Fishing on Pitcairn Island

The 10 most important things one should learn and do whilst on Pitcairn

Hot Water
Fly a Kite
Unna a Coconut
Down the God
Nola Reynolds
Miz T

Fishing on Pitcairn

Many, many years ago you would have to own a canoe and row from Bounty Bay to the back side of the island in an attempt to catch fish, a staple food for the night’s dinner.
From what I’ve heard this was not always successful maybe because the island’s population was much larger then and fish stocks not so plentiful. With the introduction of a convenience store and imported foods, not surprisingly the fish stocks seem to have had time to replenish.

These days you can easily catch a meal from the rocks or from the landing for that matter.

However, on this particular day, Darrin and Brandon decided to head 'Down Rope'. Renowned for its petroglyphs, it’s a place where you can easily fill a basket in a matter of minutes!

Tools required: Fishing line, hook and a spear for crab bait… oops, and a big basket to carry your catch home.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - The Climb Down Rope
Darrin and Brandon descend 'Down Rope'

Down Rope is great for variety in your catch which can easily include; Nanwei, White fish, Upa'Pa, Red fish and others. However, it’s a bit of a climb down an seemingly sheer rock face to the coastline below. Although the track is easily followed, one wrong step and you won’t be going home – in one piece that is.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - At Sea Level
At the bottom of the steep track

At the bottom of the track you end up in a grove of Pandanus palms. Once through, turn right and you’re on the only sandy beach on the island. This is where the petroglyphs are carved into the cliff face.
Turn left, despite a battle traversing the rocks and boulders, you will head toward a fishing spot called ‘Ugly Named Side’.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - At Sea Level
Darrin and Brandon descend 'Down Rope'

Along the way to ‘Ugly Named Side’, Darrin and Brandon pass through ‘’Middle Place’ and ‘Hilatotara’ all within a 200 metres stretch of coast line.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Crab For Bait
Brandon spears crab for bait

An important ingredient for fishing is bait. Fortunately the coast is alive with crabs, which all fish can’t resist. A pole with a barb point easily spears enough crabs for the day’s events.

If necessary, along the way you’ll pass the occasional ‘rock hole’ housing a small squid or ‘cat fish’, as we call it.
A small amount of cat fish combined with a piece of crab will guarantee a major haul.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - 'Ugly Named Side'
Arriving at 'Ugly Named Side'
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Darrin Casts His Line
Darrin casts his line

Once at ‘Ugly Named Side’, Darrin checks out the swells and the best position to fish from.
Baiting his line - it’s a simple toss, jug, and pull which starts the ball rolling.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - The First Fish
Brandon pulls in the first fish

However, it’s Brandon who lands the first - second, third, fourth and fifth fish.
According to Brandon, Darrin is particular about the type of fish he wants to pull in, hence his slow start but, unfortunately Darrin’s preferred species didn’t show up on this day.

Going fishing on Pitcairn is about two things, enjoying the event and knowing you’ll easily haul a meal by days end (even surplus for the cat and chickens!).

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Filleting the Catch Down Rope
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Filleted Fish
Filleting the fish on the sand 'Down Rope'

Darrin decides to fillet the fish on the beach Down Rope. Not only does it mean fewer kilos to carry uphill, but ensures a thumbs up from Heather and Zara who really don’t enjoy weeding their way through bones at the dinner table.

PS. Traditionally you cooked fish, irrespective of boiling, frying, and baking with bones in – less wastage.

Bonus - Cooking 'Fish in Milk'

In the finest of restaurants, I’m sure you won’t find this on the menu - fried fish simmered in a bath of coconut milk. You should request it, I guarantee the best of chefs couldn’t deliver ‘Fish in Milk’ Pitcairn style.

Brandon shows us how

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Splitting a coconut in half
Brandon cracks open a dehusked coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Brandon on the Unna
Unna'ing the coc'nut

Given the day’s success, Brandon decides to cook ‘Fish in Milk’.
He found the right coconut to flavour the dish down by to the Landing.
Typically we gather at least a dozen nuts. From these, and before de-husking - taking into account size and colour, by shaking them to see if they contain milk, you ultimately select the right one for your dish.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Grating a coconut
Brandon sitting on an 'Una'
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - A close up of the grating
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - The finely grated flesh
To 'Unna' the coconut - means to grate the white flesh

After removing the husk and splitting, it’s time to remove the inner white flesh, by grating it out. The consistency once done may appear course, but importantly it should be very moist.

At this point depending on moisture content you’ll be able to decide if a second coconut is needed. For a large pan of fish you’ll need at least 2 cups of cream.

Meanwhile whilst doing the coconut thing, you should have your fish in the fry pan - sizzling away.

For ‘Fish n Milk’ we like to use a high heat, cooking both sides just through to the centre. This’ll ensure a seared outer layer, which will hold the flesh together when simmered in the milk.

Now, to avoid any confusion – let me explain…
The watery content of a coconut’s nut, we call ‘milk’.
The substance squeezed from the grated flesh, we call ‘cream’.
We simmer the fish in ‘cream’ but we call the dish ‘Fish n Milk’ – confused? Don’t worry it’s a Pitcairn thing!

Meanwhile whilst doing the coconut thing, you should have your fish in the fry pan - sizzling away.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Fried fish
Brandon prepares to squeeze

Taking a handful of the grated coconut flesh between your palms, squeeze out its contents. You’ll be surprised at the quantity of cream that’s extracted.

Cheats will add a little water to the grated flesh prior to squeezing. This can ease the process and certainly give you the content needed, but true blue Brandon wants nothing but the best – 100% cream.

Ok – simmer on a low heat for 20mins. Better still if you’re preparing in advance, reheating the dish closer to dinner ensures an undeniably exquisite flavour.
PS. It pays to have a lime or lemon handy come time to eat.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Squeezing the coconut milk onto the fried fish before simmering
Squeezing the cream onto the fish