Fishing for Mackerel on the High Tide

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I am at the municipal wharf fishing next to a Filipino. (I always try to place myself next to a Filipino. Filipinos know more than anyone else about fishing from a wharf; it’s a fact!) He says the mackerel are going to come over with the high tide. I already believe that, from experience.

There are always tourists on the wharf, from a little bit of everywhere. Invariably, some are fishermen and fisherwomen, or would like to be. Two tourists have overheard us. They are from southern Indiana. It’s the first time they have actually seen the ocean, they say.

One of them asks if he heard right: you catch mackerel on the high tide? He is a fisherman himself; he fishes a lake-reservoir near Bloomington. I explain to him that the tide is high every 11 to 14 hours or so and that the sea recedes between those high marks. The mackerel, for their own very private reasons, mass on the high tides, and that’s when they look for something to eat, an anchovy, or even a shiny bare hook.

I belong myself to the tribe that values knowledge for its own sake. Fortunately, I am a fisherman.

I make a disgusting noise with my mouth to signal that the moon causes the oceans to slosh by kind of sucking on them and then releasing them. The first tourist seems interested but also puzzled by my lack of precision about the times when high tides occur. He also wants to know how important it is to respect the tides. I tell him what I know, what I think I know: you catch much more fish on the high tide than at any other time. The Filipino guy moves his head approvingly. I have instant validation. How do I figure out the tides, the first tourist asks? You can get tide tables for the current year at the tackle shop right over there. They are not exactly accurate but they are good enough for fishing; ask any expert fishermen (plural).

Hoosier number two wants to know what causes tides. He has already heard that it’s the moon. If that is so, he states, why can’t the high tide occur at exactly regular intervals? I point out to him that the moon changes its position relative to the earth pretty much all the time. And then I let him know that the sun also has an effect, a sucking effect like the moon’s but a weaker one because it’s farther away, and the earth rotation, and the local relief, and the winds, and . . .

By the time I am less than a third into my lecture on tides, tourist number two is looking at me with vacant eyes; I am afraid that his face will fall forward and hit the rough wood banister. But tourist number one now has tide tables in his hand and he is examining them with animated curiosity. The man would soon catch mackerel if he lived around here, I am thinking. The other tourist, the head-nodding one, understands tides at least 500% better than he did a short while ago. It does not matter to him at this point that he knows no more than one one-thousandth of what’s known about tides. He has no idea of this reality anyway.

The Filipino guy moves his head approvingly. I have instant validation.

I belong myself to the tribe that values knowledge for its own sake. Fortunately, I am a fisherman (an average fisherman). It helps me keep track of the fact that catching fish is also valuable, in several ways. Plus, I really like the fatty taste of mackerel. What I told the two tourists about tides serves both purposes. I believe that the first guy does not need to understand in detail the complex mechanisms of tidal motions to catch more fish. Of course, he must be convinced that I am not lying to him, that the mackerel really run on the high tide, and not on the low tide, for example

In the end, it all depends on what you want, mackerel or knowledge.

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PS: When you cook mackerel, gut it but don’t remove the head, ever! Put it in a fairly hot skillet (not to a maximum heat, more like three-quarters High). Do not use oil or butter. The fish cooks best in its own fat. After it’s well seized on both sides, reduce the heat and cover to finish by steaming. It’s ready when the flesh comes off the main bone easily. Mackerel is not a wimpy fish; it’s hard to ruin. Salt only just before you serve. You can add black pepper anytime. Eat with lemon, of course. One more thing: if your spouse or partner is not a fishy-fish person you may have to trade him or her in after the second or third time you cook mackerel at home. Life is made of choices.

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