I'm going to share a secret here, it may not be very heavily guarded but it has been one of my favourite finds for a couple of years now. Anyone who lives in the Poole / Bournemouth region will know that, surprisingly, though living on the water, we have hardly any fishmongers, in fact I think the nearest one would be Christchurch or Ringwood, some ten miles away.
I had always seen the cluster of rowing boats on Durley Chine beach, not far from the pier, but it wasn't until just a few years ago, when my wife Emma and I first moved into our flat, that during early morning walks to work along the beach we discovered a man hauling small nets onto one of the boats. I assumed this was merely a one off, but as the week drew on I noticed him further and further out each morning, sometimes I wondered how he rowed out so far, sat out a good few miles off the coast. I imagined how nice it would be to have fish, caught off my local beach, just a mile from my home and eat for lunch just hours after being landed. After a week or so I managed to arrive at the same time as the fisherman was bringing his boat ashore, laying down tied pairs of buoys acting as rollers to lift the boat off of the sand and bring the vessel back up a few metres away from the ebbing tide. I wanted to see what had been caught and as I started towards the sand I noticed that the few idling people on the promenade came together near a bench and started to form an orderly queue. The fisherman carried a big fish crate up to a small plastic table, washed his hands in a bucket of water and greeted his first customer. It seemed to be first come first serve but the box was full of beautifully patterned mackerel, a few pollock, some spotted grey mullet and a few red gurnard. I stood in line and bought a nice big pollock for £2. That walk home I must have had the biggest grin on my face, I was so incredibly chuffed and I knew I had found something special. The early bird definitely catches the proverbial worm. Over the seasons I tried lots of fish, all extremely reasonable prices and caught on my doorstep, you couldn't possibly get more local. I had Dover sole, plaice, mackerel, grey mullet, gurnard, I never had a set plan of what fish I would buy, I just wandered down to see what was caught. Some days he doesn't go out, but the added gamble of whether or not he is there, has gone out or even caught anything all adds to the anticipation. Dave the fish man has been fishing off the beach since 1959, "Back then there were loads of fishing boats being launched off the beach." he informed me, but if you walk along the beach early in the morning now, you will see that he is the only one. I am too polite to ask the age of Dave the fish man, but rowing a boat for over fifty years has served him well I am sure, he looks very young. I wondered why he always rowed though. "Magna Carta" he replied. The Magna Carta gives fishermen the right to fish the foreshore under rowing or sail and also the right for fishermen to sell their catch on the beach. On my latest visit I picked up a handsome pair of mackerel, the pattern on their backs mesmerise me. As I am sure many of you know, you can tell how fresh a fish is by looking at its eyes. They should be clear and slightly bulbous, not cloudy or sunken back. These two specimen caught half an hour demonstrated this perfectly. It seemed a shame to take a knife to them, but I was hungry and approaching an early brunch. I took the fillets off and pan fried them gently with some oil and chopped shallots, layed them on top of some boiled and crushed new potatoes and some griddled asparagus, before soft poaching an egg to sit atop the lot.