The Herring are Here

By , April 25, 2011

I’m feeling pretty damn smug right now. Or, I would be, if I weren’t so doggone tired.

The herring arrived off the homestead beach on Easter, just as I predicted.

I don’t know if herring wait for calm weather to spawn, but it seems likely. In this, our fifth year of fishing the herring runs, we’ve noticed that they almost always shoal against the shore in calm seas. After days of strong southeast winds, Easter morning dawned calm and sunny. Bald eagles sat in the trees above the cabin, over the garden, and perched on the southern point, watching the water intently. Most convincingly, the small, black headed Bonaparte gulls, with their odd, feisty cry, showed up.

bald eagle

An eagle sits in the tree above our smokehouse, waiting for herring (Photo: Aly Zeiger).

The Bonapartes made it just in time, as it turned out. After Aly hunted Easter eggs, and lunch, we went out and looked into the clear water of the fjord, some 20 feet below our feet, and saw the herring shoals.

Inconveniently, we’d showered and dressed in nice clothes. Michelle even cut my hair. We were not in a position to fish, wallowing in salt water, slimy with seaweed and scales, but the work of the homestead is no respecter of schedules or holidays (My takeaway lesson: dressing up is almost never worth it). We ran inside and changed into scrubby clothes and headed to the beach with nets in hand.

With the tide so low, there’s no way we could set the gill net well, as that needs a boat to haul one end out into the fjord. Instead, we used cast nets and dip nets.

Now, there’s a real trick to throwing a cast net, a leashed, circular net developed by South Sea islanders. It takes study (to choose the best method) and practice. Usually, just before a run, I review my instructions to ensure I know what I’m supposed to do. If I can, I even practice throwing to make sure the lead weighted edge of the net fans out into a fish-catching circle over the water.

This year, I’ve been focusing on getting in next winter’s firewood, so I haven’t practiced, or even reviewed the instructions. As a consequence, Easter’s fishing excursion proved to be a bit haphazard. Michelle joined me with a smaller cast net, and a dip net.

herring fishing

Michelle prepares her cast net, while Mark throws his. It will be a bad cast. The net will fail to fan out to its full circle (Photo: Aly Zeiger).

But we caught about a gallon of herring! I hauled in several good sets, and Michelle scooped the rest in with the dip net. It wasn’t much, but it was a good start. And, it was all bonus, considering that we’d originally planned to leave the fish alone until today.

herring fishing

Mark makes another small haul to add to the herring already in the bucket (Photo: Aly Zeiger).

The run has begun. It’s going to take most of our attention for a while. Thank goodness there’s plenty of Easter chocolate to sustain us in our efforts . . . .


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