If patience was indeed a virtue, a great many more fishermen and women would be saints. And if persistence was instead the virtue, almost all of those who keep on fishing through most of their lives would be candidates. Because that is what fishing so often seems to call upon. I know one bloke who heads out to catch live bait in the afternoon to fish dusk in one place, the turn of the tide in the night at another and has been known to catch a few z’s on the floor of the dinghy before trying another tide change or dawn, only to go home empty handed. When many, including me, might have been more inclined to take the squid from the bait catch home for a meal at a decent hour, he is after Sydney Harbour’s game fish and only its game fish – kingies (Seriola lalandi) in the day and jewies (Argyrosomus japonicus) in the night. For others, the persistence is a fierce refusal to be beaten by a particular fishing spot or method; returning again and again because they know that sooner or later the fish will be ‘on the chew’. For me, it is trout along the shores of the outlet of New Zealand’s Lake Wanaka where the Clutha River begins.
As a younger man, going back some 20 years, I did well there. ‘Tassie devil’ lures were the go at the time. Later, there was a decent run of hooking up on diving hard bodied lures with rattles in them. Soft plastics were also tried, but despite being the rage of modern fishing, they are a recurrent disappointment for me. In fact, for three years running, everything was. The closest I came to a feed was a rabbit that the car got the better of on the way home one evening
But I persisted. I recognised that a lot of the time I was fishing with the sun too high because with a kid, twilight was an increasingly difficult time to get out fishing. Or that I was I running lures too high in the water because they cost too much money to risk busting (another one) off on the lake floor. And I knew that I had started to often fish… perhaps ‘ambiently’ is the word, just casting and retrieving mechanically with the consoling pleasure of simply being there, perhaps on my own, perhaps with the boy along for the outing, a play and a splash. The place I am talking about objectively presents a scene that anyone would call beautiful, but which for me has somehow become some sublime treasure as one of the key touchstones of the Kiwi part of me (an Australian for the most part).
But as far as the actual core purpose of the activity goes – trout (or land-locked Quinnat salmon as an outside chance) – nothing. For close to three consecutive annual trips. And then finally, this year, one long skinny jack-jawed old male brown trout (Salmo trutta). I was, quite simply, utterly joyous with my prize. If you had asked me, when that fish was securely on shore, if I was content to simply fish for the sake of wetting a line in paradise, I would have laughed disdainfully in your face. When push comes to shove, there is inevitably one core and utterly dominant reason why I fish, and that is to catch fish and eat it. If you had come to me with an insistence that I put it back because you have bought into the cruel perversity of catch-and-release, it would more likely have been you taking a swim (seriously, if you want them to remain in the water instead of a pan, then don’t give them a hook in the face to start with). There was nobody there to see me walk back to the car that evening, nobody to see a two metre man feeling like a three metre one walking with a two foot fish feeling like a three foot one.
For all that this fish was destined for the plate and completely guaranteed a welcome reception when it got there, a big old seemingly half-spent male is still not the ideal animal for it. But thankfully, there is possibly nothing wrong with any of the salmonid fish that a hot smoker can’t fix. A mix of manuka and apple wood sawdust, 30 mins in the hot smoker (one full load in the methylated spirits burners that drive it all plus some time finishing as the box cools down), some decadently expensive horseradish cream and some crackers, and it was all worth it. Perhaps as many as twenty outings (albeit some very cursory) over three years, more than $300 in fishing licences, maybe $200 in gear and a great deal of salivating expectancy; all down to what was essentially a pretty simple feed. And all of it worth it.