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Stan’s Stuff – Catching the fish

The foundations are shaking. Fixed ideas are going to be challenged.
 |  Stan Stewart  | 

My wife and I live adventurously; been a lot of places; met a lot of people. But we never learned how to put up a tent – a tent of any size, two-person to marquee and even though we have owned a variety of fishing rods and fished, we had never really learned how to fish. When quite young, my wife spent a lot of summer holidays on a houseboat in Moreton Bay but these teenagers dived for fish, trapped fish in shallow water and used cray and crab pots.

We led safaris – busloads of young people through the Centre of Australia and taught the skills of survival, but tents and fishing were luxuries or non-existent for those experiences.

I had always hoped that my partner would know about tents and fishing. She hoped the same. Our partnership is great in many ways, but not in respect to tenting or fishing.  Living in New Zealand has changed things in this regard, but I’ll get back to Australia days.

 In 1989 we were working in Newcastle, NSW, Australia. On a summer holiday weekend, we took a trip to Port Stephens – beautiful beach, sparkling water, perfect weather. Most of all, our five-year-old son wanted to go fishing. And that’s how it was that we equipped ourselves with bargain basement rods and a bucket of bait in anticipation of our fishing exhibition. We found a spot on a rock wall of an inner harbour. The bait was smelly, and our casts were wonky, but we were full of hope. Occasionally, we saw a fish and we could feel something nibbling our bait. Hope reigned supreme.

After about an hour, we actually caught one. It was a handsome wee fish, about 8 inches long (20.32cm). Our boy was jumping out of his skin with delight. We dropped the fish into a bucket of water where it swam around vigorously. Our son named the fish, ‘Brian’ I think. Over the next hour we caught nothing, but this didn’t dampen our spirits. Entranced by the fish in our bucket; our son would on occasions, lift Brian out of the water and tell the fish how much he loved him/her and kiss it. We tried to discourage this fish-kissing but there was no dampening his enthusiasm.

Sometime during the afternoon our fish passed way – possibly because of too much kissing. Back in our motel, it gradually dawned on us that the reason for fishing is to obtain fish to ‘eat’. The thought of eating Brian came as an enormous surprise to our son. It was a sobering thought for all of us. We explained that the reason people caught fish was to eat them. After some debate and my sexist power politics, “women do the cooking”, my wife agreed to cut off Brian’s head and clean the wee thing. With the sharpest knife we had, my wife raised it to do the deed. I couldn’t watch. When I finally caught a glimpse, I saw Brian was still intact and mother and son were weeping.   In the end, no fish were eaten in our unit that night. Brian was laid to rest under a flowering shrub and that was the end of our family’s fishing attempts for that period.

Next day we visited the wharf from where we fished. This time I read the signs. Fishing was prohibited from our chosen spot and what’s more, there were sized limits on any fish caught wherever. Our fishing expedition had broken all the rules. That afternoon we left that beautiful bay quietly, carefully avoiding the gaze of the police officer we passed at the intersection.

Living in New Zealand, we have been fishing many times on the Hauraki Gulf and learned quite a bit from friends in Paeroa. We have loved the fishing and the company on the boats. We have caught big and smaller fish and enjoyed eating some of the catch. We have happy memoires of being on mussel barges and enjoying fresh bar b queued mussels.  

I came to live in Whitianga eleven months ago. I clearly remember two conversations from my first month – both were with women in their early twenties. I was suggesting that our paper, The Informer, should sponsor a novelty fishing event for families. In addition to the Game Fishing Club one for children.  Well with eyes blazing these young women shut me down. In Whitianga, this fishing hub for all New Zealand, I had touched a sore spot. As best as I can remember it, here is the gist of what they said. They were against eating fish and in particular, they were against game fishing. Get this – young adults in the home of the ‘Kubota Billfish Classic’ against game fishing! Their reasoning was the same as was used against big game hunting (lions, tigers). “These majestic creatures were an essential part of the eco system and hunting them for sport, agonizingly playing them for hours, has to stop”. I kid you not – I heard this from young women who grew up in Whitianga.

In 1963, John Dylan wrote, ‘The times they are a changing’. It’s happening still, even faster. It’s happening on the world stage. Little old New Zealand is not immune. Change will affect us, even those who live in beautiful Whitianga. We may not understand it. We may not like it but it’s coming fast. The hard lines of opinion will have to bend.

The foundations are shaking. Fixed ideas are going to be challenged. Thinking about it, my guess is the most important strategy is to choose trustworthy travelling companions. Relish the good times. Enjoy the beauty. Be flexible and be ready to be nimble. 

Happy New Year. 


PS: The Informer will be doing a feature on the Kubota Billfish Classic as it is now the biggest fishing competition of its kind in the world.  In March 14-16 and a few days either side, Whitianga will need to embrace a huge influx of fishermen and fisherwomen and their partners, who apart from loving to fish, would also like to enjoy other aspects of life and hospitality here in Mercury Bay.   Stan