Fishing competition

Looking back to Davis across the sea-ice from Gardner Island, April 2003.
Looking back to Davis across the sea-ice from Gardner Island, April 2003. (Photo: J Smith)
Fishing competition in full swing.The catch - small cod, April 2003.John catches a piece of seaweed, April 2003.Weighing the winning catch, April 2003.

22 April 2003

Now the sea-ice is thick enough for local recreational travel on foot or on skis, several small parties have taken the opportunity to visit the small rocky islands just offshore, within station limits. It is quiet out there, in fact when there is no wind it can be eerily, completely silent. Only along the shore is a soft creaking heard from time to time, as the ice lifts and falls with the tide, and floes gently grate against the coastal rocks.

Gardner Island four kilometres from the station is in summer the site of Adélie Penguin colonies but there are no live penguins there now, just the mummified remains of those birds both young and old that failed to make it through the breeding season. Anchorage Island two kilometres away is devoid of penguins, but has two high crosses on its skyline ridge in memory of the two expeditioners who have died at Davis in past years.

A different recreational trip on to the sea-ice took place at Easter. In contrast to the four day holiday back in Australia, we took only two days' break over the Easter weekend, although we still enjoyed the usual festive treats of hot cross buns, silver-wrapped chocolate eggs, and Ben Hur. On Sunday we also had a fishing competition. It was postponed a day because of wind and snow, but was finally conducted in nearly perfect weather: mild by local standards (about −10 degrees), and although overcast, almost windless.

Jim and Sharon organised it, drilling the holes through the ice and supplying chairs and tackle. The site was less than a kilometre offshore, with the fishing places spaced out in a companionable circle so we could all call out to each other yet not feel we were poaching each other's fish.

At 2:00 pm the competition began. Hand-lines, with hooks baited with small pieces of mutton trimmings and weighted by steel nuts and bolts, were lowered through the mushy ice floating in the holes. It was important to reach the bottom where the fish feed, which turned out to be only three or four metres down. We settled back to wait, jiggling the lines hopefully.

Jim came round with magazines, and offering cups of tea and taking photographs. There was a small fee for every service, all going to the Stay Fund, a charitable collection being made at Davis for the Guide Dogs Association, one of whose collection boxes in the form of a golden retriever guide dog is a station mascot.

The first fish was hooked. Nanette was loud in her shouts of excitement as she tried to haul it in, but her line broke. What she had caught we shall never know. Certainly it was larger than the next fish to be pulled up, one of the small brown cod that are common in local waters.

So common, in fact, that every fish caught after that was of the same species. They are not spectacular fish, quite ugly apart from their pretty camouflaged brown mottling. They have big heads and mouths and small bodies, and seldom grow longer than about 16 cm. It is difficult to tell when one is hooked, because they are so passive as well as being small. Altogether 15 of them were pulled in: there is still a long way to go before we fill our permit quota of 500!

The competition ended after two hours. We packed up and walked back, hauling the gear on a sled. A weigh-in was conducted outside the living quarters, with the largest fish not even registering on the huge scales. Prizes were presented, including a large cup (made from a biscuit tin) to the overall winner.

Who was the winner? Well as it happens, it was none other than yours truly, who caught nine fish! I then had the job of scaling, filleting and cooking them as an entrée to dinner, missing the Ben Hur sea battle as a result. It was hardly worthwhile. Although they were deliciously fresh (for a change – all our kitchen fish has been frozen for months) each battered fillet made only one small mouthful.

Any tips from the winner? If ever in future you should get involved in an Antarctic fishing competition, remember to use a small hook, and change the bait every 15 minutes or so to keep it fresh. And certainly don't count on catching your supper!