I came home to a ringing phone on Monday and soon followed an invitation from my neighbor to “Go and catch some Hooligans”. My response? “I have no idea what you are talking about but sure, I’d love to go!”
Hooligans turn out to be little fish that come in to the beach to spawn but unlike salmon who always return to their own hatchling stream to spawn, Hooligans just follow the current. The last time that Hooligans were in Nelson Lagoon it was 18 years ago so this was a big event. Currently, both as how water moves and as in right now, our beach has had interesting things happening and for the first time in years we have gotten molted king crab shells on the beach too.
My neighbor had brought 3, 1 gallon ice cream buckets to be filled and a net to catch the fish. The net, however, turned out to be completely useless because the webbing was too big…not that it was needed! If you have seem Smelt, you have a pretty good idea on size. For those of you not in the know, these fish are the size of 2 fingers together max and those are the males; females are maybe the width of a middle finger and both are just under 6″ long. Interestingly, the males have a broad back and this odd ridge where their back flares and then goes down to their belly, like a triangle. Females are small and smooth, quite delicate and dainty looking. Either way, these fish SWARM the beach in their frenzy to spawn and the beach was completely invaded. When you look at the pictures of the water and waves, look for the dark shapes…all fish! Seeing the millions of fish was completely astounding and mind boggling.
The ones of me standing in the water don’t show my shivers over the very weird feelings of squirmy, slippery bodies wiggling all around my legs and feet. Incredibly weird feeling but very cool and alive and just what I needed to make me smile and laugh.
It was easy to scoop up the fish with your hands and waves would bring the fish right up to your feet so you could dash in and pick them up, dodging the waves. Buckets filled quickly…much faster than it took to clean them for dinner! Such fiddly work for little bites but 3 meals in a bucket means that I have 2 baggies in my freezer for the future.
Before you get into the photos of me handing her fish, please know that she was incredibly gentle when taking them, holding each fish so gently…barely touching them and holding them like they were eggs. Each and every fish was wiggling when she put it back down again. She wanted to play and each and every fish she took she brought it a little way away on the beach and put it down to play with it, nosing it and batting it and looking incredibly disappointed when they stopped flipping. Grand total of live fish dog toys: 6. Number of dead fish on the beach: Millions. Amount of joy for dog, owner and friends: Priceless.
It was an amazing day and thats all it was, one day and then the waves and current shifted and the Hooligans were washed off to another beach. The millions of dead fish left behind are still littering the beach, waiting for a high enough tide to come wash them back into the sea. When I told M (the man I am seeing) about the fish and my day, he said, “Oh, you mean cucumber fish?” I was confused. “Cucumber fish? They don’t look like cucumbers and don’t taste like them either…what do you mean?”
“When they die, the entire beach smells like cucumbers, not dead fish.”
“Seriously. Go tomorrow and see”
And he was/is right. The beach, honest to goodness, smells like salt water and cucumbers! Its crazy and funny and has to be one of the weirdest things ever. Cucumbers. Who would have thought.