Cornwall LivingIssue #63

An afternoon delight

Relatively new to the waters around Porthleven, my brother takes me out aboard the Bridie Jean to see if we can’t catch ourselves some supper.

As we ease our way out of port, Ben calls “Grab the fenders, Dan!” Used to fend off wandering boats as they bob listlessly in the gentle waters of the harbour, these bright orange buoys have no use once we hit open water, so as Ben begins to up the ante with the throttle, in they come.

“… two brothers, with nothing between us and the open sea besides a rolling deck and a younger sibling’s trust in his elder.”

I look to my left, up at the iconic Porthleven clock tower, before gazing along the pier, where I see a man obviously enjoying the pleasant afternoon from his foldout chair. The tip of his fishing rod arcs slightly as he tightens gently up to his bait, presumably presented just off the rocky shelf below.

To my right, paddle boarders and surfers sit above Porthleven’s famed reef break, waiting for the next set to roll in, and ahead of me, at the helm, stands Ben, my older brother of nearly three years.

This is the stuff of dreams for boys like us, having grown up fishing along west Cornwall’s coastline. It’s funny; not so long ago, Ben and I wouldn’t have been found in the same room together, not to mention unaccompanied on a boat and heading out to sea, yet here we are – two brothers, with nothing between us and the open sea besides a rolling deck and a younger sibling’s trust in his elder.

As Porthleven disappears behind us and begins to blend into the industrial landscape of the coast, I call up to my captain for the afternoon: “What’s the plan then?”

“I don’t mind,” he responds, more concerned with the display on the fish-finder. He has a few marks that we could head for, but still being quite new to this, he opts for a wreck that he’s already managed to locate and that’s only around eight miles out. “Only,” he says, his grin betraying his brotherly delight at my not-so-unperturbed expression. I steel myself for the trip ahead as I look out over the open expanse of water surrounding us, water that, according to the depth gauge, is in excess of 200 feet!

Ben explains that the locals’ knowledge has been invaluable in helping his confidence to grow. They’ve told him where to head for and where to avoid; where to go at high tide and where to leave well alone when it’s low. They’ve even shown him the best knots for his lures! Most importantly, as someone who’s never owned a boat before, they’ve given him the confidence to forge ahead, away from the shelter of the harbour, and to start discovering the Cornish coast for himself.

He goes on, his smile now fully formed, telling me that there are hours of fun to be had out on the water – and you don’t just have to spend it fishing. Wherever your mooring is, you’ll soon begin to get a feel for the local waters; in no time you’ll start unearthing their secrets, from calm, secluded creeks to crystal-clear snorkelling spots. The best part is that, far from the madding crowd, you’ll get an overwhelming sense of exclusivity, as if you’ve been let in on some of Cornwall’s best-kept secrets.

A few chilled hours go by, filled with catch-up conversations and brotherly wisecracks (after all, catching the fish of the day is something to brag about), before we finally pinpoint the wreck and start catching a few more. Eventually, Ben tells me it’s time to turn back.

His instinct is impeccable and as we begin eating up the miles back to shore, the sea starts to grow increasingly agitated – perhaps rueing the disappearing sun as it edges beneath the horizon. More likely is that Ben made the right call, even if his younger brother will never admit it.

Fast-forward three days. It’s the Cornwall Living staff barbeque and thankfully, after boldly promising fish for all, I’ve got at least something to show for my efforts. Haddock is on the menu – a firm favourite – as well as pollock, and it’s not long before the herb butter starts melting, sizzling on the coals and sending wafts of flavour across the beach. This is definitely my favourite way to enjoy seafood – sitting on the beach with a simple disposable barbeque, a local ale or two to hand.

I get a distinct feeling of satisfaction as I peel back the foil and get a look at the tender flakes of fish, glistening with juices and speckled with herbs. Perhaps it’s the ‘pat on the back’ feeling of having hunted and gathered, or maybe I’m just pleased not to be empty handed. Either way, with a whole host of other species in our seas to be caught and with the idea of self-sustenance and ‘farm to fork’ dining getting ever more popular in Cornwall, I’d strongly encourage you to give it a go, too!

To prepare my fish, I simply mix butter, chopped fennel and parsley, before spooning it over the scored fillets and slotting in some lemon wedges. Wrapping them in foil before placing them on the grill helps seal in all the flavours and when finished, which doesn’t take long, they’re a delightful addition to any barbeque, even as the main course!

When it comes to fish, it’s important to do your research. Some have their own distinct flavour that you don’t want to overpower; some, like pollock, are quite bland but very malleable, meaning they can be infused with a wide variety of tastes and aromas. Don’t be afraid to be creative, either. My recipe is very simple, but just one search on Google can yield enough results to fill that blank recipe book you’ve been meaning to dust off.

Discover More

Don’t just rely on your local restaurants’ specials board, when you could catch one of these species for yourself. There are more, but here are some of
my favourites:

  • Cod
  • Sea bass
  • Plaice
  • Turbot
  • Brill
  • Black bream

Teach yourself!

When it comes to filleting fish, Ben tells me: “Just go on Youtube. There are loads of tutorials on how to do it, and for individual species, too.”

"... two brothers, with nothing between us and the open sea besides a rolling deck and a younger sibling’s trust in his elder."