, each one containing roughly 170 hooks on 1000 feet of line, which itself consisted of about five individual shanks upwards of 30 fathoms in length. According to a couple of men that I know, experienced longliners who have worked from Pakefield beach for a number of years, the quantities of fish close inshore there now are very small indeed. For the last couple or three years, the boats have been forced to go further and further out, to the Newcome and Barnard and beyond. And not only is there a shortage of fish directly off the beach; my informants also talk of the absence of crabs, brittle star etc., and even of "proper seaweed", as they call it. In fact, they have on occasions referred to the water off Pakefield being "dead", though they are not really sure why this should be the case - other than a general comment (obligatory almost, one is tempted to say, in this day and age) about "pollution".
E. Filter nets
1. Pakefield sprat net. The dimensions given here are only approximate, because my informant never actually worked this device. It came to him from among his grandfather's possessions and he gave it away to a longshoreman whose own gear had decayed. From what he remembers, it was a tapering "poke" or bag net, about 18 feet in length, fixed to a wood frame about six feet by four. The net hung in midwater and fished on the principle of tidal flow, with the current keeping the catch down in the cod-end. This meant it had to be hauled and emptied before the tide turned, and then turned round to face in the opposite direction once there was sufficient current running. The net was kept in position by an anchor on each of the bottom corners. The cod end also had a float attached to it in order to keep it up and in line with the mouth of the net. It was the ebb tide (northward flowing) that was worked mainly because sprats always swam close in to land on the ebb, but the net was also left out on the flood for anything else that happened to be about.
Is any kind subject to rape like fish?
Ill unto man they neither do, nor wish.
Fishers they kill not, nor with noise awake;
They do not hunt, nor strive to make a prey
Of beasts, nor their young sons to bear away;
Fowls they pursue not, nor do undertake
To spoil the nests industrious birds do make;
Yet them all these unkind kinds do feed upon.
To kill them is an occupation,
And laws make Fasts and Lents for their destruction.
John Donne (1573-1631)
Appendix - Biographical details of the various respondents
1. Ernie Armes (born 1902) - sprung from fishing stock and worked for 50 years on the Lowestoft market, handling both trawl fish and herring. Between the wars he travelled the coast extensively while working for the German klondyke firms, following the herring from port to port. He has a detailed knowledge of the fish trade generally.
2. Harry Colby (born 1902) - started his fishing career on board steam drifters, but left Lowestoft in the mid 1920s for Fleetwood. He spent 30 years working out of the Lancashire port, much of the time served as bosun on distant-water boats. Returned to his native Pakefield in the l950s and ended his working life where be began out in the North Sea.
3. Herbert Doy (born 1900) - sailed in smacks, steam drifters and drifter-trawlers from 1914 until the end of World War II, serving as hawseman or third hand for a good deal of the time. After the war he worked for the Ministry on board the research vessels, "Sir Lancelot" and "Clione", and he also rigged nets at the store on Commercial Road.
4. Harry Eastick (1912-1983) - a member of a Gorleston boatowning family who worked as a rigger and ransacker on the family net store during the 1920s and 30s. Also took trips on the drifters fairly regularly. Remained keenly interested in the East Anglian fishing industry and was quite an authority on Yarmouth and Gorleston.
5 . Arthur Evans ( 1901-1984) - the son of a leading trawl-fish merchant and boatowner and a man who spent most of his life on the Lowestoft market. He took an active interest in the fish trade and had a comprehensive grasp of its intricacies. He was particularly good at analysing market forces, both on the wholesale and retail levels.
6. Jimmy Fisher (born 1912) - spent the first part of his working life on steam drifters and drifter-trawlers, but went into longshoring in 1935. He operated from Pakfield beach for nearly 40 years, fishing all round the year and making a part-time living from his enterprise. Possesses a very detailed knowledge of local inshore waters.
7. Frank Fisk (1899-1984) - a member of a fishing family that hailed from Wenhaston, near Halesworth. During his 40 years at sea he worked on steam drifters and trawlers, mostly from Lowestoft, but he also had a spell at Grimsby. The last part of his working life was spent ashore at the Richards shipyard in Lowestoft.
8. Ernie Fiske (1905-77) - "Jumbo" Fiske was arguably the greatest herring skipper of the 20th century and also a fine trawlerman as well. His drifting experience of British waters was almost total, and one of his great strengths as money earner must have been his phenomenal powers of observation - "weighing up", as he used to call it.
9. Bill Garnham (born 1909) - "Flip", as he is usually called, worked as a ransacker and rigger on a net store for most of his life, but he also went to sea for short spells. He has a detailed knowledge of all kinds of fishing gear. In the post-war period he travelled the coasts, in order to service the drift nets belonging to his firm's boats.
10. Bill Jarvis (born 1906) - a Gorleston man, who began his fishing career in his home town, before moving to Lowestoft during the 1930s. Worked on drifters, drifter-trawlers and sailing smacks in varying capacities from cook to hawseman. Primarily a drift-net fisherman, he left the sea during the l950s for a job ashore with Lowestoft Corporation.
11. George Kent (born 1907) - spent his fishing life~on board steam drifters during the 1920s and 30s. Went to Milford Haven regularly during the latter decade for an after-Christmas longlining voyage. When he came off the boats, he preserved his maritime links by working aboard Lowestoft harbour tugs and also operating the famous swing bridge.
12. Harold Mitchell (born 1903) - went into the family fish-selling business after leaving school and stayed in it all is working life. Travelled the coasts extensively as a herring salesman and also handled the bulk of the longshore landings on the Lowestoft market at one time. Was Allocation Officer for fish at Lowestoft during World War II.
13. David Mullender (born 1937) - went to sea on leaving school and gained his skipper's ticket at the age of 21. Was master of the motor trawlers, "Moreleigh" and "Woodleigh", and worked many parts of the southern North Sea, though with a special preference for the Dogger Bank. Came off the boats when he was 30 and is now a partner in the Raglan Street smokehouse.
14. Ned Mullender (1896-1981) - cousin of the father of the man immediately above. Went to sea full-time in 1910 and did nearly 50 years in fishing boats of all kinds, working his way up from cook to skipper. A member of an old Pakefield fishing family, he had experience of drift-netting, longlining, Danish seining and most modes of trawling.
15. Tom Outlaw (born 1915) - worked on drifters and trawlers as a young man, eventually acquiring his mate's ticket. Left fishing in 1937 to join Trinity House, an organisation he served until retirement in 1975. From 1957 onwards he was master of five different light vessels off the east coast of England.
16. Reggie Reynolds (born 1906) - a fish-curer, like his father before him, he operated a smokehouse in Raglan Street for many years. Primarily concerned with herring for most of his working life, but he also cured fair quantities of cod, haddock and whiting. As well as being a master of his craft, he also has a wide knowledge of the fish trade generally.
17. Jack Rose (born 1926) - a member of a Lowestoft longshoring family, who was brought up on the Beach Village. Went fishing as a young man, putting in several years on steam drifters, drifter-trawlers, trawlers and motor smacks. Very well known locally for his sterling work in recording the history of 19 and 20 century Lowestoft.
18. Captain S. T. Smith (born 1908) - descended from a long line of Scarborough trading vessel owners and masters. Went fishing from the Yorkshire port as a boy (cook on a steam drifter) and then entered the Merchant Navy as an apprentice. Worked his way up to Master and spent many years at sea. On coming ashore, he became deputy Harbour Master at Scarborough and, later, editor of "Olsen"s Almanac".
19. George Stock (born 1903) - primarily a trawlerman, though he did go drifting from time to time in the early part of his career. Took part in the annual migration of drifter-trawlers round to Fleetwood in the 1920s and 30s and eventually settled there. Became one of that port's most successful mid-water skippers, before retiring home to Pakefield in the 1970s.
20. Jack Sturman (1891-1978) - born at Mutford and went to sea in
the early years of this century. Was driver on a steam drifter by 1911, after service as cook, cast-off and stoker. Spent most of his working life down the engine-room and travelled the British coasts extensively on the various herring and trawling voyages once undertaken.
21. Billy Thorpe (born 1908) - went to sea on leaving school and worked for several years on steam drifters and drifter-trawlers. Held a mate's ticket and served in this capacity on board for some considerable period of time. On coming ashore, he put his experience to good use as a ship's husband working for one of the main Lowestoft trawling companies.
22. Horace Thrower (born 1904) - began fishing at the age of 13 and
spent all his working life at sea, most of it down the engine-room. Was stoker/second engineer on both steamboats and their diesel counterparts. Chiefly a herring fisherman, but during the l950s and 60s he went trawling more and more as the emphasis of the local industry changed.
23. Joe Utting (born 1907) - first went to sea in 1920 and worked on various kinds of craft in varying capacities. Eventually became a skipper and followed a fishing career until 1961. At this point he switched over to becoming master of a gas rig service and supply vessel, a job that he did until he came ashore in 1968.
24. Wally Warnes (born 1911) - went fishing after he left school and worked on board steam boats for the greater part of his life at sea. Began as cook and stayed in the galley thereafter. Came ashore in 1960, having spent the latter part of the time in dieselpowered craft, and still recalls his years afloat with humour and realism.
Back-rope - the double rope at the bottom of a herring net.
Baccy juice - fishermen's term for sea water stained by Phoeocystis.
Bait nets - drift nets carried by boats engaged on longlining in order to catch herring and mackerel for baiting the hooks.
Baling - pulling up a herring net into a bag, when hauling, in order to stop the fish from falling out.
Beads - small wooden bobbins on a trawl's ground-rope.
Beam trawl - a trawl that has the mouth of the net kept open by a wooden spar.
Beatsters - women who mended drift nets.
Beckett - a loop in the end of a rope.
Belly - the bottom of a trawl net between the ground-rope and the cod end.
Berth - the position taken up for fishing by a drifter.
Bight - a loop anywhere along a rope's length.
Bloater - a herring lightly salted and smoked with the gut in.
Bobbins - wheel-like devices on a trawl's ground-rope calculated to facilitate the passage of the trawl over the sea bed.
Bolsh-line - a rope on a trawl that acted as the intermediary between the ground-rope and the meshes of the belly.
Bosom - the curved mouth of a trawl net.
Bottles - glass floats on the headline of an otter trawl or a Danish seine net.
Bridles - wire guys that joined the trawl heads to the warp on a beam trawl and the trawl doors to the net on an otter trawl.
Bridle gear - an otter trawl that had bridles (viz. the VigneronDahl refinement of the basic trawl).
Buffs - large, pear-shaped, canvas or plastic floats customarily used on herring nets.
Buffs on the fore deck - well-endowed lady.
Bunt(s) - the part(s) of a trawl net's wing(s) nearest to the quarter(s).
Calico - a tough cotton cloth.
Camperdown crawlers - brittle stars (probably Ophiura texturata).
Chittle up - term used for drift nets rolling up on themsleves, or of longline snoods wrapping themselves around the line.
Chop - turbulence on the surface of the sea.
Close - dusk or twilight.
Coble - the Yorkshire fishermen's beach boat.
Cock mackerel - half-grown mackerel.
Cod end - the bag at the end of a trawl net, which holds the fish.
Cran - a measure of 37.5 Imperial gallons: 28 stones of herring by weight.
Crofters - Scottish farmers in a small way of business, who often went fishing as well in suitable localities.
Crow's foot - two strands of a drift-net mesh broken.
Cutch - substance used to preserve drift nets from the rotting action of the sea water (actually the gum of the tropical tree, Acacia catechu, of which the word itself is a corruption).
Cutch worm - a polychaete worm, probably Potamilla reniformis.
Dan - a type of marker buoy.
Dangles - metal rings attached to lengths of chain that were threaded along a trawl's ground-rope.
Danish seine - a specific type of light trawl (for catching haddock primarily) that was not dragged along the sea bed, but was hauled soon after shooting with the boat itself anchored and stationary.
Dead men's fingers - (l) the gills of a crab; (2) the colonial Bryozoan, Alcyonium digitatum.
Double-swim - herring enmeshed on either side of the net.
Draw-net - a small or conveniently-sized, hand-worked seine for catching various demersal or pelagic species along the shore or in estuarine areas.
Drift nets - nets worked from a boat that hang just beneath the surface of the water and catch various pelagic species by the by the gills.
Drifter - trawler - a boat that worked both drift nets and trawls according to the season.
Drive up/down - to drift up or down on the tide.
Drop on - to come across, or encounter, a shoal of fish.
Dutch farts - sea urchins.
Eye - a loop in the end of a rope (smaller than a beckett, usually).
False bellies - pieces of old net on the bottom of a cod end, which were put there to prevent excessive wear.
Fastener - an obstruction on the sea bed which causes a trawl to foul.
Fathom - an Imperial measurement of depth (six feet).
Filling - term used of maturing fish, with roes developing inside them.
Fine down - to become calmer after stormy weather.
Fleet - a set of drift nets, the quantity carried by a boat.
Flopper - a net flap that prevented fish from getting out of the cod end.
Flutter - visible movement on the surface of the sea caused by a shoal of pelagic fish.
Foot-rope - the back-rope of a herring net.
French gear - the Vigneron-Dahl trawl.
Full - fish that had fully developed roes inside them.
Gaff - a metal hook fixed to a wooden pole that was inserted into the fill of a large fish and used to lift it aboard a boat.
Ginger-pop - term used to describe sea water discoloured by herring oil.
Grandfather - word used to describe any very large fish of any species, the idea being that size must indicate age.
Gut - a gulleyway on the sea bed between two banks.
Hank - a length of longline (cf. shank).
Hawkers - itinerant fish-sellers.
Hawseman - the man below mate on a steam drifter.
Headline - the double rope, or corkline, at the top of a drift net. Also the rope along the top of a trawl, to which floats are attached.
Hides - cowhides that were fixed to the underneath of a cod end to prevent wear on the sea bed.
Holystones - pieces of sandstone that were used to scrub down a ship's decks (thus called because they were often bits of broken gravestone).
Home fishing - the East Anglian autumn herring season.
Honeysuckle twists - polychaete worms; one of the Ampb~trites.
Hoss-pissy water - sea water coloured by Phoeocystis.
Ivy leaves - very small plaice.
Kelp - general term for the Laminariaceae seaweeds.
Kid - the space on a drifter's deck between the hold and the gunwale.
Kipper - a herring that is split open, salted and smoked.
Kit - ten stones weight of fish, or the container holding this quantity.
Klondyke - this refers to the export trade of fresh herrings from Lowestoft across to Altona, in Germany. The fish were packed in salt and ice in large, rectangular, wooden cases and the name Klondyke arose, not only because the trade was lucrative, but because it also began about the same time as the Yukon gold-rush.
Landing stages - wooden jetties that were built for fishing boats to land their catches at.
Leadline - a navigational device that enabled mariners to calculate what depth of water they were sailing in. It consisted of a long lead weight attached to a line, which had the various depths marked off in fathoms along its length. The weight itself had a hollow end into which grease or soap could be inserted, with the object of obtaining a sample of sand from the sea bed.
Lee - the sheltered side; the side away from the wind.
Legs - wire strops between an otter door and the trawl net itself.
Lint - the meshes of a drift net, so-called beause many of the early nets were made from flax or linen fibre.
Logie swell - the ground swell of the sea, especially if heavy.
Long fish/long stuff - cod, haddock, whiting, ling etc.
Longlines - lengths of twine with hooks at periodic intervals along them. These were baited up, suitably weighted, then laid along the sea bed to catch various demersal species.
Longshore fishing - any fishing that was done directly off the beach in small boats, which never went far from land. It literally means fishing along the shore.
Lousy - term used of fish that had parasites on them.
Lugger - any boat that had a lugsail rig.
Lugsails - large, square sails set on a yard. A transitional design between square rig and fore-and-aft rig.
Manilla - a vegetable fibre used in making rope and twine.
Marled - lashed or tied.
Messenger (hook) - long wire strop with a hook one one end that was used to draw the trawl warps into the towing-block.
Milky - term used to describe sea water discoloured by herring activity.
Moorlog - peaty substance of fossil remains of the Mesolithic period, usually the lower trunk and root system.
Mother ship - a vessel that acts as a floating storehouse by taking on board the catches of other boats in the fleet and then either processing them or running them into port.
Muggy - mild and damp.
Needles - small hake.
Norsels - lengths of twine that joined the lint to the headline on a drift net and held the corks in position.
Oddie - the thicker, reinforcing meshes at the top and bottom of a drift net.
On-the-door gear - the basic otter trawl, without bridles.
Open arsehole - the red variety of the Beadlet sea anemone.
Otter trawl - a trawl that has the mouth of the net kept open by wooden boards or doors on either side.
Paternoster - a specific type of angling tackle, consisting of hooks, wire traces and a lead weight.
Pecks - round, willow-hoop bases for coiling longlines on.
Penny stamps - very small plaice.
Pikey/pipey - polychaete worms, either Sabellaria alveolata or Pectinaria koreni.
Pockets - compartments on the side of a trawl net, above the cod end, which act as fish traps.
Poke - a small bag-net fixed to a wooden frame.
Pole end - the first net cast from a drifter and therefore the one farthest from the boat.
Pounds - compartments for the handling or storage of fish, either on deck or down below in the hold.
Quarters - areas of an otter trawl where the upper wings meet the headline, or where the lower wings meet the bosom.
Rail - top part of the gunwale.
Ransacker - a man who checked over drift nets for defects after they had been mended.
Red bait - the copepods on which mackerel feed.
Red herrings - fish that are heavily salted and smoked for a long period of time.
Reeve - to thread a line or cord through an eye or hole.
Reining - strips of old lint fixed to the bottom of drift nets to act as reinforcement.
Ring-net - a specific type of seine used for catching herring.
Ripper - a type of hand-line with varying numbers of hooks fixed directly to the lead weight.
Roads - the sea approaches to a port.
Rope-room - the space below decks where a drifter's warps lay coiled.
Ross - hard, sandy deposits, resembling coral in shape, that are built by various marine worms.
Rough Pack - to salt down whole, ungutted herrings into barrels.
Rounding - rope of varying grades that was wound round a wire core to form a trawl's ground-rope.
Schooling - shoaling. A term used particularly of mackerel swimming close to the surface.
Score - twenty.
Scotch cure - herrings gutted and then pickled in barrels of brine.
Scruff - shell debris etc. on the sea bed.
Scud - to shake herrings from the meshes of a drift net.
Seed herring - very small, immature herrings.
Seizings - ropes that joined the bottom of a herring net to the warp.
Selvages - the joins or seams where the various parts of a trawl net are laced together.
Shank - a quantity of line of varying length.
Share fisherman - a fisherman paid on a percentage of a boat's net earnings.
Sheer - clear.
Shooting-stick - a piece of wood used to cast longlines, thereby cutting down the risk of fishermen getting hooks caught in their hands.
Shots - quantities of herring caught in one haul.
Shutes - wedge-shaped, open-ended, wooden trays in which longlines were coiled.
Sidecords - the twine along the top and bottom of a drift net.
Skeleton ropes - trawl ground-ropes without any chain added to them.
Slabs - plaice that have recently spawned.
Slinks - mature cod that have very little flesh one them.
Slips - half-grown soles.
Smack - a term for any fishing boat that is powered by sail. Specifically, in the case of Lowestoft and other British ports, it refers to a sailing trawler.
Snag - to catch or come foul.
Snoods - lengths of twine that fixed hooks to longlines.
Sou'wester - a fisherman's oilskin hat of distinctive design.
Spent-term used of fish (especially herrings) that have recently spawned.
Sprag - a half-grown cod.
Spronk - one strand of a drift net's mesh broken.
Square - the top of a trawl net immediately behind the headline.
Stem end - the last net cast from a drifter and therefore the one nearest to the boat.
Stocker bait - money earned by fishing crews (especially on trawlers) over and above their wages. It was usually got by selling small or unwanted fish, net cleanings etc.
Stone-trap - a crescent-shaped slit in the belly of a trawl net, or in the underneath of the cod end itself, through which stones and boulders could pass.
Stones - units of weight according to the Imperial scale, each of which consisted of 14 pounds (6.35 kilograms).
Stow net - a triangular-shaped filter net that is worked directly beneath the vessel using it. Used mainly for sprats.
Strops - ropes which joined the top of drift nets to the buffs. Also, a general term for any rope or wire guys.
Swimming fish - demersal species such as cod, haddock, hake, ling, whiting etc., as opposed to the actual flatfish varieties.
Taffrail - the rail around a boats after-deck.
Take off - fishermen's term for the dispersal of shoals or for a noticeable decrease in the quantity of fish caught.
Tanned - term used of drift nets treated with boiling cutch.
Tanner organs - Great scallops.
Tarpaulin - heavy canvas cover treated with tar or some other waterproofing agent.
Thief net - a poke net that hung under an incoming fleet of drift nets and caught any herrings that fell out of the meshes.
Thick - discoloured sea water.
Third hand - the man below mate on a trawler (a Lowestoft term).
Titlers - tickler chains on a trawl.
Tits - sea anemones (Metridium senile), which were usually trawled up attached to stones.
Towing block - a device that held the two trawl warps together while fishing was in progress.
Train oil - oil originally extracted from whale blubber, but it is also a term loosely applied to any sort of fish-oil.
Trawler - a boat that works a trawl.
Under-run - term used of a boat that lets go its drift nets and then works up and down their length, with one man or more extricating the herring from the meshes.
Vat - to steep herring (soak them) in tanks of brine.
Wale - the rim at the top of a basket.
Warp - (l) the master rope that holds and supports a fleet of drift nets; (2) the thick rope by which a beam trawl is towed along; (3) the wire cable that is used to tow an otter trawl.
Way - the rate of travel of a boat or trawl through the water.
Wings - storage spaces below deck between the hold proper and the sides of the boat.
Yard - an Imperial unit of linear mesurement totalling 36 inches (approximately 0.914 metres).
Yowlers - half-grown herrings.
British and Irish ports and fishing stations in the text
Aberdeen Milford Haven
Ayr North Shields
Castlebay Port Erin
Dunmore East Rosslare
Great Yarmouth Thurso
Fishing grounds and locations in the text - the North Sea
Amrum Bank 54°40'N 7°55'E
Bard Head 60°06'N 1°04'W
Barnard Sand 52°23'N 1°45'E
Borkum Flat 53°52'N 6°16'E
Borkum Inner Ground 53°45'N 6°12'E
Borkum Island 53°38'N 6°38'E
Borkum Outer Ground 53°57'N 5°45'E
Borkum Rough 53°53'N 5°51'E
Botney Gut 53°50'N 2°43'E
Bressa Shoal 59°30'N 00°35'E
Bressay Ground 60°16'N 00°33'E
Broad Fourteens 52°42'N 4°14'E
Broken Bank 53°18'N 2°12'E
Brown Ridges 52°37'N 3°36'E
Clay Deeps 54°57'N 4°15'E
Coal Pit 56°10'N 1°30'E
Corton Sand 52°32'N 1°48'E
Cromer Knoll 53°18'N 1°17'E
Cross Sand 52°38'N 1°58'E
Dowsing Ground 53°35'N 00°51'E
Dowsing Inner Ground 53°20'N 00°35'E
Eastermost Rough 54°05'N 1°13'E
English Klondyke 57°40'N 4°25'E
Fair Isle 59°32'N 1°38'W
Firth of Forth 56°01'N 3°14'W
Flamborough Head 54°09'N 0°25'E
Forty Mile Ground 59°55'N 00°13'E
Inner Gabbards 51°59'N 1°57'E
Outer Gabbards 51°59'N 2°04'E
Galloper 51°47'N 1°57'E
Great Silver Pit 54°04'N 2°20'N
Haddock Bank 53°20'N 1°47'E
Haisbro Sand 52°55'N 1°44'E
Hammonds Knoll 56°52'N 1°55'E
Hearty Knoll 52°45'N 2°08'E
Heligoland 54°20'N 7°15'E
Hills 54°19'N 00°53'E
Hospital Ground 54°23'N 2°43'E
Ijmuiden Ground 52°21'N 3°49'E
Indefatigable Banks 53°34'N 2°19'E
Isle of Noss 60°09'N 1°01'W
Kentish Knock 51°39'N 1°36'E
Knoll Deep 52°32'N 2°33'E
Knoll Flat 52°28'N 2°37'E
Leman Bank 53°06'N 1°58'E
Lower Scruff 55°05'N 4°50'E
Lowestoft Flat 52°28'N 1°58'E
Markhams Hole 53°50'N 2°29'E
May Island 56°11'N 2°33'W
Monkey Bank 56°35'N 6°20'E
Moray Firth 57°39'N 3°58'W
Newcombe Sand 52°26'N 1°46'E
North Hinder 51°40'N 2°34'E
North-West Rough 55°54'N 1°30'E
Norwegian Deeps 60°45'N 2°30'E
Orford Ness 52°05'N 1°35'E
Ower Bank 53°10'N 1°59'E
Scalloway 60°08'N 1°16'W
Scarborough Bay 54°17'N 0°23'W
Score Head 60°12'N 1°04'W
Scroby Sand 52°38'N 1°49'E
Sheringham Bank 53°03'N 1°11'E
Shipwash 51°47'N 1°37'E
Sizewell Bank 52°13'N 1°40'E
Skate Hole 54°06'N 1°40'E
Smiths Knoll 52°53'N 2°12'E
Sole Pit 53°40'N 1°30'E
South Rough 54°21'N 2°58'E
South-west Patch 54°27'N 2°20'E
Sumburgh Head 59°51'N 1°17'W
Swarte Bank 53°23'N 2°14'E
Tail End 55°50'N 4°10'E
Terschelling Island 53°24'N 5°20'E
Texel 53°03'N 4°27'E
Thornton Ridge 51°32'N 2°52'E
Upper Scruff 54°38'N 3°50'E
Viking Bank 60°40'N 2°32'E
Well Bank 53°15'N 2°00'E
Well Hole 53°46'N 1°48'E
West Hinder 51°27'N 2°33'E
Winterton Ridge 52°50'N 2°01'E
Fishing grounds and locations in the text -
Dover Strait and English Channel
Beachy Head 50°44'N 0°14'E
Bishop Rock 49°52'N 6°21'W
Bolt Head 50°13'N 3°47'W
Bolt Tail 50°14'N 3°52'W
Cape Gris Nez 50°52'N 1°34'W
Dungeness 50°55'N l°OO'E
East Rutts 50°13'N 3°58'W
Eddystone Light 50°11'N 4°16'W
Goodwin Sands 51°15'N 1°33'W
Isle of Wight 50°33'N 1°1?'W
Longships Light 50°04'N 5°45'W
Long Shoal 50°45'N 0°26'N
Mounts Bay 50°03'N 5°25'W
Needles 50°40'N 1°36'W
Round Island 49°58'N 6°19'W
Rye Bay 50°53'N 0°48'E
Sandettie Shoal from 51°10'N 1°48'E to
Seven Stones Light 50°04'N 6°05'W
South Falls 51°22'N 1°47'E
Start Bay 50°16'N 3°37'W
Tresco 49°57'N 6°20'W
Varne Bank 50°58'N 1°21'E
West Rutts 50°14'N 4°05'W
Wolf Rock 49°57'N 5°48'W
Fishing grounds and locations in the text - Saint Georges Channel, the
Irish Sea, the North Channel and the Firth of Clyde
Ailsa Craig 55°15'N 5°07'W
Anglesey 53°21'N 4°28'W
Bailey Light 53°22'N 6°03'W
Ballycotton Bay 51°50'N 8°01'W
Ballyquintin Point 54°20'N 5°30'W
Ballyteige Bay 52°12'N 6°40'W
Bar Lightship 53°32'N 3°21'W
Bardsey Island 52°46'N 4°47'W
Barrels Light 52°09'N 6°23'W
Big Tongue 54°01'N 5°14'W
Blackpool Deeps 53°47'N 3°54'W
Blackwater Bank 52°27'N 6°10'W
Caernarvon Bay 53°04'N 4°39'W
Calf of chicken Rock 54°02'N 4°49'W
Cape Cornwall Bank 50°14'N 5°48'W
Cardigan Bay 52°25'N 4°25'W
Carlingford Lough 54°01'N 6°04'W
Carmarthen Bay 51°40'N 4°32'W
Carnsore Point 52°10'N 6°22'W
Codling Bank 53°05'N 5°52'W
Colwyn Bay 53°18'N 3°42'W
Conningbeg Light 52°02'N 6°40'W
Douglas Hole 53°51'N 4°27'W
Dundalk Bay 53°56'N 6°13'W
Dundrum Bay 54°12'N 5°47'W
Dunmore East 52°09'N 6°59'W
Firth of Clyde 55°49'N 4°57'W
Godrevy Light 50°14'N 5°24'W
Grassholm Island 51°43'N 5°27'W
Great Ormes Head 53°20'N 3°51'W
Greenore Point 52°14'N 6°19'W
Gulland Rock 50°34'N 4°59'W
Gynfelin Patches Buoy 52°28'N 4°14'W
Hartland Point 51°01'N 4°32'W
Helwick Sand 51°31'N 4°18'W
King William Buoy 54°26'N 4°01'W
Kish Bank 53°17'N 5°56'W
Lambay Deeps 53°26'N 5°48'W
Langness 54°03'N 4°37'W
Little Tongue 53°55'N 5°12'W
Liverpool Bay 53°29'N 3°20'W
Lucifer Bank 52°21'N 6°14'W
Lundy Island 51°11'N 4°43'W
Maughold Head 54°18'N 4°18'W
Melville Knoll 49°17'N 8°22'W
Mersey Estuary 53°28'N 3°04'W
Morecambe Bay 54°54'N 3°18'W
Mountains of Mourne 54°09'N 6°00'W
North Stacks 53°19'N 4°41'W
Old Head of Kinsale 51°38'N 8°33'W
Oxwich Bay 51°32'N 4°06'W
Padstow Rough 50°36'N 5°04'W
Pendeen Point 50°10'N 5°41'W
Point of Ayre 54°25'N 4°22'W
Point Lynus 53°25'N 4°18'W
Rathlin Island 55°18'N 6°14'W
Redwharf Bay 53°18'N 4°11'W
Rockabill 53°36'N 6°00'W
Saint Anns Head 51°41'N 5°11'W
Saint Bees Head 54°31'N 3°38'W
Saint Gowans Head 51°36'N 4°55'W
Saltees Island 52°07'N 6°36'W
Skerries Light 53°25'N 4°36'W
Smalls Ground 51°41'N 5°46'W
Solway Firth 54°50'N 3°30'W
South Stacks 53°18'N 4°42'W
Southernmost Rough 53°00'N 5°10'W
Spion Kop 50°22'N 5°25'W
Strumble Head 52°02'N 5°04'W
Tremadoc Bay 52°52'N 4°15'W
Tuskar Rock 52°12'N 6°12'W
Watergate Bay 50°25'N 5°06'W
Wigtown Bay 54°46'N 4°14'W
Fishing grounds and locations in the text - The Atlantic Ocean
Aran Island 55°00'N 8°33'W
Barra Head 56°47'N 7°40'W
Butt of Lewis 58°31'N 6°16'W
Donegal Bay 54°32'N 8°51'W
Fastnet Rock 51°23'N 9°36'W
Jura Sound 55°48'N 5°56'W
Labadie Bank 50°25'N 8°14'W
Lough Foyle 52°12'N 6°58'W
Lough Swilly 55°10'N 7°32'W
Northern Minch 58°26'N 5°42'W
Porcupine Bank 53°15'N 13°30'W
Sheephaven 55°17'N 7°59'W
Tory Island 55°16'N 8°14'W
Whiten Head 58°35'N 4°35'W
Distant water grounds
Fishing grounds and locations in the text -
The Arctic Ocean and Barents Sea
North Cape, Norway
Organisation of Material
The method chosen for presenting the information collected is basically an alphabetical arrangement of species within each particular section (apart from the final one, where details of gear are discussed). There is then a further breakdown in the notes on each species, where such broadening-out is required, and a system of subheadings to act as indicators of content. I am aware that the while structure is arbitrary and that it may also lack logic in places, but my whole concern has been to make the report as clear as possible and to avoid too much repetition. I have also attempted to make it as honest as I possibly can, in that I have not consulted specialist text books on marine flora and fauna to offset the data given there against what I have been told. If this report is to have any value, I think that it must lie chiefly in presenting the natural and unequivocal response of my informants within the overall context of the recording scheme. It is not up to me to then qualify this response by modifying what they have told me. One or two obvious errors have been omitted and I am indebted to both John Riley and Pat Scholes for their help in identifying various marine species that I was not able to pinpoint myself.
Apart from this minor tidying-up, though, the whole thing stands as given. It has to. Research material must lose its value if compromised in any way and I am very unhappy, too, about a method of enquiry where the researcher first makes up his or her mind and then proceeds to shape the "facts" to fit the preconception. This seems to me to be the means adopted by many contemporary historians and sociologists and, as a historian of sorts myself, I doubt its honesty. That is why I have tampered as little as possible with the information that has been given to me so freely. Broadly speaking, the bulk of it relates to the interwar period, but there is also a fair amount that is connected with the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Specific years are given where this is felt to be useful, but the time-scale of the report overall functions on a structure of decades rather than individual twelve-month periods.
List of respondents
It is with gratitude that I acknowledge the help given to me, in varying measure, by the following people; and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking them for the interest they have shown in my investigation of the East Anglian fishing industry. Ernie Armes, Harry Colby, Herbert Doy, Harry Eastick, Arthur Evans, Jimmy Fisher, Frank Fisk, Ernie Fiske, Bill Garnham, Bill Jarvis, George Kent, Harold Mitchell, David Mullender, Ned Mullender, Tom Outlaw, Reggie Reynolds, Jack Rose, Capt. S. T. Smith, George Stock, Jack Sturman, Billy Thorpe, Horace Thrower, Joe Utting, Wally Warnes.
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