Diligence makes it possible for fishermen to become wealthy

 

As I insisted following him, Le Ngoc Luan, a 30-year-experienced fisherman at village 2, Hai Duong commune (Huong Tra district) finally agreed to count me in a night trip for squid fishing – a livelihood connected with his family for three generations.

The end-of-season squid fishing

 

 “I’m not too mean to let you join us, but now comes the season of mò to (rough sea). If you’re not used to it, you won’t be able to cope with it,” explained Luan as he glanced at the watch that said 4 p.m. Getting ready at 4.15 p.m. with the squid fishing gears, including hooks and colorful bait, and a box of meal and a bottle of water that his wife Oanh prepared for him, Luan loaded everything on a wheelbarrow and pushed it to the foreshore. There were some 500 fishing boats of Hai Duong commune moored here, about 300 of which were from village 2.

 

Diligence makes it possible for fishermen to become wealthy

Hooks and bait for squid fishing

Luan untied the rope from the 8-horsepower-engine boat and pushed off. After 15 minutes paddling, the squid fishing boat started its engine one after another, heading for Thuan An waterfront. When the boat was far off the waterfront, Luan gave me a life jacket, shouting in the loud noise of the engine: “Put it on and sit firmly. Mò is getting bigger.”

It was the second time I heard the word mò. It turned out that the local people called waves mò. Mò to means huge waves. Truly, there were one-meter-tall waves violently rushing towards us, striking the two sides of the boat with white foam and splashing on the face with acrid taste.

 
Diligence makes it possible for fishermen to become wealthy
Luan had to paddle some 15 minutes to reach the sea level where he could start the engine.

The water turned dark blue and the night fell after an hour. In the distance, the fellow fishermen started to switch on the LED, making a line of light. Luan turned off the engine, anchored and connected the LEDs on the two sides of the boat with a battery, saying in the undulation of the sea, “we are now about 5 nautical miles from the shore, and 6 nautical miles from the other boats in front. The sea is about 20 arm-span deep. Their boats all have 10-horsepower engines. Mine is only 8 horsepower. I’ll have my boat upgraded and installed with a 10-horsepower engine after we return. I can certain take advantage of the boat to go fishing a couple of more times, but I decided to take a rest and have the boat overhauled as I’ve got warning from the local authorities about acoming tropical depression from 6 to 15 September. So, this is my last squid fishing trip of the year,” said Luan with a little regret.

As the two LEDs on Luan’s boat reached the maximum light, Luan got ready for the squid fishing. It was a quick preparation. Fishing tool was a wire attached with a bunch of colorful plastic cords linked with a five-edge hook at every two hand-spans. The wire was fixed with a polished bamboo rod at one end. A bamboo basket covered with a piece of net having a bowl wide hole was then tied with a rope and put down into the water. While I was exhaustedly seasick, Luan reached the basket, sat near the side of the boat and threw the wire soothingly.

In the darkness, some flying fish and halfbeaks fearlessly swam near the boat to enjoy the light. Sometimes, a flying fish popped up from one side of the boat to the other. After a few times dropping the fishing rod, a purple squid appeared and followed the colorful plastic cords. Luan retracted the rod to the boat side with one hand, reached the basket and quickly scooped the squid up with the other. Then he put the two-finger-large purple squid which was blowing water bubbles into a bamboo basket.

At the second attempt, the colorful plastic cords attracted a group of about five squids. In a similar vein, Luan managed to put 2 other squids into the basket. “We choose the big ones to catch. Squids are easy to tempt by the bait, but they are very quick. It’s not wise to catch them from the head because they swim from the tail thanks to the movement of the two fins. If caught from the head, a squid easily escapes.” Luan added that squid fishing does not require skills, but the tip is to tie the bait in a way that attracts the squids most. Each fisherman has his own way to tie the bait and remember the waters where squids gather to look for food.

Although I was carefully taught how to catch squids, I failed three successive attempts. I gave up and watched Luan did. It was 8 p.m. and the number of squids decreased for unknown reasons. In the dim darkness, Luan broke the silence of the night, “I wonder why the squids today are quite small and there are not many of them. I’ve got to change the way I catch them, I guess.” He then took out a halfbeak and put it on the hook. After about 20 minutes, a squid as big as a wrist was trapped in the basket. It was the only biggest squid of the night.

The sea never betrays fishermen

At midnight, there were engine noise from afar. “We are not the only to fail. Other boats are coming ashore because there are too few squids tonight.” – “Why don’t we go a bit farther?”– “Squid fishing depends on each day and the flow. If there are few, we can’t find them wherever we go. When there are a lot, I can make as much as VND 1.5 million; when there are a few, I can earn around VND 500,000 - 600,000. The sea never turns its back to fishermen. You can calculate it. On an average night, we have VND 1 million, excluding all costs. There are 30 days a month. We can go squid fishing 6 or 7 months a year. Thanks to squid fishing, I can afford the tuition for my five children until they have completed their studies.”

 

Diligence makes it possible for fishermen to become wealthy

 
The results after a night in the sea
 
Diligence makes it possible for fishermen to become wealthy
A crowded market in early morning

A chat with Luan lasted until 2 a.m. It was when squids started to appear in large quantities. In the far sea, there was some engine noise. They were not the “filing” boats, i.e., they fished almost nothing. Instead, they felt that they had got just enough, so they came ashore early for the first market session in which they could sell at good price without much scrutiny from the merchants.

At three o’clock, there was more and more engine noise. Luan had already finished his fishing and had a look at his upshot. After putting away the squids into 4 bamboo baskets, he estimated that he would earn about VND 600,000.

 

Diligence makes it possible for fishermen to become wealthy

Squids are also on sale outside Hai Duong market

A night rescue in the middle of the sea

The aged eight-horsepower boat rushed to shore at 3.30. When it was about three nautical miles from the shore, there was an abnormality of the engine, which turned silent all of the sudden. After a while trying to restart the engine unsuccessfully, “the engine’s broken. I meant to change it after this trip, but it’s too late,” Luan sighed.

 “Now what? I’m not good at swimming,” I said half jokingly. – “Let me call fellow boats.” The bell from the ‘legendary’ Nokia went off as my heart beat faster. In the middle of the vast sea, I consciously felt myself little and powerless in front of the powerful waves.

Fortunately, there was an answer after a while.For 30 minutes floating in the middle of darkness, the worry eased off when at last a boat came near and the boat owner, But, quickly threw ropes towards us and towed Luan’s boat ashore in my uncontrollable sigh.

 

Diligence makes it possible for fishermen to become wealthy

But’s wife happy with her husband’s upshot after a night off shore

The shore came in sight after we were towed for two hours by But’s boat. The sound from Hai Duong market became noisier and the light clearer as we approached nearer. At the water edge, more and more women showed up. They are the wives of the fishermen, waiting for their husbands’ upshot of a night offshores.

Saying goodbye to But and Luan with friendly pats on shoulders, I returned to the city in an unbalance of the seasick feeling and a recall of the excitement while in the sea at midnight and a memory of decisive words by the fisherman who gave me an unforgettable experience: “so long as we are diligent, we have no difficulty becoming wealthy.”

Story and photos: Vo Nhan

Design: Minh Quan