Photos contributed to the Simply Whitstable Chat Column by the site's regular visitors have inspired me to write a few lines on the sprat fishing that we took part in.
The early method of 'stow fishing' for sprats carried well on into the 20th century. This was done from a sailing smack referred to as a 'stow boat'. Because of the heavy gear they carried and the practice of "fishing over the bow", they were built fuller forward. This method involved anchoring in the chosen area and, with the net suspended below the boat, waiting for the fish to come their way. (At least, that is a simplified explanation).
Arrival of the Leggatts & 'Pair' Fishing
After the war (in the late 40s) the Leggat Bros came to Whitstable - bringing with them the new technology of 'pair fishing'. This method was made possible by boats being motorised. It also needed radios for the boats to contact each other and echo sounders to locate the fish schools and indicate their depth.
The procedure required a group of boats to work together. Once in the general fishing area, the vessels would spread out with their echo sounders operating. The first to locate a good school of sprats would contact the other boats who would then come into that area. They then worked in pairs. Each pair would approach from behind the school with a net towed between them at the required depth. In just a matter of minutes, the long tubular net would be full with enough fish to fill the hold of one boat. (This, too, is a simplified description).
East Quay Activity
After the initial success at sprat fishing, more boats were custom built for the purpose and a cannery was built beyond the East Quay. At that time, that area of the harbour became a hive of activity at unloading time... with sprat boats lining the quay and fish boxes piled high. This can be seen from Tony Stroud's photo below (taken in the1950s)....
Above: Fish boxes stacked on Whitstable harbour's East Quay of the 1950s
Down in the holds of the boats, the younger members of the crew would stand up to their waist in sprats and fill the large buckets that were hauled to the top. On the quay itself, retired fishermen would help with the salting and filling of boxes.
Preparing the Vessel in '54
The photo below was taken by Arthur Boulting in the snow of January 1954.....
Above: John (left) and George Harman preparing 'Mon Reve" for sprat fishing with the Leggatts
It was taken while I was working with my brother George... just before I came to Canada. I am pictured on the left and George on the right. We were preparing George's vessel, Mon Reve, to go spratting with the Leggats. In particular, we were making up extra "fenders" (ie old tyres) to protect the vessel at that moment when boats came together at sea. This occurred when the sprats were brought aboard.
We were due to "pair up" with Olly Wiseman and his boat. He was a friend of the Leggats and came from Canvey with them. The Mon Reve did not have the electronic equipment that they had (ie radio and depth sounder). As a result, we followed close behind and received hand signals.
After the decline of spratting and when the harbour had been taken over from British Rail by the local Council, the East Quay was cleared and a large Daniels Bros warehouse was built in readiness for larger shipping.