Over the August bank holiday weekend, Guy told me that he was going to teach me how to rock pool. Being a native Floridian used to vast sandy beaches, I didn’t really know what he meant. We’re going to go look at some rocks? We’re going to go collect some rocks? No, he said. We’re going to go rock pooling!
Right, okay, well the only pools I know of are the sparkling blue ones in a backyard that you float around in, but I’m open to this adventure.
We were down at the coast, just a few miles from Dover, and his family had a spot they had been rock pooling in for years. We had to first pick a time to go based on the tides. If the tide was too high, it would be covering the rock pools. And if the tide was low but coming back up, you’d only have a short amount of time before the pools were covered again.
Once we got down to the rocky area, I started seeing little pockets of water everywhere. The terrain was nothing like anything I’d ever experienced, and the rocks were slippery with the seaweed and other sea gunk covering them. I almost wiped out multiple times before the action even began.
It turns out that there was a particular rock pool known for the sea creatures that lived in it, as there was plenty of hiding space. One of the key rules on how to rock pool is that you keep your favorite rock pool a secret, though, so the masses don’t turn up and steal your fun!
The actual, practical, ‘how to’ of rock pooling involves putting a piece of bait on a string. We used natural bait found on the coast, but we saw other people with hunks of meat. You basically dangle the bait in the rock pool, just a couple inches away from the side.
If you’re lucky, fish, shrimp, crabs and other sea creatures will swim out to grab it or investigate what’s going on.
Guy promised me before we went that it wasn’t meant to hurt the animals. We would bait them, feed them, possibly put them in a bucket to observe and then release them back into the rock pool to live the rest of their life happily ever after.
Of course, what he didn’t anticipate was that within 10 seconds of putting my first bait in the water, it was grabbed by a sizeable fish who then got his mouth stuck on the hook. I screamed, being traumatized more and more every second as I feared I had hurt it. I kept apologizing to the fish and promised him I’d get him off the hook soon (I grew up in the suburbs with no real natural interactions if you can’t tell).
He was soon released, and while I think he probably has a case of fish PTSD, he swam back off into his hiding place.
The rest of the morning was much more humane and fun. We caught a few crabs that we watched scurry around and fight over the food. Shrimp started poking their heads out from under their hiding places and we caught a glimpse of how these creatures live and interact in these pools.
After we had stayed near our rock pool for an hour or so, another family came over to join us. This then started attracting every other family on the beach, who wanted to see what we were up to. This was our cue to leave them to it, as the creatures are far less likely to come out when there are a lot of people around making noise.
While I had no expectations either way going in, I was surprised how much fun we had just dangling some bait on strings for hours. I thought I might get bored, but it became addicting to see how many different creatures you could see.
Have you been rock pooling, in England or elsewhere? What’s the best creature you’ve ever seen?