Captain Nasty's penalty claws : Fishing Lines

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The Independent Online
GOD moves in mysterious ways, and one of the oddest was how He gave a psychotic Mevagissey trawler skipper his come-uppance for breaking my line. The picturesque Cornish port has a narrow harbour entrance with a lighthouse at its southernmost poin t. It's a prime fishing spot where you can catch everything from bass and mackerel to red bream and conger eels, even sea trout and salmon.

Years ago, the harbour's fish plant tipped all its waste bones, skins, heads and tails off the quay. It certainly added a surprise element to bottom-fishing, and once I even hooked a shark here. A sad story, this. It had been dumped by the charter boats that work south Cornish ports every summer to catch blue sharks for holidaymakers. These sharks are small and harmless (unless you're a macker el) but until very recently, they were killed purely for macho quayside photographs, then unceremoniously thrown away, or used as crab bait.

Anyway, we always fished off the quay end, though you had to watch out for trawlers, especially at night, or it was easy to lose your line. Generally this wasn't a problem, but there was one skipper with Hitler's genes and the charm of a rabid dog. Most trawlers kept well clear, but this sociopath would run his filthy, corroded hulk at full tilt right next to the wall. If you weren't alert, your rod would be pulled in. He was delighted when this happened, especially if the rod belonged to a youngster.

The best we could do in revenge was throw smouldering mackerel on his boat when he wasn't looking, but the tub was so filthy that I'm not sure he noticed. In my dreams, I beat him up nightly, but in real life, I cowered from the thug like everyone else, including the other skippers.

It was an unlikely couple, a small Mancunian grockle and his wife, who inspired the retribution we all dreamed about. Captain Nasty had a particular dislike of anyone who didn't have a Cornish accent, but he could put on human characteristics if he scented money, especially the sort of cash that a brace of lobsters could command.

Because the Northerner's wife was dressed in a miniskirt, the skipper decided to show off for her. Sticking a hefty lobster, claws unbound with string or elastic bands, under each arm, he started to climb the slippery dockside ladder. That's when it all went wrong. One of the lobsters, obviously knowing the fate that awaited it, grabbed the ladder with its claws. So did the other crustacean. They gripped the ladder so tightly that the trawlerman couldn't climb up or down, and couldn't use hi s hands to break the lobsters' death grip. The more he struggled, the tighter the lobsters clung on.

I was fishing inside the harbour for mullet and saw the whole incident. It was worth all those lost weights, floats and hooks. To compound the scene, the skipper had to ask someone to fetch another boat owner for help, using a lot of words starting with "f", none of which was fish. When one arrived, however, he roared with laughter, and instead of helping dragged all the other trawler crews from the pub to enjoy the situation. Sadly, Captain Nasty was eventually freed, though we rather hoped the lobsters would hold on for a few days.

Although the incident didn't stop him trying to run our lines down, it gave us a wonderful riposte every time he passed.

Anglers and trawlers generally get on about as well as Hizbollah militants and Hasidic Jews. When you fish from a beach and a trawler works so close that you have to wind in your line, it's hard to be objective about them. Many professional fishermen listen into an angling boat's short-wave radio, then net the area where they've been catching fish. Experienced angling boats don't reveal their catches now, using codes and even lies to protect their marks.

But it's hard not to feel a trace of sympathy for the raw deal that our trawlers are getting. Letting the Spanish fleet, by far the largest in Europe, into our waters will be a disaster. British boats aren't renowned for their adherence to size limits but the Spanish, as those who have shopped in the markets will know, bag anything with fins, no matter how tiddly.

Without curbs (and trying to decommission the British fleet is no sort of answer), the only sea fishing we will be able to do in a few years' time will be in rock pools - and it won't take the dastardly Spanish long to find out about them, either. It's ashame Captain Nasty isn't still around. We may well have seen the armada defeated for a second time.

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