Cod Fishing with Bruce

Each year, Newfoundland has three “Food Fisheries,” also known as “The only time of year Newfoundlanders are allowed to fish for cod.” 

Each of the fisheries last a week, and during that time, people are allowed to catch five cod per day, or, a total of fifteen cod per boat.  While we could literally write a book on the politics of today’s inshore fishing access and the cod moratorium (granted, with far more research), today we’re going to focus on our wonderfully good luck.  While we were in Newfoundland, we got to go fishing during the last of the year’s Food Fisheries! The timing was pure fortune, and the experience was extraordinary.    

The morning after The Feast, we drove to the small community of New Bonaventure, and met with Bruce Miller of Rugged Beauty Boat Tours.  His family’s fishing legacy came to an end with the cod moratorium in ‘92, but he’s one of the few that’s managed to stay in his coastal hometown by becoming a tourism operator. 

As the fishing industry struggled, the tourism push grew in many small towns as a way to preserve rural Newfoundland.  All spring, summer, and fall, Bruce takes people out in his boat; while the majority of the time they can’t fish, he tours them along the coastline, explaining the history of the area, showing off the Random Passage site (more on that later),

and taking them past towns like Kerley’s Harbour and Ireland’s Eye that were abandoned during resettlement.   

His company is aptly-named.  The area is ruggedly beautiful - there's the dark blue Atlantic, the grey, wind-whipped cliffs, and the town!  Oh the town.

It didn’t surprise us to learn that multiple films have been shot in New Bonaventure, including 2013’s The Grand Seduction.  For that movie, the only thing they had to add was a fake bar, because the town’s so small they didn’t have one.

So, once we’d finished gawking at the scenery, Bruce and his buddy Mike took us out on the water.  Having now been out TWICE in a boat in Newfoundland, we have decided several things:

#1: Fishermen in Newfoundland, at least the two we've met, are genuine characters.

#2: The Atlantic is very wobbly, and neither of us are meant to become long-term sailors.

#3: We love dressing up in over-sized fishing gear.  It is amusing every time.

Compared to the hours it took me to catch trout in Northern BC this summer, cod jigging was an actual cake-walk.  Of course, you need plenty of skill in driving the boat and finding the fish, but in terms of equipment, it’s pretty simple. 

The fishing line isn’t attached to a pole – it’s simply wound up on a wooden frame, with a baited hook and weight at one end.  You unwind the line over the side of the boat until it hits the bottom, pull it up two or three feet, and more often than not, there’s already a cod on the end of it.  It's that quick. 

Once you feel the weight of a fish, you pull it up by hand, quickly and steadily, until your cod is up and over the side of the boat. 

Between Dana, me, and the lovely American couple who joined us, we caught all fifteen fish within about a half hour.  It was incredible.  

During all of this, Bruce was cracking jokes, effortlessly guiding us through the process, and sharing stories about life in rural Newfoundland – some were hilarious, and others were heartbreaking.  Such are the tales of this province. 

Once we’d returned to shore, Bruce and Mike hauled our fish up to the cleaning shack (which we later recognized in multiple scenes in The Grand Seduction), and taught us how to gut and filet the cod. 

Again, the setup was simple; the shack is built on stilts over the water, and there’s a hole cut into the floor below the cleaning table. 

All the cods’ innards (which are bulbous and huge) get dropped through this hole, where an enormous crew of seagulls are assembled to fight for them.  Bruce also handed us some to take out and throw off the end of the dock. 

If you look carefully in this next picture, you can see one such innard mid-flight.....

Bruce and Mike showed us how to remove the cod tongues,

how to prepare them to be salted and dried (the most traditional way),

and how to filet them to be cooked.  

Thanks so much to Bruce and Mike for taking us out.  It was one of the best days ever - if you're planning to visit Newfoundland, a trip with Bruce is an absolute must.

Next, we’ll share our tour of the Random Passage site, and the meal we got to enjoy of our freshly-caught and cooked cod!


Roots, Rants, and Roars: THE FEAST

When we said we were stuffed heading into The Feast, we meant it; the simple pairing of ‘hiking’ and eating five courses along that coastline is something I will never forget, and we were full in a lazy, happy kind of way. 

But the next event – the eight course Feast – started just two hours later!

After our post-hike dessert session, we did a few laps around the parking lot before returning to the main festival grounds where chefs were busy preparing for the evening’s feast.  We started with a glass of Ontario Brut, because nothing aids digestion like bubbles!

That’s what we happily told ourselves, at least.  Adam Blanchard was sampling some of his Five Brothers Artisan Cheese, these lovely ladies were serving up Iceberg vodka cocktails,

and the musical line-up for the evening (including Matthew Hornell, Ian Foster, Amelia Curran, and The Navigators) had also begun. 

It was easy to distract ourselves from how full we were, and attempt to renew our appetites leading up to the next big meal.

During the previous evening’s Cod Wars, we were active, moving from station to station, chatting with chefs and new friends in between stations.  The Feast was set up a little differently, and required little of us.  We weren’t in charge of feeding ourselves or making sure we’d hit all the stations—someone else was! 

We simply sat down at communal tables, and courses were brought out and served family style.

It was a nice contrast to the evening before, as we had the pleasure of getting to know our dining companions; they included Gary and Debbie Smith.  Gary travels a lot for work, and writes songs to pass the time, many are written for his children.  You can listen to his songs here.

The meal started with bread made by Katie Hayes in the wood-fired oven at the Bonavista Social Club, which we visited last year.

Ivan Kyutukchiev (of Bacalao) served a bacon-wrapped terrine of braised short ribs and local duck, with chanterelles, pickled radish, beets, and crostini.  The terrine was bonkers good.

Chef Chris Chafe (of the Doctor’s House Inn and the festival ‘King of Cod’) served a salad course of maple bacon roasted squash, spiced pecans, homemade ricotta, pickled apples, and a chard citrus vinaigrette.  

Roary MacPherson (of the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s) delivered a more ‘back home’ inspired meal of stewed beans with salt beef, pork shoulder, and Italian sausage, similar to what his family used to eat together.

Garry Gosse (of Harbour Breeze Catering) served what may be one of the most Canadian dishes we’ve come across: maple-molasses braised pork belly with a fig and tomato 'ketchup' and a rich turnip puree.  It’s some of the best pork belly I’ve ever had, and the whipped turnips re-defined the vegetable for me. Watch out, maple syrup and ketchup chips!

Shaun Hussey (of Chinched Bistro) closed the savory courses with grilled octopus and sardines served in a white bean and tomato stew.  It was incredibly hearty and warming.

Angie Ryan (also of the Sheraton) delivered the first dessert course of the night, a lovely strawberry rhubarb pudding with crème anglaise.  The second course came in the form of blueberry cheesecake and partridgeberry truffles from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company.

Ontario wines were served throughout dinner including the House Wine Company's Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Shiraz.  Even our old pal, Norman Hardie, graced the table in the form of a Niagara County Pinot Noir. 

Ok, now we were stuffed.

By the time the feasting was over with, most people had dispersed from the dining tent and were shaking their bones to the Navigators.  We hauled ourselves up too, and joined the enthusiastic crowd.

With our two-day food marathon over, we slept very well in our Trinity dream home, and awoke in great anticipation of our next adventure: a cod fishing expedition.  In the next post you’ll meet Bruce of Rugged Beauty Boat Tours.  He’s a real character.

Below is a tune from Amelia Curran, who serenaded us through dinner,

and a song from The Navigators who led the post-dinner party with lead singer Fred Jorgensen’s extraordinarily low voice.


Amelia Curran:

The Navigators: