Fleet darts of turquoise; the foreshore boiled. Whitebait leaping for their lives. Seagulls sniped the stunned, floating fry… And I did my best to catch the mackerel.
The run occurred at a little past 4’o’clock in the afternoon. A cry went out from the lower decks.
“Mackerel… Mack-Er- ELLL!!!!”
The screams were soon rejoined on the upper deck and within three minutes had doubled, trebled, quadrupled and by this point had reached an angler stood just 8 yards from me. I pulled in my weighted worm and scrambled for feathers. Frantically digging through my tackle bag, I spent precious minutes turning everything inside out before remembering that I’d already laid them out on the bench when I got to the pier.
By this time I was at breaking point; men just up the pier from me were pulling in huge, martian-eyed mackerel. My breathing accelerated as I attached a rig of four feathers to my beach casting rod. I weighted them and set the line behind me on the pier ready for a huge cast. Panicking, I decided to count to ten seconds to calm my nerves… I got to five and hurled the rig out as far as I could.
I got lucky. The rig hit the ocean about 130 yards out and I let it fall to the bottom. As the line slackened and the weight hit Davey Jones’ locker, I pulled skywards with everything I had; I then reeled the slack line taut as I lowered my rod tip to the pier railings. Again I pulled, and just after the feathers left the seabed I felt a sharp knock- ‘BANG!’- travelling up the line from 80 yards out, running down my rod and into my arms. My heart acted as the shock absorber. Three seconds later- ‘BANG’- another explosion echoed up the line and through my mind. And then a third! A trio of mackerel had hit the feathers and were moving outwards- scrambling towards the English Channel in an effort to break free. My rod, a light bass rod, transmitted every twist and turn. I pumped and reeled as only a mackerel fisher can.
As the rig reached the pier and I commenced my final winch, the fish travelled upwards and were revealed to me in the half-light as wild phantoms of liquid phosphorous. Three metres down and still fighting. Two metres- and my rod tip buckled over as each fish darted off in different directions… Now one. Apoplectic- they finally broke surface. I winched them up and hauled them straight over the railings and down onto the pier floor; all the way from the Atlantic to me. They flashed in the sun; fresh and green with life- not the deathly blue you see in the fishmongers. Practically exploding with pride, I childishly called over to the group of anglers down-pier from me.
‘Here are, lads!’
Still hurriedly setting up their feathers, they looked over at me with baleful eyes, before switching back to the comedy of errors that occurs during the first few moments of a big mackerel run. Seconds later, I heard a very loud ‘F***!’ as one of them inserted a barbed hook a centimetre into his thumb. I take no responsibility but felt an awesome sense of glee-guilt as I hoisted in two more mackerel. In true British fashion, his mates fell about laughing as he hopped around bleeding and cursing. Poor old boy. Still, a mackerel run is a mackerel run. All other sensibilities are rescinded. It might only happen once a season- and the previous season it never happened at all.
I fished on until dark and went home that night with a half century of mackerel. And one fat herring- the hardest fighter of the day. Some chaps took more. Fair play if they ate them. I scoffed all of mine and kept half a dozen as pike bait for the following October. As I left the clouds ganged together over Deal and turned sour.
It rained that night and the mackerel drifted off. There were no more runs that season and I haven’t experienced one since.