They were all there on the harbour pier at Kalk Bay in the late afternoon while the sun stood high above the mountains at the back of the bay.
Eddie, Abbat, Richard, Raymond, Desmond, “Ta Boy”, the youngest of us chokka (squid) catchers that would go down to Kalk Bay Harbour in the afternoons after school in the late autumn and winter.
You know the chokka were going to bite when you saw the “cigarette eater”. A man in his late fifties, small, grey-haired with a scowling face, he was a regular chokka fisherman. He kept a Texan plain cigarette in his mouth as he fished … and it would disappear quickly into his mouth when he squid started biting. Then he’d replace it with another.
The harbour wall was packed tightly with young and old chokka catchers. In the early part of the afternoon there was a jostling and occasional scuffles and some indelicate and impolite words as the boys fought for prime spots to fish.
When the chokka came on the bite the harbour wall, sea facing, would be festooned with thin strands of nylon and small chokka sticks splashing into the water. In those days before the Japanese plastic squid jigs, we made our lures with a thin stick of bamboo, treble hooks on the front and a single hook at the back. We’d hold a piece of chokka or pilchard around the sticks and bind it tight with cotton thread.
The squid would come on the bite when the sun went down and it began to get dark, the lights coming on behind us and in the distance across the bay at Simon’s Town and along the coast to Froggy Pond.
It was crazy, lines all over the place, squid shooting ink, pranks from the likes of Raymond, pointing a squid at me and shooting black ink in my face. All the boys laughing. Face covered in ink, I’d carry on fishing excited to catch as many as I could.
I was so fanatical about fishing that I decided to go one morning early to the harbour and see if the squid also bit then. Alone on that wall at 5 am, I hoped that one would take my bait. One did… and then another. I had the whole shoal to myself. No one fished on the wall that early in the morning.
On many subsequent mornings before school I’d catch double what I normally did, up to ten squid, take a swim at Wooley’s Pool, a tidal pool in front of our house, and then get ready for school.
I’ve seen small businesses move away from the crowds and find their own shoals of customers:
A hairdresser that caters only for tiny tots in every way, from small chairs to a play area where children wait their turn.
A sound specialist small business that sells digital dictation solutions to doctors, radiologists, and lawyers.
A clothing stall that sells women’s and men’s clothes imported from Ecuador in the most beautiful colours and fine, soft cottons.
It’s much more fun than jockeying and hustling in the crowd, the feeling of being together, but when you find a niche for yourself, you’ll be able to fish alone and catch as much as you like.