We’d been driving on an elevated road heading to Tuktoyaktuk’s DEW Line site. As we rounded a corner that took us along the ocean coast, we noted a handful of shacks set up along the shore and Wayne Cockney getting his fire going. We parked our rental truck on the side of the road, ambled down and introduced ourselves. Soft-spoken and thoughtful, Cockney offered us tea and let us take pictures while he checked his lines and filleted his catch.
Crouched down by the water's edge, Cockney pulled his line in, gingerly freeing the fish from the net. With every pull he hoped for herring, but his take this time was almost entirely whitefish. He tossed the big ones in a bucket and sent the smaller ones back into the drink. We crinkled our noses when he pulled out a small, ugly sculpin. “Just a freak of nature, I guess,” he said, then tossed it to the seagulls nearby.
He had a table set up about 10 feet back from the water, its top stained with blood and glittering scales. He quickly filleted the fish, leaving their sides connected at the tail so he could hang them over sticks in a nearby shack. where they’d be dried and cured by billows of smoke.
It’s peaceful. Cockney says he gets out every day that he can. People know they can come to him and get, say, a fillet of smoked herring for $10. It can be tough to make a living, he tells us, but he’s doing it.