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!