Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hunting and the hunter

Imagine, if you can, being out in the sea -- knee deep maybe, but two hundred yards from shore on a 'dark' - a moonless night, a smuggler's night. The looming bulk of Strzelecki mountain blacks out a part of the sky. The rest of it is spiked with a shawl of fairy-light stars, and the sky is so clear that they seem close. It almost looks as if you could poke one of them with your flounder-spear and short out the whole lot. The sea, silent and just about as black as the mountain is lit by four tiny patches of underwater light. We're out hunting the hunter -- and a very unusual hunter it is too. Okay so I'm an ichthyologist so I would think so, but flounders (or soles) are weird with eyes that have migrated onto one side of their heads. They are the hunters of the shallow sand and mud flats where there is no cover and prawns and crabs and shoals of little needle-nose garfish think they are safe from ambush. Not so. The master of camoflage is lurking... and we're out in the dark doing something probably as ancient as humanity, trying to spear fish.

Okay so we're trying an art that was old before neolithic fish-hooks, that was common (and still practiced today)in ancient Greece. We do have an underwater light and not a piece of burning pitch-pine, and, rather than a poseidon-style trident off a Greek vase, a multipronged spear polycarbon spear (although Rex is still using a trident with a wooden shaft). To make up for this we have John-boy turning the light away just as you are ready to spear, and laughing like a drain at your cursing. It's still something humans have done forever, really (probably the turning the light away too). It fits in well to my ideas on self-sufficiency. Besides that there is something really very special about being out in the middle of the bay and having another flounderer come past "how many yer got?"
"Aw, 'bout seventy. n'you?"
"Yeah, 'bout that. It's a bad night."
(needless to say the real score is about 3 at this stage.)
I tried (and failed) to catch the needlelike garfish swimming into the pool of light with my hands. And caught a large swimming prawn... which like the idiot I am, I dropped. Barbs was better at spearing than I am, although I probably have the edge in spotting rocks that I thought looked like flounders.
Then back to gut and bag flounders and have the hot coffee we were dying for... somewhere near midnight we finally crawled into bed.
Flounders tonight for our tea (that means supper in other parts).


  1. Sounds ideal to me! Socializing on a reef flat, spearing food, good friends and just being out under the stars enjoying life (amidst the shivering and swearing, I mean...).
    I used to use the trident octopi spear anytime I did reeftop fishing. If there was a chance of actual swimming, then the Hawaiian Sling (we all made them in metal shop, high school. Different times tho).
    Lucky dog!


  2. :-)Yep. Got it in one, John (including the shivering). There is something very special about the camraderie in these things. And there's an element of passing a tradition on too - a couple of flounderers won't see sixty again. They showed us how to gut them, told us about the deep channel. Laughed at us a bit, but I think were warmed too by our enthusiasm and eagerness to learn something that is not everyone's cup of tea.

  3. Now here's a question for you. Here in Japan, there are hirame and karei -- both flat, with their eyes on one side, BUT one is right-side, one is left-side. And people here pay a lot more for one than the other, because they say it is better eating (and rarer). Growing up in ground-locked America, I didn't know there were two kinds of flounder, and I'm still not sure I believe that they are different. Do you have right and left-handed fish there, too?

  4. Lol - not so far in my sample of 14, Mike. I will keep a look out for them.

  5. I got intrigued and dug around a bit. Apparently, hirame is the left-handed ones, also known as summer flounder. Karei is the right-hand one, known as winter flounder or sometimes halibut? And judging by the pictures at you've been catching winter flounder, which would be karei.

  6. Yes, I just checked - Family pleuronectidae - of which the greenback flounder Rhombosolea tapirina is a member - are right hand eye migration one. I thought you meant within one species which seemed unlikely

  7. Oh, sorry. No, it's a different fish -- in the fish store, aside from the eyes being oriented differently, they are notably different in appearance. Having the eyes migrate differently in one species would be unusual. Although we have left and right handed people, why couldn't the eyes do their own thing?