(Excerpt from an article written for my fishing group, November, 2005)
Fishing, it seems to me, is a singularly unique human endeavour. Surely, there can be no other activity in the human experience that is so weighted down by blind prejudice, over-information, misinformation and just plain, dumb-as-dirt stupidity! It is indeed, a palette upon which the entire spectrum of human frailty is displayed in all its glory! Nevertheless, it has maintained an almost magical hold over countless generations of men and women and girls and boys.
I remember very well, the day I became an angler. I was about six or seven when my Dad took me fishing for the very first time. I had been primed, ahead of the event. Like all good magicians (and salespeople) my Dad had started the build up, well ahead of time. There was the tackle box that he dug up from the bowels of his shed, filled with weird and wonderful items that I’d never seen before. There was the trip to a tackle shop in the city, to purchase a bamboo pole, binding thread and runners and I watched in wonder as he transformed these items into a fishing rod. And then, there was the ‘initiation’. I had to earn my right of passage into the fraternity of anglers, by demonstrating that I could tie my own hooks …. using a proper snood knot which was no easy thing to learn.
Finally, the magic day arrived and we were off to the seaside, sitting on a pier, shoulder-to-shoulder with countless other hopefuls who all chatted amiably with each other while plying their particular version of the craft. I remember it all …. the smells and sounds of the salty world of the pier, the almost palpable sense of fraternity that seemed to exist between the anglers there and the ripples of excitement that flowed through the throng, when occasionally a bright silver fish was plucked from the depths and came, flapping and struggling onto the boards.
I remember feeling sorry for the fish …… and I remember being hooked, more certainly than any of them. I’ve been fishing on and off for most of my fifty plus years now and that same excitement fascination and anticipation is with me, as strongly today as it was with that little boy, all those years ago.
Even on that very first day, I was aware of an undercurrent of mystery. I recall the muttered bits of conversation between anglers, often just after a fish was hauled in. Talk of baits and secret additives for them, and super special techniques that would guarantee a bulging creel, even when no-one else could land a sardine. Here was excitement for a small boy. I would learn the secrets of this mystical art …. and I would make my mark upon it!
From that day onward, my Dad was pestered endlessly for the next fishing trip. But even more, he was pinned down in conversation about the ‘secrets’ that I had already seen, so clearly, to be the true essence of fishing. I plumbed the very depths of his river of knowledge and it was deep and wide indeed. I never once questioned that my Dad knew more about fishing than anyone else alive. The fact that we rarely caught anything at all raised no doubts whatever in my young and trusting mind.
I lost my Dad very early in my life. But the love of fishing that he passed on has stayed with me and has enriched all my days. He was a good Dad. When I found myself without Dad, I discovered fishing books at the school library and fishing magazines at the local news-stand. And here was a seemingly endless source of knowledge and lore. All just there for the taking and bound to guarantee immortality to anyone who cared to put in the effort to gather it in. I remember well, how I would yearn for the next issue of ‘Angler’s Digest’ or ‘Australian Angler’ to make its appearance at the paper shop. I read and re-read every article so many times, the print almost wore off the pages. I gazed long and longingly at the pictures of massive leviathans caught by smiling gurus and dreamed of the day when I would take my place among the fishing immortals. Every cent that came my way was invested in fishing tackle or fishing magazines and my lifelong love affair with angling was already an incurable malady.
Over my life I have experienced angling in so many forms. From a stick with ten feet of line attached, a hook, cork and worm in a quiet billabong in Victoria, to trolling lures behind a game fishing boat, out of Darwin. From flicking trout flies over rippling, gin-clear streams in Tasmania, to Murray River baitfishing for Redfin Perch in South Australia. And all this time, I have been collecting …… secrets!
I know about all those special baits and secret recipes that are totally irresistible to fish on EVERY occasion. I know about secret lures that you must be sure not to let show, lest other anglers see or worse, FISH see and come jumping into your boat before your ice box is ready! I know about freak tide/wind combinations when fish will all but line up for the privilege of impaling themselves on your unbaited hook. I know that if you have just this particular size #28 black ant pattern, or that size #6 red and black matuka streamer fly, you will absolutely, positively bag out, even when no other angler on the water has caught anything but a cold. I know that you cannot possibly venture forth on a trout stream, without taking along at least 100 different fly patterns, each in ten sizes (and a degree in entomology is helpful) …….. and that, if you know your stuff, you can get by just anywhere, with no more than ten patterns in a couple of sizes.
You see, almost every issue of the monthly magazines and every book on the library shelves …… every fellow angler you meet on your travels …………… they all contain secrets (which, by the way, they have no hesitation whatever in passing on to YOU …. “just don’t share it with anyone else”). Why, I’ve been collecting knowledge and lore, secrets and spells for so very long now, that my collection would make even dear old Dad proud, were he still with us! And I, my friend, am about to pass on to you, for free and without obligation, the purified, concentrated, unadulterated essence of all those years of observation, experience, instinct and learning.
I have noticed something. My local reservoir is well stocked with Trout ….. Browns and Rainbows, Brookies and Atlantic Salmon …. and Redfin Perch and Eels. Now there are days on that water when a nymph could crawl out of the weeds at one end of the dam and swim haltingly, all the three miles to the other end, and be in no danger whatever of being molested by anything. On those days, no special bait, no secret technique, no magical fly pattern …. NOTHING will raise a response from those fish. Then, there are other days when no creature would survive longer than a heartbeat, were he to crawl out of the mud; when no bait is likely to ever hit bottom, without being grabbed; when no fly however poorly presented is likely to be refused and no lure can be dragged very far at all, without being engulfed. On THOSE days, I could bag out using a ‘fly’ made from a scrap of material from the toe of my dirty sock!
See, its like this. On some days the fish are biting. On some days, the fish aren’t biting. And on most days, “there are a few about”. There is no magic bait, no mystical pattern, no secret technique …. that will transform you into some kind of angling giant. There is just a little basic learning, some observation, some common sense and, oh yeah, it does help if the fish happen to be biting. All those secrets and stories are what sustain us through those hard times when we are denied natural justice and are forced by cruel fate to be away from that which we love ….. like when we are at work or it is closed season on the water!
You don’t need 150 different fly patterns to catch a fish; you don’t need the latest and greatest $50 lures and you don’t need a dozen different styles of fishing float …… but it all looks pretty in a tackle box.
As for all the secrets…. Well, there’s a whole bunch of old magazines in the corner there. You’re welcome to have a read, if you’d like. Me, I just wanna go fishin’.
Andrew Caddle 30130724
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