The Wharf at Sandy Bay – a Place of Tidal Get-Togethers
At high tide, above the calmness of settled waves and feeding fish, rattle sounds of boisterous men and boys hungry for a catch. In the salty St. Lawrence sea breeze by Baie-des-Sables, once Sandy Bay, the afternoon’s potent heat tans sweat-laden foreheads and hits scattered mackerel flopping for breath along the wharf. It’s surely midday as the unofficial daily gathering of leisure and self-employed fishers unfolds.
All in one line, working hands grasp hold of fishing rods they call “split-canes” of Japanese bamboo. Trousers tucked into rubber boots or rolled up above work shoes surround tackle boxes laid open in display; the boxes contain only the carefully made flies deemed most faithful, and heirlooms – the “lucky” lures handed down from grandfathers and fathers to sons. A group of curious little ones sit in wonder by the opened “treasure chests”, begging, observing, and playing with the handmade baits of fashioned feathers and carefully tied cuts of threads, ribbons, and beads. Some are carved of wood, painted with dots, stripes, and patterns, to resemble small fish.
The men wear collared white dress shirts that show the garments’ age, but have been carefully ironed by the hands of housewives and maids. The shirts reflect the sun, matching the overhead clouds, and complementing the freshly painted sailboats and small houses seen along the coast. Worn flat caps and vests soft as velvet are the only sun-screen protection for the men’s already-darkened skin. Clouds of cigarette smoke haze, smelling both of Export “A” cigarettes and foreign imports bought from the local tobacconist, meanders softly around their conversations. The wood of the pier emits warmth and glows beneath the feet of the mirthful barefooted children who ventured to accompany their father or grandfather. The men’s talk and stories are told loud enough to be heard by the sailors over the rumbling of their boats’ engines — talk of the record fish Fernand had caught just yesterday, and jokes of the bickering that had happened last weekend at the bar.
This gathering of men on the wharf is regular as clockwork, just as surely as low tide follows high tide. Perhaps those in the early hours of dawn are in search of more than recreation or tasty fruits of their labour, for example, a pocket full of change from selling the morning’s finds to eager locals or hotels, or to beat the heat that’d come the afternoon. At the end of the day, after long hours of work tilling soil, shaping shoe heels, highway building, or repairing a local hotel’s broken window, farmers, carpenters, shoemakers, even doctors and bankers, and, of course, fishers-by-trade alike join each other in some competitive fishing fun off Sandy Bay Wharf – Quai municipale de Baie-des-Sables. Some want to show off their catch and others are wishing for something good to eat to feed their waiting families. A few faces from early morning also have come to fish again, in good spirits to be surrounded by their rowdy comrades.
While the early morning is usually the best time to fish, every so often of an afternoon, you’ll see a small troop of visitors to the wharf who’ve come from far away to stay in a family summer home in nearby Metis. A father or favourite uncle puts worms on five-hooked lines of fishing rods passed down from generation to generation, before watching carefully to make sure the hooks go in the water, and not into a sibling or an unwary passerby. Any smelt caught, no matter how small, is cause for celebration. Cooked up for dinner, the kids now know what really fresh fish caught by themselves, taste like. First-time fishing for some of the kids, this will remain a special memory that stays with them forever.
Primarily a gathering place for men late in the day, we can imagine the wives and ladies at home who are preparing carrots and onions and peeling potatoes to go alongside the catch – the fish that is gutted, washed, and cleaned by their husbands. Children clamor to join their fathers, it’s noisy and lively – full of life here, there’s so much to see and inspect.
Hours of hopeful and magnificent casting go by and the approach of supper time makes stomachs growl — the pungent smell of fish becomes almost something they can taste as hunger settles in. Faces under hats, brims wet with sweat and speckled by sea salt splash, look out to the western horizon, which is beginning to shimmer and settle into clementine and rose-bud pink along the dappled water. The wood of the wharf begins to cool as the sound of little legs and feet pounding against the cooling timber hurry home with found treasures in hand. Some hold mussel shells and the pits of finished cherries they had brought as a snack, some have pockets stuffed with half-eaten sandwiches and small collections of sea glass or rusty beer bottle caps. Another holds the gift of a friendly fisher who let him choose “only one” from his collection of tackle.
The tide begins to go out, and the hustle of the wharf starts to quieten as the group at the wharf head toward the kitchens and the hopeful families at home. Once there, vibrant faces glow happily with the return of their fathers and brothers, and their accompanying sacks or baskets with the evening’s trophies. Stoves are fired up, table settings are laid, and lips are licked while faces are kissed by the light of the last golden hour peeking through at mealtime.
With sails brought down, fishing rods reeled in, tackle boxes packed and shut up, and nets left to dry, the hulls anchored with ropes dyed green and brown with algae rattle and clamor against the wharf’s edge — music to be heard only by the seagulls that call and dive, picking at the scraps and pieces of seafood guts left behind. And all in one line are boats, some goelettes, affectionately named “La Pucelle D’Orléans,” “Lady of Matane,” “La Marie Vaillante,” “Émelie” – touches of cherished muliebrity* — among others left to swim on top of the rocking waves of night, ready to be sailed or rowed again soon.
* Muliebrity is an English word from the 16th century taken from the Latin mulier – or woman – and meaning the distinguishing character or qualities of a woman or womankind; masculine counterpart – “virility.”
- Melissa Adelia Landry, author
- Pam Anderson, memories and ideas
- Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence, photo
- Angler’s Mail. “Mackerel Fishing Tips – Catch Loads This Summer!” Angler’s Mail, 14 June 2019, anglersmail.co.uk/fishing-tips/fish-fishing-tips/mackerel-fishing-tips-catch-loads-24356.
- “Bamboo Fly ” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_fly_rod
- Dunhill, The Pipe Book. Skyhorse Publishing Books, 2011
- “Export (Cigarette).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Export_(cigarette)
George Glazer Gallery – Antique Prints – Charles Liedl Fly Fishing,