Mielie bombs and banana-flavoured dips

2010-05-17 00:00

INTRIGUED by the regular pictures on the Link page of The Witness of fishermen and women (fisherpeople, perhaps?) proudly displaying their catches, I went on a quest to find out why fishing seems to be so popular in the city, particularly in the Indian community.

The result was an afternoon spent with the Kingfisher Angling Club at Kyalami Bay on Albert Falls Dam. It turned out to be another of those revelations that journalists are sometimes privileged to experience.

When I thought of fishing, I remembered my brother spending countless hours of his childhood camped out beside a dam trying to turn live fish into dead ones using a rod, a hook and a luckless worm. Although the Kingfisher Club chairperson, Ritesh Mohanlall, assured me that people still do this kind of fishing, he and his clubmates are more than fishermen — they are anglers and this distinction is important.

I discovered that freshwater bank angling is a highly technical pursuit, as much science as it is art or skill. It’s also, as many jokes and cartoons would have us believe, an excuse for a group of men to get away from home for a few hours and relax together. However, they all assured me that since these social angling outings happen only once a month, all their wives are very supportive.

There are reportedly 14 freshwater angling clubs in the Pietermaritzburg area, 10 social clubs and four affiliated to the KZN Freshwater Bank Angling Union that is affiliated to the national body. Kingfisher, with more than 50 members, is one of the largest local clubs. The members take their sport so seriously that they number more than 15 members with provincial colours and one — Mohanlall — with national colours. He has been selected for the Confederations team for 2010.

Kingfisher was the first Indian club to be affiliated to the KZN Union and the first team of colour to win the KZN freshwater bank angling league championships, in 2009.

You have to be more than serious, I thought, you have to be passionate to shell out literally thousands of rands for the equipment required to spend 18 hours mostly standing beside a dam, attending to two highly sophisticated rods with all the attention that parents lavish on newborn infants. At their monthly social events, Kingfisher members set up at a dam at 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon and keep going through the night until about 8 am the next day. They enjoy a braai and social time together, as well as watching their own, and each other’s rods, only because it’s a social event. In a competition, you are on your own and a fierce competitive spirit reigns.

Passionate the Kingfisher members certainly are. The youngest member, and also a holder of provincial colours, Devlyn Naidoo (15), got a dreamy-eyed, faraway look on his face when he told me what angling means to him. He started fishing at the age of five when introduced to the sport by his father, Mervyn, who was one of the founding members of the club. “I have a passion for fishing. It’s a huge adrenaline rush to catch and land a fish.” He didn’t even seem to mind when he took two steps into the water to sort out his line and promptly disappeared into the icy murk up to his armpits.

Another club member, Lloyd Naidoo, agreed with Devlyn: “After the first fish, you are hooked. It’s like golfers always hoping for a hole in one. We are always trying to catch ‘the big one’. There is also a huge challenge and skill required to land a fish. We don’t just drag it out of the water, but have to play it, tiring it out until we can reel it in and get close enough to net it.”

Vice-chairperson of the club Maney Moodley said: “It’s also relaxing to be outdoors and get away from the routine of daily life. There’s a lot more than just fish out here. There are also birds and wildlife, and a chance to be quiet in nature.”

Mohanlall has been fishing almost all his life. “My grandfather introduced me to fishing when I was eight. Back then it was basic fishing with a simple rod, a hook and bread or worms as bait. The kind of angling we do now has been hugely professionalised.”

“Bewilderingly professionalised,” I thought, as Mohanlall patiently explained his equipment to me, all R12 000 worth of it. To take part in competitions, anglers require a supporting frame that holds two rods plus many other accoutrements: a water bucket, as cleanliness is a priority at competition level, a bucket for crushed mielie bait, and a tackle box in central pride of place. In addition to the kind of tackle one would expect like reels, line, hooks, sinkers, lures, bit indicators or “policemen”, spinners, jigs and artificial bait, etc., the interior of the box looked like a small pharmacy. It contained a collection of bottles, jars and tubs of flavoured liquids for adding to bait in order to achieve that one elusive thing all anglers crave: a bite.

“They get crafty, these fish,” said Daniel Govender, “Sometimes they like banana flavour, other times it’s cinnamon flavour. You just never know what they are going to go for. You just have to keep trying till you find the right thing.”

Now I felt like I was floundering in icy murk up to higher than my armpits. Banana and cinnamon- flavoured dips for catching fish? You have to be joking.

But of course Kingfisher’s band of comrades in piscatorial arms, kitted out in special waders, wet suits and gumboots (up to another R2 000 or so) were not joking but serious. However, they were not deadly serious. They follow a policy of catch and release, storing their prizes in keep nets until it is time to weigh and total up the night’s catch. The hooks they use are also designed not to damage the fishes’ mouths.

These keen anglers lamented the shortage of good local angling spots and of fish. In addition to three locations at Albert Falls Dam, they also visit Midmar and Wagendrift dams. “The local fishing is not good because the waters are overfished by subsistence fishermen. Albert Falls is also the premier bass-fishing dam in the province, which means that the smaller carp numbers are declining as bass prey on them.”

In addition to bass and carp, local waters also hold tilapia, barbel and scaley — the Natal yellowfish.

Logie Naidoo, Kingfisher’s barbel expert, swore by chicken livers and crabs as bait, both of which I dutifully inspected as they lay in the bottom of their containers, the crabs eyeing me evilly as though their fate was my fault.

Mohanlall and his colleagues also regretted the fact that theirs is a “Cinderella sport”. “Because, in South Africa, it is not a spectator sport, it’s hard to get sponsorship and it’s expensive to travel all over the country to take part in competitions.” Does that discourage them from participating and pursuing their passion? Clearly not, and they would welcome new members or people keen to find out more.

Their advice to people who’d like to try their hand at angling is to contact a club and go and try it out. There’s a whole new, mysterious world of mielie bombs, flavoured dips and even garlic-flavoured, glow-in-the-dark bait spray waiting to be discovered.

• Inquiries: Ritesh Mohanlall at 082 780 6159.

• juliadd@witness.co.za

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