Jigs and Reels

A wonderful way to see Prince Edward Island’s stunning Points East Coastal Drive and it’s abundant marine life – with traditional music, dance, and a hands-on-experience – is to sail on one of the Authentic Island Experiences offered by The Fiddling Fisherman.

Captain J.J alongside his wife Julie Chaisson offer a range of intriguing, entertaining and informative excursions on their lobster fishing boat, aptly named Chaisson A Dream. The dream is to offer passengers an experience unlike any other.

The PEI lobster fishery is a traditional one that dates back generations. J.J Chaisson explains that he is a self-employed lobster fisherman, and has been playing the fiddle for over 28 years. He got into the lobster business in order to stay in the community he loved and raise his family. The fiddle is in his genes and the Chaisson family are world-class musicians.

“My wife Julie and I decided last winter to make this dream a reality and combine our love of lobster fishing with music. Our aim is to immerse passengers into the music and fishing culture of PEI, while surrounded by breath-taking scenery that can only be appreciated from the sea.”

The Fiddling Fisherman is essentially a ceilidh on the sea by a lobster fisherman. And today the weather is perfect for an afternoon sailing. My husband Terry and I are welcomed aboard the 10-passenger boat for “Jigs and Reels” an experience that combines J.J’s passions.

Before we depart Souris Marina, Captain J.J gives a thorough water safety introduction. He shows all passengers where the life boat, the fire extinguishers, and PFDs are located. He further explains that all the wooden benches we sit on are locally handmade.

The benches were crafted by Souris’ Harbourview Training Centre – a non-profit organization that offers a range of support services to clients with intellectual disabilities. “It’s a great way for them to be involved in the community,” says Captain J.J.

We then sail out from the Marina. On the starboard side are the majestic red cliffs, pretty bays and historic lighthouses and buildings. On the port, we observe a variety of sea birds searching for mackerel or herring.

“We’re now going to haul a lobster trap…Who wants to volunteer?” asks Captain J.J, as we come to our first anchored stop by a buoy bobbing in the waves. Successfully, a passenger volunteers for the quintessential hands-on PEI experience.

This is what the Island’s lobster fishermen do every spring. The lobster trap is hauled aboard and Captain J.J shows us how the fishing equipment works. He then carefully removes the lobster affectionately named, “Lester,” and explains its functions.

After an interesting insight into lobster fishing, Captain J.J gives a quick orientation on driving a boat and gives passengers the opportunity to try it themselves. I eagerly volunteer to have a go at steering. Steering with a wheel is much like a car in that you turn the helm in the direction you want to go. However, unlike a car, a boat steers from the stern rather than the front as a car does.

The boat slows down to its second stop, and the engine is switched off. In the quietness, with just the soothing sounds from the ocean, Captain J.J pulls out a fiddle and beings to play. It’s easy to see that he’s a talented world-class musician.

Passengers are inspired to toe-tap and dance. We also request songs for J.J to play, and I ask for one of my favourites, “Galway Girl.” Surprisingly J.J knows the song by Steve Earle, and plays the intricate piece beautifully. He plays several more jigs, waltzes and reels that get the audience stomping and Julie tap-dancing.

The Captain points out the various tour boats nearby that are attempting to catch giant tuna. On the depth sounder the boat gives an indication of tuna beneath – perhaps fiddle music is better bait than live fish! I gaze out across the sea with the hope of catching a glimpse. But the tuna are too deep to be seen. Instead, we are treated to the circling ripples of whales surfacing to breathe and diving porpoises.

Some passengers try to find their “sea legs” while weaving from side to side for a better view. I was very surprised to see a curious seal bobbing in the waves and later we notice he continued to follow us – maybe captivated by the music.

Towards the end of the performance, we are handed personalized spoons (that we get to keep!) and instructed on how to play the percussion instrument. Beginner level is a basic horizontal tap up-and-down. Advanced level is a strum with the spoon across stiffened fingers, with a quick tap on the palm of your hand and then leg.

While we tap a beat to the fiddle, Julie brings out fresh biscuits with jam, and offers everyone drinks. The boat is fully licensed adding to the unique experience out on the water.

The performance ends with the sounds of feet stomping, spoons clinking, and an incredible fiddle all playing in harmony. Our fiddler then goes back to being a fisherman to bring us to shore. We cut through the waves, the wind blows through our hair, and the spray from the white wake on both sides of the boat cools our sun-baked skin.

For more information and to book an experience with The Fiddling Fisherman click here.

For more great things to do along the Points East Coastal Drive click here.