The picture of a fisherman, his arms spread wide, extolling the size of the "one that got away", has become an over-worked cliché. But under the cliché, beyond the 'lies', there lurks a possibility.
Fishing, by its very nature, nourishes the imagination, feeding it with a potent fuel of hope and desire.
There we are, rod in hand, waiting for the big one. At the back of mind is the hope, the picture, the dream, of the big one. The fish so big the negative of the photo will weigh ten kilos.
The fish that will earn us the adulation, respect, and envy, of other fishermen.
Suddenly, the line pulls tight. Our quarry races off. The fight is short, or long, depending on the story teller's ability, but ultimately it ends in disaster. A disaster indeed.
This fish was the stuff of dreams. No fish pulled harder. No fish pulled line off the reel so fast. No fish put that much of a bend in the rod. Another dream shattered. A vision, hidden by a tyranny of invisibility under the water.
Imagination, desire, is the very basis of dreams. The mystery of the one that got away, is the spark that sets imagination into overdrive.
Trouble is, it is not just imagination. We can 'see' the lost fish.
We can 'see' it in every photo in the fishing magazines, on the net, or tackle shop bragging board. We can 'see' it in every story of big fish landed. We know our lost fish was the equal, if not bigger, than any fish in the photos.
The disappointment of the loss, is just the beginning.
Like all "the one that got away" stories, our story is greeted with skepticism, if not derision. The cliché too strong to ignore for non fishermen. The loss is too close to home for fishermen. The reaction to their stories of losses, is played back as faithfully as a recording.
It gets more insidious.
The "one that got away" reaction syndrome, the belief in the saying that 'all fishermen are born honest, but they soon grow out of it', extends into actual capture stories. "Show us the fish." "Where are the photos?"
Catch and release fishermen know this syndrome too well.
In a world of clichés about fishermen, another may not go astray. "We prefer to believe, what we want to be true," is an old adage, but true nonetheless.
Maybe what is true about our reaction to fishing stories, is that the fish we have not yet caught, breeds a derisive envy, about other's success. Here may be a case in point.
In any group of fishermen fishing together, in a boat, on a rock, in a river, on lake, the success of one or some of the anglers, can have two broad effects on the unsuccessful anglers.
One unsuccessful group will see the other's success as an encouragement. If others are catching fish, it may be their time soon.
The other unsuccessful group will see the success of the others as a negative factor. It will be frustrating. Deep in the dark recesses of their minds they will be seething. Why them, why not me?
I have witnessed this attitude taken to excess on two occasions.
The first was on the Tongariro River, in the Central North Island of NZ.
A good run of fish was coming through the Jones Pool. Three or four of the seven anglers were catching fish.
One unsuccessful angler, despite the visible evidence of fish in the pool, became so frustrated, he smashed his rod over his knee and hurled it into the river. He stumped off, hurling abuse, at the "bl***y amateurs." (I am surprised some psychoanalyst has not named it 'rod-rage'!)
The second, was on a snapper fishing trip, out off Roberton Island, in the Bay Of Islands, NZ.
Everyone, except one, was catching fish. The one, who was the only one to choose to use heavy gear, because "I catch heaps of fish using this gear", became so frustrated he threw his rod and reel overboard, stormed off into the cabin, and despite his forty-or-so years, threw a tantrum.
He started up his boat, winched up the anchor, and drove us back to the wharf at Russell.
Here is another adage, a cliché if you must, "The actual is limited, the possible is immense."
In every story, the one that got away story, the actual capture but no proof story, there is the possibility, that just possibly, the story is true. This could open up a possibility.
What do you say to the fisherman who tells a tale of live baiting for kingis off Wairiri Rock, not 250 yards from shore, tucked just around the corner from Cape Brett, at the Bay of Islands. He tells of his line screaming off, behind a fish too big to be a Kingi. Just another fishing story?
Don't say just another fishing story to Bruce Smith, skipper of 'Striker', and his client, Kirk Stoneman. They caught a 164.2kg (366lb) Striped marlin on 10kg (20lb) line, a world record, doing just that. Mind you Bruce caught a 333kg (740lb) Black marlin doing the same thing, a few years back.
What do you say to the older, fat and fifty, ex-trained seals of the Muriwai Surf Lifesaving Club, who nearly thirty years ago, used to row out to the island in their surf boat and catch fish to sell for club funds.
Their tale of a huge blue fish, with stripes that looked like neon lights, which took a snapper bait, were greeted with howls of derision. Marlin on the West Coast? No way. No way there is not a fleet out there each day, these days, when weather permits.
Who would say now, "what have you been on", to Eric Morman? If the skepticism that the, then new to NZ, system of jigging engendered in my tackle shop, is anything to go by, I can only imagine what disbelief Eric, the pioneer of jigging in this country, copped with his tales of catching snapper on a metal fish imitation jigged up and down off the bottom. But soon the evidence was overwhelming.
Do you say, 'yeah right,' to the Chinese guy who has only been in this country for a few weeks, who tells in very halting English, about the over 20kg (40lb) yellowtail kingfish he caught off the tank farm at Westhaven, in the heart of Auckland city. People are still catching them there.
Sociologists, and others, who study human behaviour and attitudes, have a simple test to quantify people's receptiveness to new ideas. They present groups of people with a proposal. The content of the proposal does not matter, except that the proposal, if accepted will change some aspect of the way the group undertakes tasks.
The respondents are asked to give reasons why the proposal will, and will not, work.
The result of the study can be very accurately predicted, before the study takes place. Ninety per cent of the people will first provide all the reasons why the proposal will not work.
The trouble is that when we hear something that goes against some part of our version of the truth, we dismiss everything that is being said.
Just maybe, beneath the exaggeration, below the imagination, pushed back from the dream or hope, is a truth that could catch our dream. It may be a new technique, a new fishing spot, or fish in place we don't expect them to be.
Here is another old adage: "Meet the new with your ears, eyes and mind wide open, and your mouth tightly shut." Sometimes it takes a longish time for the truth at the bottom of the story to percolate up to the top.
Yet another adage, "Lies are born from someone's truth." Cliché, or possibility?
Article written by Tony Bishop
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