17th February 2003, 40 year-old angler Val Fletcher was casting for little fishes from
the beach at Skinningrove. She baited her line with squid and hoped for a
nibble – perhaps from a mackerel or something equally as undramatic.
She got a bite all right, but it was no tiddler; for it was a 11½ft, 140lb oarfish (aka the King of Herrings) – and it took her a good 40 minutes to reel it in, aided by her partner, the appropriately named Robert Herrings. Though the size of the fish was on the large side, it was a minnow by oarfish standards: they can reach 50ft+. Anyway, the 5ft 4in, eight stone woman beached the monster, dragged it home and left it outside for a couple of days for the locals to gawp at. No one was able to identify the specimen for some time.
Oarfish are incredibly rare – especially live specimens. They are the oceans’ longest bony fish, and prefer warmer climes and deeper seas. One hadn’t been caught anywhere in the world since 1996 (off the US coast) – with previous UK finds including two at Whitby in 1759 & 1981 and one off Northumberland in 1794. Val is thought to have been the first person to have landed one with a rod and line.
When word finally got round, marine biologists were keen to examine the creature. By then, though, it had already been sliced up into steaks and shoved in Ms Fletcher’s deep freeze.