I’m not sure who had the idea to go out to be screeched in the night before hitting the open ocean for cod jigging because it certainly was not the wisest of ideas. The screech in ceremony is a right of passage to becoming an honorary Newfoundlander. It involves one shot of screech (read: rum), kissing a cod, and answering ‘Deed I is, me ol’ cock and long may your big jib draw when asked the question Is ye a Screecher? No problem, right? Well if you are becoming an honorary Newfoundlander in St. John’s, your evening will begin and most likely on George St. where you will not just consume one shot of rum. You will have many.
This is why I’m not sure why we decided to hit up George St. on the eve of our fishing day.
We woke up on Sunday morning feeling a little rough. It was slow going to reach Petty Harbour, a small town south of St. John’s where we were to learn how to jig for cod. We were greeted at Fishing for Success with open arms and boxes of cookies and crackers. The crackers were heavenly! I was in dire need of something to fill my stomach.
We met Leo, our captain, and were outfitted in our fishing attire. The Newfoundland weather gods had blessed us with clear, blue skies. A gentle ocean spray felt cool on my sun kissed cheeks as we sailed out of the harbour and onto the open ocean. As we sailed farther from the habour, the Atlantic ocean lay endlessly ahead of us. The rugged Newfoundland coast to our left and right was spread along in its sparse splendor.
Leo delighted us as he spoke about his life as a fisherman, the state of the fishing industry and his love of the ocean. After circling a few times trying to find the spot we dropped our jigs into the ocean. Letting the length of fishing wire find the ocean floor, dragging along the bait, hoping to attract a cod.
It was a tranquil experience. Waiting and alert for the tug on the line. I was happy for a calm and clear day. The ocean swells were not very big. However, the motion of bringing up the line and continuously looking down at the water, did not satisfy my stomach. The result can only be described as “chumming the waters”. The expression was one I had never heard.
I was happy to do my part. Not long after our friend Mike caught the first cod of the day. It was incredible to watch as he pulled in the line, grasp by grasp swiftly as to not allow the cod to rip free. The first catch lightened the mood and we all returned to our lines with renewed hope of being the next person to catch a cod.
We were out on the water for a few hours when my stomach, again, would not settle. Leo, feeling sorry for me, offered to bring us back to land. We quickly made our way back to the harbour. As terrible as I felt from the sea-sickness, I made an effort to enjoy the pleasant glide over the water and the view of the Newfoundland coast from the ocean.
When we docked, Kim, Leo’s wife, had laid a spread of homemade muffins made from locally picked blueberries and tea. Leo cleaned our fish and let the boys, Mark and Mike, try gutting the fish. I was happy to stay back and drink tea. Slowly, my stomach began to settle and grumble at the thought of the upcoming fish-fry dinner.
I would love to hit the open water and try cod jigging again. The next time, however, there will be no screech and no Black Horse beer the night before.
** Fishing for Success is a nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to living, sharing, and celebrating the traditional fishing knowledge and culture that sustained generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.