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Never, Ever, Not Even Once, Promise A Feed Of Fish

The trap shut

No noise, just the frigid, dreadful realisation that there was no way out. Worse still I realised that I set the trap myself, and barged right into it. My own trap, set up by my own big mouth. How I wished that it had been my mouth that remained shut a few short hours earlier.

Setting up my own pit and pendulum hell-hole had been an innocent enough exercise.

Back then our summer holiday paradise was a perfect piece of Northland, NZ coastal hideaway, that had firmly resisted the invading tide of 'development'. The road in, back then, enough to put off most but the truly adventurous.

One holiday we fished most evenings over the previous week at 'Spot X' regularly catching a feed, and releasing more.

This particular 'Spot X' is a magic place. We launch the tiny tinny off the beach, and motor out past two white sand lined, uninhabited beaches, and then two or three cliff protected deep coves, to a point that juts perhaps half a kilometre out to sea.

Halfway along the point there is an area of shallow foul ground rising rapidly from 40 to 50 meters. The foul sits smack in the middle of a good current that sweeps along the beaches, and out to the point.

Classic, almost definitive, snapper territory.

The spot is within 200 metres of the steep rock shore. More than close enough to get some real delight from the native bush and birds that cover the steep, almost cliff, slopes above the rocks.

Usually we headed out not too far before dark. As the sun set behind us, the twisted shapes of the Pohutakawa trees on the cliff tops, silhouetted starkly against the reddening sky.

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The plot had become almost routine. Motor out to the spot, drop the anchor up-current of the foul ground patch, and set up the berley trail. Rig a pilchard fore and aft, with a couple of 5/0 hooks, then float it down the berley trail to tempt the fish that waited below.

There was usually very little wait. The bait would move off slowly, then with the bait gulped firmly into its mouth, the snapper would drop down a gear or two, punch the accelerator and bolt back towards home.

Some lunging and bumping from the fish, some drop and wind from the angler, and the fish would come to the boat. An hour, or not much more, would see us on the way home with enough fish for dinner.

NZ Snapper

Some sort of a routine, sure, but boring, no way. The therapeutic value of just being there usually proved enough, for a grid-locked city mind.

Perhaps that is why the trap was set and triggered so easily.

Some friends had turned up that afternoon, drawn by our descriptions and photos. They arrived tired, very dusty, but bearing steaks for the barbecue.

"No steaks, tonight", said I, "a feed of fresh snapper, is on the way".

There it was, the trap, laid out, set, and ready for springing.

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We tried. Boy, oh, boy, did we try. We built the biggest ground-bait trail in the history of fishing. Not even the normally prolific Blue maomao showed up. We moved the boat. We changed baits. We drifted over the reef with baits and jigs.

Nothing! Not even a Spotty. Naught, nil, zero, zilch, and plenty of it.

The trip home that evening, just as the first stars burst out of the black-blue sky was a long one. Normally I am enthralled by the sudden white gleam of foam breaking on the beaches and rocks, out of the growing darkness, but not tonight. No colour broke the blackness of my mood.

Worse was to come. Our guests lined up on the beach, waiting for the Great White Hunter and the Boy Wonder to land and unload the catch. There was no escape from the tirade of insults we endured.

There was still more to come, all bad. I was not even allowed to burn the dead animal on the barbecue, in case, "I screwed that up as well". As we ate the steaks I suffered the endless strings of comments, all on the same sarcasm laden theme, "isn't a feed a fresh fish just the greatest taste on the planet".

If you had sat my fishing reputation on the edge a piece of tissue paper, its legs would not have dangled.

It certainly did not help that the spot regularly produced fish, after my guests left. Of course.

Promising to bring home a feed of fish is the absolute kiss of death to any chance of catching anything but a large heap of derision.

Scientists may scoff that my evidence is at best anecdotal, but I stand convinced that fish can hear promises about themselves ending up lightly floured, dropped into a hot fry pan, and then into a human's digestive tract.

It is a proven fact that sound travels marvelously well through water. The human voice charged with the full resonant force of bloated self assurance, carries even further.

Undue fervent confidence rolls the promising voice into unique sonic wave patterns that first permeate the air around the boaster, and then dive into the water, to travel rapidly and accurately to every fish in the foreseeable vicinity.

My evidence is not just the rambling of an aging mind. It comes with the lucid clarity borne from many, too many, pieces of hindsight, and abject failures to perform as predicted.

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Once I was standing close to our garden pond, which is about the size of a 6 or 8 close friends spa pool, which contained 80 or more goldfish. Most were in plain view.

I started to utter the words, to my friends standing nearby, "would you like a feed of fish, I am going out tomorrow...". I stopped in mid-sentence, my attention riveted by the fact that every goldfish had disappeared. All had dived for cover.

Even a sprinkling of fish food that could usually be guaranteed to send the fish into a surface boiling feeding frenzy, could not entice them out from under the dense weed cover. Down in the dark dank depths, they sulked through the rest of that day, and the next.

Now you may think that was a one-off coincidence, but you would be wrong.

I tested the theory further. A week or two later, I stood by the pond, teeming with visible fish, and out loud made a promise to catch fish. Not one fish deviated from whatever was its particular course of that moment.

You see, no matter how well I acted, the lack of the power of genuine unabashed stupidity, could not force the unmeant promise through the water.

There is more evidence.

On returning from yet another promised, but inevitably fishless trip, I sulked away from the jeering mob, down to the pond. Through the misty haze of my frustration filled eyes, I noticed nothing. Not a goldfish in sight.

If you do not have a fish pond lurking close to your person, make a fish feed promise near your wife, partner, significant other, or companion on life's journey.

It is possible wives are even more perceptive than fish to the nuances of the particularly silly sound waves these predictions make.

The instant the promise leaves your mouth, their eyes roll slightly back, and their mouths squeeze into that weaned on a gherkin look. Their hands seem to operate with a will of their own, reaching instantly for the freezer door, to start unfreezing something for dinner.

It is probable, but more research is needed, that the opening of freezer doors by wives as you leave on a fish feed promise trip, actually acts as some kind of amplifier for the promise, enhancing its transmission to fish.

There is still some work to be done on this theory, but an interim conclusion can be drawn. Fishermen, (and it is by the way a peculiar, and particular fisherman phenomena), should, never, never promise a feed of fish to anyone, ever, not even once.

Carl Yung, (1875-1961), the Swiss Psychiatrist, summed it up well:

'The man who promises everything is sure to fulfill nothing, and everyone who promises too much is in danger of using evil means in order to carry out his promises, and is already on the road to perdition'.

A truly perceptive, but wordy quotation. What Yung, had he been a fisherman, could have more simply said, was that promising a feed of fish, is the first step on the way to fishing hell.

fish graphic

Article written by Tony Bishop (Bish)

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