Book review: “Shadowing the Ghost of the Estuary: My quest to catch mulloway on lures and how they have messed with my head”

As I was walking through the bookstore looking for a present for a friend, it was the photograph of the glistening scales and big dark eye of a predator that caught by attention. On closer inspection, I noticed the faint image of an angler reflected in the fish’s eye. On reading the title: ‘Shadowing the Ghost of the Estuary: My quest to catch mulloway on lures and how they have messed with my head’, I just had to have it. I wasn’t able to find that present I was looking for, but had stumbled on a wealth of knowledge and a nice little present to myself.

This book lives up to its name. It follows the story of Sol Bannura, who has developed what some might think is an unhealthly obsession with catching jewfish on lures. From what I could gather from this book, Sol would have to be one of the leading authorities in Australia on the subject, despite using sometimes old-fashioned and ‘unconventional’ methods. What becomes clear throughout the book is that Sol’s obsession is a healthly one, and has enriched his life in numerous ways. It is possible for most anglers to identify with this obsession in one way or another, and different people will take different messages out of this book.

The book begins with a bit of history on Sol’s background, including his cultural background, which influences his approach to fishing. Later in the book Sol starts to discuss the idiosyncracies and mysteries of this incredible fish and delves into their behaviours, habitat, prey items and even the psychology of the fish. Sol mixes this in with engaging accounts of how this has affected his own mental disposition and both enriched and sometimes compromised his relationships with those around him.

Sol’s story of adversity, by way of an extremely serious car accident, and subsequent recovery leaves one with a bit of a lump in the chest, and demonstrates to me how fishing can be an incredible vehicle for recovery of the mind, body and soul. The experiences we have while fishing make a special imprint on us, and help us and others define who we really are. Sol, perhaps unintentionally at times, encapsulates this throughout the book.

Another aspect of the book that was perhaps unintentional, but has got me wondering, is that at no point it tells you in a few pages ‘this is what you need to do to catch a mulloway on lure’. Perhaps the author, in his more creative approach to fishing writing, has done this intentionally to convey that there is no one ‘recipe’ for catching mulloway on lures. There are many, many factors that come in to play, and the author conveys very effectively that each encounter is different and should be cherished in its own right.

While this book won’t tell you exactly what to do to catch a mulloway on lures, one thing it will convey is the passion, persistence and perseverance that is required. It is an entertaining, thoughtful , evocative and sometimes philosophical insight into the mind of both fish and angler. Highly recommended.

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