Has fishing changed in a generation?
An 11 year old boy took his turn casting into the melee. He was fishing the mouth of the Waitara River in New Plymouth, New Zealand. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, 1958. Men and boys of all ages were lined up shoulder to shoulder along the sand casting metal lures or ‘slices’ across the river. They all hoped a school of fish would run up the river on the rising tide. The young boy was casting carefully for on one notable occasion, his younger brother had hooked a Maori girl in the lip on the back cast, such were the crowds gathered along the bank.
His rod wasn’t made from fibreglass, graphite or even cane. It had been made from an old steel car aerial by his father, who loved to tinker. The line guides were lashed in place with string, as was the reel to the butt of the rod – a section of broomstick. The line was thick nylon, which required a strong cast to make the lure travel even a short distance. On this day, the fishing was slow and after one cast, the young boy discovered a tangle. He was using an overhead reel, (a Penn 85 – more on this in a later post) and a bird’s nest had formed from the dreaded overrun. It took a minute or two to strip enough line off the reel to get rid of it. In this time the lure sank to the bottom of the river. When he finally started to retrieve line, there was a heavy weight on the end. Was it a fish? Seaweed? A sack of drowned kittens (don’t laugh, it had happened)!? If it was a fish, it wasn’t putting up much of a fight. It proved to be a fish alright, and a record fish that stood throughout his childhood. When it was finally beached its full extent was revealed. It was an 8 lb 4 oz (3.75 kg) Kahawai (aka Australian Salmon). When he got home, it warranted a single photograph on his Mum’s Box Brownie camera.
Other afternoons, the fishing was fast and furious, and catches of 30-40 fish were common. These school fish were smaller however, typically around a kilogram, and it was often dark by the time he and his brother got home with sugar bags full of fish. They had to gut, scale and fillet all the fish before they could have dinner, which of course consisted of super fresh fish and chips. The carcasses certainly weren’t wasted and were buried in the vegetable garden as fertiliser. This was the 1950’s in a post-second world war New Zealand. Meat was a luxury item and every fish caught was destined for the table. Catch-and-release hadn’t been ‘invented’ yet. Fisherman were not lucky enough to own several sets of rods and reels, heck sometimes they didn’t even own one fishing rod, except for a car aerial with guides!
I put down my 7 foot graphite spinning stick for a sturdier 8 foot model. The beach gutters were further out than I had hoped and the extra stiffness of this rod allowed me to get the crucial extra distance. As I cast, the metal lure sailed across the sky in a graceful arc and plunged into the breakers. The thin, pink, 6 pound gel-spun line peeled off the titanium lip of the spool with absolute ease. An elderly gentleman walking his dog and watching from nearby commented on how far the lure had just traveled. As I started winding there was barely a sound from the reel – the latest in affordable Japanese spinning reels. As metres and metres of bright pink line wound its way back onto the spool, the retrieve was interrupted by a solid thud which stopped the reel’s rotation instantly. My cold wet hand slipped off the handle. Instinctively I lent back on the rod and set the hook. The fish, displaying its own instincts, took off for the horizon and then lept out of the water, thrashing its head from side to side in an attempt to dislodge this meddlesome baitfish. Often this techniques succeeds, but fortunately I had spent a few minutes the previous night swapping out the slightly rusted factory trebles between swigs of a craft beer for brand new chemically sharpened hooks.
The reel’s smooth drag system gave the fish line when it demanded it and then held firm when requested. On an approaching wave I wound more pink line in. As the water receded, the fish was left literally, high and dry. I sloshed down the beach and picked up my prize. The fish, a good sized Australian Salmon, was ready to be held up for a handful of digital photos with the camera phone. With a couple of fish already in the esky and our bellies still full from a gourmet breakfast of mushrooms, bacon and eggs, we hesitated to keep it. The extra cleaning would mean more work and also that my hands would smell like fish for the drive back to the city. Still, it’s always nice to have a couple of fillets in the freezer and so we took it with us.
So, what can we learn from these two stories? They both involve young men spinning up Australian Salmon (Kahawai) using metal lures. You throw the lure into the water, the fish hops on and you reel it in. Simple! Nothing has changed right?
Maybe that’s not quite true. In 2013 many keen fishos have armed themselves with a rod and reel combination for every occasion. Myself, I have six rods and others I know (who shall remain nameless!) have as many as 12 or 13 . Worse than this however is that we all have those rods that we rarely or never use because we don’t like the way they feel. When I look at these neglected rods now, I think about the broomstick car-aerial rod. Maybe they’re not so bad after all…
While most of us enjoy eating fish, we generally aren’t fishing for ‘meat’. We’re fishing for fun, to relax, to catch up with friends, to have adventures and to be outdoors. I do know a handful of anglers who don’t even eat fish. If I’m feeling particularly energetic I’ll keep my fish frames. On these occasions I’ll chop the frame into chunks and give it to the cat. That’s a tin or two of catfood I don’t need to buy and maybe a few more pilchards swimming around in the ocean as a result. The head, fins and tail, I might bury in the veggie patch. More often than not however, the frames go to the pelicans that hang around the cleaning table.
These days fishing trips involve craft beer (or XXXX gold), catch and release, bag limits, watching DVD’s sponsored by multi-national fishing companies, digital cameras, braided lines and weather reports on our smart phones. Basically we are spoiled. My personal opinion is that once we accept this, our ramp rage, our frustration when someone anchors up over a run-off drain, or jumps into our trolling run, should ease and we’ll all enjoy our fishing that little bit more. After all, they are first world problems. Fishing has changed a lot and it has done so in just one generation, for the 11 year old boy in the story above is my dad.
Happy & content fishing!
PS Thanks dad (Keith) for sharing your stories, photos and comments on this post.