Below is an excerpt from the interview carried out with Tommy Ralston on the 2nd November 2017.
Catching Herring – ‘So many different ways of searching oot the kill!’
You knew they were there – then one would betray his brothers by jumping and that was enough. You only needed one to let the mob doon and you’d got them all.
You could smell the things. You could smell herring… oh aye… how could you smell herring? Well it’s quite simple – because what feeds on herring? Bigger fish – an they take a bite out the herring and the oil will come up from the herring and there’s a distinct smell – there’s no question at all. The only sense I knew of that you didn’t use was taste. But smell hearing, touch all the other they were all used.
My uncle Henry – my mothers brother – used to tell us of lining up in Cromo waiting for the sun to go down and they were neighbouring a BA pair – a BA man I’m not sure why – but this one shouted ‘Hey Martin – what do you think? Is this the place to be?’ And Henry says ‘You’ll be wrong to leave this place –there’s a good smell of herring here…’ and they got a shot of herring that night. I think then – he says – back over the next evening – and this fellow shouted to him – ‘Are you smelling anything Henry?’ – ‘Aye!’ he says – ‘but that’s no herring – that’s no herring I’m smellin, that’s cuddies…’ and when somebody shot and they got a ring o cuddies…!
And Henry was laughing- it was just a chance – just pure chance – because I was doon the focsle of a BA boat – and there was a young fellow – and he says – ‘I heard tell there’s a Campbeltown man can smell herring…’ ‘Is that right!’ I never said a word. But you can certainly smell herring.
So there so many different ways of watching gannets and even a single gull – if a gull was standing on a rock no moving – just waiting – he knew there was herring there. How? Probably smell better than ours. And you see herring putting up as well. But they did! They put up bobbles. I don’t know if it was emptying or filling up their swim bladders – and that was – you just they were putting up – that was the word for it.
So many different ways of searching oot the kill… ha!
And I never ever mastered – there were masters of the burning – the fire – phospherence in the water. That was particularly good in the Isle of Man. And I must freely admit that my time in the Isle of Man was testosterone was coming oot yer lugholes and you were up on the quay when you should have been doon sleeping!
And Jock Kenzie – he was one of the finest men at fishing that ever I met. He had a mallet – and he’d bang on the side of the boat with a mallet and the shock waves would cause herring to start. Hammering was nae use to you – there’s other men would bang the anchor – but he needed his mallet. And he lost the mallet my uncle, and he was inconsolable for a week until he got another yin.
But there – you see steaming along through – there’s so many things could cause confusion, reflections from the sky – diesel oil on top of the water could cause a sheen but what he was looking for was doon below that – just a wee change quick flash in the water – quick as that – and if you werena watching – I’d be lying there sleeping and he’d bang the mallet beside my lug and say – ‘Did you see that?’ No Jock no I didn’t – cos I was bloody sleeping!