Members of a fishing family remember their roots
(From left) Donny, Billy, Paul and Bernard Kieley each hold up a codfish on the wharf in Petty Harbour. All four brothers have a history in the fishery and this year bought a boat just so they could get back out on the water and catch a few cod. — Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram
Anyone who doubts the cultural spell codfish still cast over this province need only take note during the food fishery. Certainly, the economic clout of the species has swum down to relative rock bottom, but there’s still enough of a pull on the end of that line so that for those few weeks in summer and fall, every person with a boat is plagued by relatives and friends to take them out on the water.
Even those with a family history up to its gunnels in the fishery can suddenly find themselves at the mercy of others to take them out for a few fish. Such was the case with the Kieleys — four brothers who are revisiting their fishing history in a boat they just bought specifically for the food fishery.
Bernard, Paul, Donny and Billy all followed in their father’s fishing footsteps, but found their own paths as the sinking fishery threatened to take the people making a living on the sea down with it. The two oldest, Bernard and Paul, got out first, both leaving the province for work. Donny and Billy carried the family fishing tradition on for a spell. Bernard and Paul even made their way back and in the 1980s all four brothers fished together, though Paul says by then they all had other jobs, as well.
“We were moonlighters of the fishery at that time,” he says.
Eventually, they all moved in other directions before the moratorium hit.
“Basically, we could all see what was coming and got out,” Donny says.
The boat was sold off along with the gear. When the food fishery was announced years later, the four brothers found themselves looking to others to take them out to get a few fish.
“Occasionally you’d find a berth,” Paul says, using the traditional term for a spot on a boat.
This year the brothers decided it was time to get back on the water, not only so that they could get their few cod but so that their families could experience a bit of the life they grew up with. After chatting about it over the winter, they bought a 19 1/2-foot open boat. Since the food fishery opened July 20, the brothers have all been enjoying taking out members of their families: sons, daughters, in-laws, cousins, friends, nieces, nephews — all around the circle, everybody gets a turn.
Everybody, that is, except for the four brothers — at least not all at once until now.
First outing together
On a picturesque evening in Petty Harbour — with containers of cod being tossed up on the wharf and the glint of knives in capable hands on splitting tables; funnels of spiralling gulls attempting to chase the cleaned carcasses down through the water column; and a flotilla of stories about what the fishing is like out past the breakwater being passed around — the four brothers get in their boat together for the first time.
With Bernard and Paul at the bow and Donny and Billy in the stern, the brothers exit the Petty Harbour breakwater and head for the collection of boats that can already be seen bobbing in the evening sun.
Donny points out two houses on the shore directly next to each other — one where their father grew up and the other where their mother lived. They didn’t have to travel far to find each other. Further out the bay, Paul points to a cove and beach some of them visited recently after their cod quota was caught — the fish and potatoes boiled up right on the shore. It sounds like a day to remember and like a day they hadn’t experienced in some time.
The brothers are telling each other about how so-and-so reacted when they pulled a cod over the side or who caught the big ones in previous trips. It’s clear the four have been enjoying taking friends and relatives out on the water, but 15 minutes or so later, in a small pod of eager fishers with cod rods and hand lines working away, the four brothers let their jiggers slip over the gunnels and fall toward the bottom — three jiggers, just to be clear, as is the regulation.
“We’re the youngest so we have to share a jigger,” Donny says with a laugh as he nods toward brother Billy.
With the lines down, the razzing begins.
“I usually jigs the most,” Paul says.
“He’s also the one that tells the most lies,” Bernard quickly answers from the bow, the oldest of the four obviously having not lost a scrap of his wit.
“That’s the one I caught all the fish with yesterday morning,” Bernard adds, pointing to the jigger Paul is using.
“And that’s why I grabbed it before you,” Paul shoots back.
The boat is still empty of fish but there’s no quota on the laughs the four are sharing. The occasional boat rumbles past and somebody screams out “Kieley”. Billy doubles over on his line as though he’s got the grand-daddy cod on just to draw the interest of the boat passing by. As soon as they stop thinking the Kieleys are into the school of fat fish everybody is looking for, Billy rolls back with laughter to show he has nothing on the line and both boats go up.
With that, Billy is really into one, and the white belly of the first fish of the day spirals up from the depths and comes over the side — as do bragging rights amongst brothers.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Paul says. “That’s what we got to put with now.”
But they’re not on the school yet. Cod jigging is a cluster of talents — reading the land, ocean depths and the success of other boats, as well as gauging the advice of others:
“See that knoll on top of that hill? Well keep the boat just inside of that. That’s the sweet spot.”
“See that boat all rolled over on one side from everybody pulling in heavy fish? Head for them.”
“The north winds this morning have the cod all shaken up and they’ve moved off.”
“You’re jigging too fast. You’re jigging too slow.”
It’s a matter of keeping your eye on your drift and forever adjusting your position.
Soon enough, the brothers are on top of them. Donny pulls one up over the side.
“If Donny got one they must be thick,” Billy says.
And he’s right. The 15 fish quota is up in no time and they’re waving goodbye to others still after their catch. The brothers head back towards the breakwater, past the neighbouring houses where the their parents met.
Back at the dock, Bernard and Billy get to work cleaning the fish. There’s talk of who’ll use the boat tomorrow. A couple of the brothers are going out of town but there’s a fella on the wharf looking to get on if there’s room. Whoever heads out, it won’t be quite like today. The four go their separate ways, bonded by blood and now bonded by an open boat.