When it comes to hauling in fish, no two Caymanian women do it better than Cecile Conolly and Ruth Grant.
Mrs. Conolly, a retired deli worker, and Mrs. Grant, a retired cashier, have been at it for years.
I happened on these two ladies while driving through East End one day. They were dressed for an adventure that either involved hunting or fishing.
“Where are you two ladies going?” I inquired.
“We going fishing,” said Mrs. Conolly as she placed a bucket in the back of the car. “We do this all the time.”
My curiosity piqued. I asked if I could follow.
Pulling out behind them, I told myself this would not take long. I would wait till they haul in a fish, grab a few pictures and be on my way.
Thankfully, it was not too long before they made a stop at Sand Bluff on the East End coastline.
This was when I realized these ladies were not planning on heading back home anytime soon.
Out came not one, but three buckets from the car. Then there were two chairs, traveling bags, which I later learned held a Bible and other reading material, paper towels and a little snack.
“I can carry one bucket,” I said, with the idea of getting them to the beach as quickly as possible. But these ladies were not to be rushed.
They proceeded to set up camp, or so I thought. Mrs. Grant opened up the beach chair under a shady weeping willow tree, and Mrs. Conolly, well, she started to search for whelks, shellfish normally found clinging to ironshore rocks. Historically they have been used, and are still used by Caymanians for food and as bait to attract the bigger fish.
I had thought the key to successful fishing must be choosing the best bait, catching a fish, and going home. Well, perhaps for some, but I learned that for these ladies, fishing is about the experience, a timeless endeavor that involves you, the water, your line and waiting.
Soon the tranquility of the place and the ladies quietly splashing in the water had me forgetting all about my next assignment and enjoying the great outdoors. “Sometimes it can be a while before we catch anything,” said Mrs. Conolly, jolting me back to reality.
“Make up some scent and throw it as far as you can,” said Mrs. Conolly to Mrs. Grant. “That’s to bring the fish closer to shore,” she said. Taking her own sweet time, Mrs. Conolly began putting the bait from the bucket on the line.
“For me, fishing is just a hobby, I don’t eat fish. My share of the catch I take home to friends and family,” Mrs. Conolly said before wading out in the water to cast her line.
Heading back to shore, she continued, “My friend Ruth would call and say let’s go to the beach and from there we began fishing. Sometimes we would go all day after taking care of the chores at home and sometimes at midday, returning home some nights after 10 p.m.”
“Fishing is a hobby we all love,” said Mrs. Grant. “We don’t do it for money, just to cook and help our neighbors.”
Mrs. Conolly said she went off eating fish after she had children, but when she was growing up she ate lots of fish. Her favorite, she said, was grouper heads steamed with green bottlers, a type of banana.
“I like conch, lobster, shrimp and crab when it comes to seafood,” she added.
Years ago, fishing was mostly carried out by men.
“The ladies would go on the beach and help clean the fish or sit and watch them,” Mrs. Conolly said.
The biggest fish Mrs. Conolly says she caught was a bonefish, at the East End wharf behind the heritage site.
At first she thought she had caught a barracuda.
“It took about five minutes for me to reel it in and onto the dock. I was so happy I had a fish to give to my friend,” she said.
“A friend pulled it a certain way to extract the bones and baked it. Ruth also caught a 10 pound snapper.”
Mrs. Conolly said they also catch grunts, magra, jacks and anything else that comes in on the line.
“Just Monday night, Ruth pulled in a big fish but it broke the line before she got it to shore. I think it was a hammerhead shark,” said Ms. Connolly.
“Hammerhead? Girl, if I had caught a hammerhead I would be in the newspaper today,” said Mrs. Grant “It could have been a nurse shark but not a hammerhead.”
They went on for awhile. “I know my fish,” said Mrs. Grant. “It was dark and I was shouting for her to get the flashlight but before that happened, the fish broke the line.”
As the focus turned back to fishing, I wondered when I would finally see them haul something in. Sensing it would likely not be that day. I wished the ladies good luck, and headed off to my next assignment.