I've been going to PWD Fishing and Hunting Lodge in Portland Cottage, Clarendon, for some 35 years now, and it holds a very special place in my heart. I grew up camping on Big Half Moon Quay, and as a family we have been swimming off a handful of the islands in the area for all our lives. Fishing and sprogging (hunting for lobster) enlivened each vacation we took when I was young, and supporting the fishing community in Portland Cottage is something the Sharps have always done. As a member of PWD, my father encouraged my Trini husband to join, and the two recently took the family down there for a weekend. The timing was perfect with regards to the fish series I have been working on with the Jamaica Observer for Lent, and although my family enjoyed eating the fresh catches each day while down there, we at Thursday Life must thank Best Dressed once again for donating the freshwater tilapia towards my home recipes.
The main man at PWD has to be Portland Cottage resident Newton Ragoo, who has been PWD's custodian for 25 years. Living there most of the time, Newton (as everyone calls him) does get home to take care of his wife and four children a couple of nights each week. However, club members and their guests would not have quite the same experience if Newton was not around to take care of them as well. One of Newton's main roles at PWD is in-house chef, a far cry from being the chemical analyst he worked as "in another lifetime".
Cooking with his grandmother from when he was small, Newton is now passing on his talent to his stepson, who "cooks with me sometimes at PWD when there is a big cookout, with lots of the members here", he boasted. Even though half his family are Indian, Newton claims that he doesn't know how to make Indian food: "So when I want curry and roti, I go to my Indian aunt on the other side of the family", he said laughing. That being said, Newton did tell us that he had curried lobster the night before, but with white rice, not roti!
Living by the sea all of his life, Newton has become an expert at cooking seafood, especially fried fish, steamed lobster and conch fritters. "Fishermen have brought in lobster and fish this weekend," he told Thursday Life, "but right now there is no conch around". Although Newton does not go fishing himself, "fishermen stop off for a rest and water, so they give me fish, and I am glad for the company". A good 15 minutes by car from the Portland Cottage village, PWD is blissfully isolated on the southern tip of Jamaica.
Portland Cottage is home to about 50 canoes, 30 or so of which are used regularly by professional fishermen. "It's the main livelihood of the people in Portland Cottage," explained Newton, "and higglers come down each week and buy the fish, usually picking it up on their motorcycles. They take the fish to Manchester, Ochi, Kingston, and other places, and sell to individuals, restaurants, and they even supply hotels sometimes".
Thursday Life sat down with one of the local fishermen, Donald Daker, who has been fishing for 44 of his 64 years. Born and bred in Portland Cottage, Daker described a typical day at sea to Thursday Life. "I leave land at about 6:30 in the morning, and take my canoe out to the Portland Quay vicinity, where my fish pot is. I stay out there until about 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon, then come back and sell my catch on the Portland Cottage beach," he said. "Sometimes two of us go out, when there is plenty fish. We will go out five times for the week, but right now I only go three times, as the fish is scarce and the two-inch mesh wire net I am using, because the smaller mesh is not available, means the fish get through it." Fish pots are left unattended for most of the time, "which means that sometimes other people will come and haul it when I am not there, and steal the fish," Daker explained "But there is nothing I can do about it." His catch for that day included grunt, yellowtail, doctor fish, parrot fish, goat fish, red snapper, and wenchman.
The next person to stop off at PWD with his catch was Herbert "Posson" Macog, who has been living in Portland Cottage and swimming for lobsters some six years now. He swims the reef, and catches the lobsters with a stick that has a looped wire attached to it, called a "chokie, which I invented after tief took away my fish gun" he said in a matter of fact tone. "I put the wire loop around the tail and pull it. It tightens on the throat. I then loosen it, put it in my crocus bag and hunt for more. I do this for about three or four hours, but it all depends on the fisherman who takes me in his canoe," he continued. Posson usually gets dropped off to the reef next to Portland Quay by Ringo, a fisherman he knows. "Ringo will go and haul his net, and then he pick me up on his way back," he stated.
Posson is originally from Black River in St Elizabeth, where he learnt to swim as a child, and even though he clearly has the experience to tackle the tides and currents, "I get frighten still when I go out, especially if I see a shark." He said with a wince.
"I just swim away fast, though, as I will never let the shark get the chance with me," he assured Thursday Life. Posson really loves what he does, as "it is quick money, especially if the water is clean, that's when it's better.
"If it's rough and you can't see, it is very hard."
Of course, there are other challenging factors, like swimming for hours at a time on an empty stomach. "Yeah man, sometimes I stand up on the rock and tremble from the cold, and I don't always have my breakfast. "When I get back I like to drink fish tea," he said, licking his lips, clearly hungry from that morning's swim, when he caught 16 pounds of lobster in three hours. "Tomorrow I am going out again for an order of 15 pounds", he shares.
Fried Fish & Escoveitch Pickles: Caught by Fisherman Donald Daker, Cooked by Newton Ragoo
6 lbs whole fish - yellowtail, red snapper, goat fish, parrot fish, gutted & scales removed
4 fl oz vegetable oil
16 fl oz white vinegar
2 carrots, sliced
1 cho cho, sliced
2 onions, sliced
1 tbsp pimento berries
2 Scotch bonnet peppers, sliced
1. Place all the ingredients for the pickle in a pot and leave for an hour to 'cook' the vegetables. Place over high heat and boil for five minutes, then remove from heat to cool completely.
2. Season the fish with salt. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium heat, and cook the fish until crisp and golden brown.
3. Serve the fish with the escoveitch pickles, and with some festivals.
Festival: Cooked by Newton Ragoo
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp baking powder
4 oz granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
Water to mix
Oil for cooking
1. Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
2. Start pouring in water as you mix with your hand. You want enough water to bring all the ingredients together to form a soft dough. Gently knead for a couple minutes, then leave to rest for 15-20 minutes.
3. Heat enough oil in a large pan so that the festivals will deep-fry.
4. Divide the dough into tablespoon-sized balls, roll between your hands, then flatten.
5. Fry in the oil on medium heat until golden brown, then remove and place on a plate to serve.
Who better to teach us how to prepare fish than fishermen from the PWD Fishing & Hunting Lodge
Steamed Lobster: Caught by Lobster Man Herbert 'Posson' Macog, Cooked by Newton Ragoo
10-12 lbs fresh live lobster
1-inch sea water (or water with sea salt)
A big pot for cooking
Salted butter, melted
1. Place the live lobsters in the pot, pour in the sea water, cover and steam the lobsters for 20-25 minutes.
2. Remove the lobsters from the pot and serve with melted salted butter.