Family mackerel fishing Tenby

A family fishing trip from a Welsh harbour was the highlight of Charles Williams’ summer holiday. He discovers that there’s a primal pleasure to catching and cooking your own fish - even if your brother catches more than you do, dammit.

A bit of larking about.. and so were the kids

View of Tenby from Castle Beach, Pembrokeshire

View of Tenby from Castle Beach, Pembrokeshire by Paula J James

It’s a cloudless July morning as we step onto the sands of Tenby’s Castle Beach, where a fishing boat is waiting. The children run ahead. My brother picks up a handful of sand, and lobs it at me. He’s so childish. I flick his ear. He knocks my hat off. 

We’re on a family holiday in Pembrokeshire with our parents, just like we used to when we were kids. Difference is, this time we’re forty-something adults with wives and children of our own. But for some reason, we’re behaving just like we did when we were 12. Ah well. I rugby-tackle my brother into the sand. 

Nothing like a bit of family competition

Tenby (view South with Caldey Island in background)

Tenby and Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire

Beneath the larking around, there’s an underlying deadly-seriousness. We’re setting off on a family fishing trip: my brother and his boys, me and my daughters, and my father. Nobody has said it aloud, but we all want to catch the most fish. We’re pretending that it won’t matter if we catch nothing (“Nice to be outdoors,” etc) but none of us mean it. We want fish. Lots of them.

We climb aboard and the boat heads out into the calm waters between Caldey Island and the shore. The skipper cuts the engine, and as we drift lazily on the incoming tide, he gives us a quick fishing lesson. 

Just drop your lines into the water, he says. When you feel the weight touch the sea bed, reel it back up a bit, then jiggle it around. The fish’ll bite, and you just haul ‘em back in.

“Jiggle it around?” Really? As easy as that? Surely not. But almost immediately, someone gets a bite. Damn. It’s my brother. He reels in two fat mackerel, a pair of thrashing muscles that flash with a brilliant cobalt blue. Into the bucket they go. Another cry goes up: “I’ve got one!” This time it’s my daughter, beaming with excitement. Then something terrible happens: my brother catches three more, all on the same line. My daughter catches another pair. I love her and everything, but this is getting embarrassing.

Catching mackerel while out fishing

Mackerel fishing by alexbrn

Then it happens to me. A muscular twitch on the line, transmitting an electric charge up through the rod and into my hands. I reel it in. 

I’ve got one! Just one, but it’s a start. For the next 30 minutes, it’s pandemonium. We’re catching fish as fast as we can haul them in. 

The bucket is filling rapidly - mostly mackerel, but the occasional gurnard and pollock. 

By the time the skipper starts the engine and turns to shore, the bucket is full. We tally up. Me: 18 fish. My daughter: 27. My brother: *cough* 33. Everyone else has caught plenty, too. Back at the harbour, the skipper shows us how to ‘butterfly’ fillet the fish in a couple of easy swipes of his knife, and away we go.

Preparing the catch

Barbecuing mackerel on the beach caught sea kayaking off the coast of Pembrokeshire

Beach barbecued mackerel caught from sea kayaking, Pembrokeshire by www.AlastairHumphreys.com

Back at our cottage, we light the barbecue and swiftly fillet our catch. We grill the mackerel fillets for a minute on each side, add a squirt of lemon, salt and pepper, and blob of horseradish mayonnaise. The children, who are tasting self-caught mackerel for the first time, declare it the best fish they’ve ever tasted. 

It’s just about the most fun they’ve had this summer holiday, too. Or any other holiday, for that matter. I don’t care that the children caught more fish than I did. I don’t even mind that my brother did. Well, not much...