“The ocean drags its drowning men
Emotions flag me down again
Tell Tracy, Babs and Gwen
I mustn’t go down to the sea again…”
I Mustn't Go Down To The Sea Again
John Cooper Clarke
“I can catch 60lb catfish off my patio at home - Christ knows why I’m even here..?”
Paul’s an outlier when it comes to fishing off the pier at Deal. He doesn't live locally and owns his own fishing business that caters for anglers who’ll happily spend days at a stretch fishing his lakes for giant carp.
But he’s one of the regular fishermen who make up the Deal And Walmer Angling Association (DAWAA).
Based in the cabin on the end of Deal’s brutalist concrete pier, the DAWAA only just survived COVID. It lost several members to the virus including Dougie and Sandy Petit, the secretary and treasurer, who had run the club for years.
Rather than see it vanish beneath the rising tides, Shane, Ivan and a handful of dedicated members - with no experience of running an organisation - became determined to try to and keep their club going. And all in all, they're making a very good job of it.
To most it might seem like just another obscure local club, but the DAWAA’s cabin is home to a community of anglers, many of whom otherwise live pretty tough lives. Its £10 annual membership (£1 for juniors) makes it affordable to all - and they welcome everyone (even people like me who, for some inexplicable reason, don’t fish). Among them you’ll find full time carers, people who’ve survived serious injury or crippling illness, and some who’ve just been on the wrong end of a very hard life.
“Deal’s pretty, but poor. Everyone here has three cash-in-hand jobs and at least one hi-viz vest” said the friend who introduced me to Deal .
Spend any time in Deal and and you'll see it still has a thriving cash economy. A look at the government statistics shows the child poverty rate was rising here even before COVID and despite Deal being in England's affluent South East. The numbers put it on a par with some of the grimmer towns in the north - a fact starkly at odds with its public face of Dry Robe wearing, middle-class weekenders in their 4x4s.
But second home owners aren’t generally the people you’ll find fishing at the end of the pier.
“If I drink - which I do very rarely these days - I might do it at home. Pubs - even ‘Spoons - are rip-off expensive” said one member. “This club is brilliant. I can come here, spend all day fishing, have a laugh and it costs me next to nothing” said another. “It’s home - no, it’s better than home”.
The club is an affordable haven - warm and welcoming with a side order of friendly banter. I suspect this is because sport (except fishing), religion and politics are rarely - if ever - discussed. There’s just no friction here. A bit of ribbing and gentle piss-taking about catches (or the lack of them), but no cliques and no bullying. People really are just accepted for themselves and if they’re any good at fishing, it’s loudly celebrated.
Saturday nights Pat will often a run to the nearest local take-away for Chinese in the cabin. But it’s not just a boy’s club. There are plenty of women who fish regularly, at least one at national competition level, and women have been part of the club since it opened in 1904. Two years after it started, an eight hour women-only fishing competition made the Daily Express which reported that women “pay more attention to the sport than men, have a keener sense of touch and frequently make the best anglers”.
Today’s Daily Express is a very different beast, but in the cabin at the end of the pier, it’s all just another wrapper for bait.
Deal is well used to being a boom and bust kinda town. During the Napoleonic Wars it went from 250 people to more than 5,000 almost overnight. Throughout the centuries it’s seen the military, coal mining and big pharma all come and go. But throughout its rising and falling fortunes, fishing has remained a constant.
These days, the sea is higher, warmer and more polluted. The cod and bass are rarer than dogfish, skate and smooth hounds (they all go back anyway). But the team in the cabin at the end of the pier are determined to carry on offering a friendly welcome to anyone who wants to spend time with them, quietly watching the waves and and shooting the breeze. In these manic days where we all live frantic, 24/7 lives, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
With special thanks to Shane, Ivan, Bianca, Pat, Paul and Jay. “Tight lines”.