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Do the economics of going fishing add up?

The tackle was good quality and the price matched.

A top of the line 10 to 15 kilo jig stick, the best 5:1 reel, a fill of good line, and a tackle box full of all the goodies, all gleaming shiny new on the counter.

The card was good too. The figure of around NZ$15000.oo rocketed along the phone lines to the big computer in Wellington, and returned bearing the 'approved' sign on the card machine. All under the watchful eye of his wife.

Her face puckered into an 'I just bit into a lemon' look, and the tart remark shot out, "You will have to catch a lot of fish to cover that."

My observation that the purchase price was only 10, 1 kilo snapper at fish shop prices, was greeted with the special look some people reserve for smart-ass salespeople.

Icy is too mild a description. The fact that every brass monkey for miles around was clutching it's parts privy, will give some idea of the frostiness of the glare.

She, and then he, began a vigorous discussion on the merits or otherwise of fishing tackle purchases.

There was some emphasis placed on much needed, but not yet purchased kitchen appliances, a roof that needed painting, and the like.

Discretion being by far the much better part of valour, I retired to the back of my tackle-shop to become busy doing something, anything.

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'Anything', turned out to be some deep thought on the economics of fishing tackle purchases.

The first, and perhaps obvious train of thought that rattled through my (then) tackle-store owner's brain, involved the purchase of fishing tackle. Purchasing heaps of expensive tackle seemed an excellent hypothesis to me, and no amount of economic theory was likely to dissuade me from that view.

This thought passed, replaced by an enquiry. Why do I spend so much time fishing? What is in it for me?

On the face of it, fishing makes no economic sense at all. If I added up all the money I have spent on tackle over the years, all the money I have spent on travel and fishing trips, the money on boats, fuel and repairs, I could find no return on the money, in terms of the value of the fish caught. Economists would laugh themselves silly.

Then, the pain of some of my fishing, sprung from my memory.

The times I have spent up to, and over, my testimonials in the Tongariro River; South of Taupo, Central North Island, New Zealand in the middle of winter, ice on the rod guides, and my top lip.

The times in the tiny tinny, rain lashing down, no cover, less fish. Again in the 'tinny' (Kiwi speak for small aluminum dinghy), bouncing into a building wind, pushing up the tide against wind waves, drenched from the spume and spray, and still too many miles to go.

Another time, rounding Cape Karikari, Northland, New Zealand into the teeth of a south-east gale, in a now very small feeling fifty-foot boat. Faced by the prospect of, and then enduring, smashing and bashing our way for six jelly-legged, soaking wet, hours to the Bay of Islands.

Then there was the long, hour and a bit, walk up the river to the secret pool, rounding the bend, and emerging from the bush to find four anglers filling the water.

This particular episode has been repeated, more than once. Secret pools, indeed. The only secret about these pools, is the name of the one person on the planet who does not know about them.

Different times, different places, four days into a marlin trip, two metres of swell, another two metres of wind chop on top, and not even a bird in sight.

Frustration time, standing on the rocks, land-based game rod rigged and ready, kingis in plain sight, and not a live bait to be had.

The waiting time.

Twenty five years from the first time a marlin felt the prick of one of my hooks, to the first time I landed one. Forty years on from the day a small trout first glinted on the bank of the Avon river in Christchurch, to the day I caught my first ten-pound trout.

The long planned, long longed for, quivering in eagerness and anticipation, first trip to the South Pacific islands, to sit and watch the rain being blown off the Bure roof for five days by a gale.

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Crazy stuff. Year after sixty years of utter lunacy.

Why? For heaven's sake, why? For heaven's sake? Maybe.

Two hours into the first light of an icy cold, frost-misted Tongariro morning, and then the tell-tale nudge of a fish on a deeply-sunk fly. The first rush upstream, followed by the mad downstream race.

One jump, then another, then the slow grudging pull to the shore, and the sight of an icy-bright silver trout panting in the shallows.

More casts, and soon another fish, and then later, another. The weak winter sun, now warming, the heart at least.

For an hour or more the rain pelts down in sheets, collecting in the bottom of the tinny, running down inside the inadequate wet-weather gear. Icy tongues of rain tickling down arms and back.

Then the light pull on the bait, slow movement of the line, and sudden rush. Winding the line up tight, and pulling up on the rod to set the hook, feeling the nodding pressure of a good snapper. Finally a red-brushed silver fish melting into view.

Another bait another fish, another bait another fish, another....... And still it rains, but now barely noticed.

Four days watching the sea, the swell, the white caps, the lures, and no fish.

Then the first glimpse of two neon lit wings swinging under the starboard lure. A beak slashing out of the water, a lunge, a splash, a hole in the water, all in slow motion, and then the screaming of a reel. The controlled pandemonium at the start as gear is pulled in, then the fight.

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The long walk through the bush, out onto the rock strewn bank, and there they lie, four good trout at the tail of the pool, swinging softly, white mouths flashing as they feed. Further up the pool three more trout, feeding more frantically.

The first cast at the tail, the indicator bobs, and the line rooster tails up the pool, but not far enough to scare the top fish. More casts, more fish, witnessed only by the birds.

The walk out to rocks at the point, just after dawn, took an hour. Pre-caught live baits churning in the bait bucket. The first look over the edge, and there they are, kingfish everywhere.

The first bait goes out, no balloon needed, and is instantly engulfed by a dark-green backed monster. The drag pushed up to strike, and the kingi slashes into the deep, over the rock ledge, and gone.

More baits, more fish, some landed and released, most lost. Baits gone, poppers come into play. More fish, few landed. Sheer exhaustion finally calls a halt to the action, mine not the fish's.

The rain and wind that had lashed the Fijian resort finally eased. Enough to wander along the sand flats casting to coral bombies. Trevally, barracuda, long toms, small Giant Trevally, in fact all small fish, but it was fishing - fishing somewhere new.

The next day, out in a boat, my first dog-tooth tuna grabbed my lure, and gave me a brief demonstration of their power. Coral cut short that demonstration, but there was more to come. More lures, more fish, more coral, but not always. New definitions for the power of these fish. Doggies, giant Giant trevally, and more.

Then there are the very special times. Sitting in the tinny, so close to the native-bush clad cliffs, that the birds can be seen in the trees as they sing. The water skating calm, the sun slinking down over the hills. A few fish come to the boat, none big, but enough for a feed. Food for a round fat happy tummy, food for the soul.

Heaven? Maybe. Perhaps paradise enough to explain the lunacy, enough for me anyway. But then, I am no economist, thank heaven.

Old engraving of deep sea fish

Article written by Tony Bishop


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