There is one activity that to me signifies the tradition, culture, and mentality of the ‘kommen’ Afrikaner, and that is the sport of pap-gooing (fresh-water fishing, for those not in the know)! In Singapore, I will never again get to see people so happy to increase their chances at getting skin cancer. But hey, dying of subdermal tumors ravaging your body is a small price to pay for a chance at catching the next mega-karp and maybe making it onto the coveted center-fold of ‘Die Hengelaar’ magazine!
I want to state it clearly that I know of this foul sport only because I was forced against my will to join my family on their fishing expeditions, and I stopped going the moment I was allowed to stay home by myself (in my mid-teens). Sadly, because I am the observant type—and considering that there was nothing else for me to do next to a stinking dam—I soaked up every little detail about the people and the inner workings of this mostly Afrikaner pastime.
A combination of sustained drinking and untreated sunstroke, which accompany this activity (and almost every other ‘kommmen’ Afrikaner activity), gave rise to legendary tales of monster fish that would make the Loch-ness monster look like a guppy! Who has not heard the tales of the legendary Harties ‘sluis-babers’ with eyes the size of dinner plates, and what about the ‘Vaal monster’, which swallows mature catfish, whole? Bon Accord too has a monster, purportedly a gigantic catfish that swallows children whole when they wander through the hyacinth unaccompanied.
The love for fishing is rampant on both my dad’s and my mom’s sides of the family. I’m also ashamed to admit that I have relatives who were conceived next to Die Aapies rivier. There is something terribly ‘kommen’ about your dad humping your mom in a sleeping bag, next to a smelly river and fire with a baber roasting away on it, that marks the moment of your conception. I can thank my lucky stars that these contaminants in my family’s gene pool had not yet drifted to my side of the pond when I spawned.
Perhaps this tradition of getting your high-school sweetheart pregnant next to the runoff area for the city’s sewage system is why Afrikaners take to this tradition of fishing like karp take to kerrie pap!
A Trip to the Dam
Days ahead of the trip, my brother would be out in the yard casting his line over our fence and into the neighbours’ yards (the ratchet screaming in agony). Supposedly, this was to ‘fine tune’ the reel for optimal performance. To me it sounded like a Ford Cortina being put into reverse (you hear those at the dam quite a lot)! It seems that the farther your rod and reel can cast, the bigger the fish you will catch. May it is something akin to a pissing competition—I don’t know.
This obsession with casting deeper takes on a form of extremism. Some fishermen will not be satisfied with how far their equipment can cast until it hits land on the other side of the dam and snags someone’s stray Alsatian, and as they then reel the struggling dog in, it will likely get swallowed whole by Bon Accord’s monster catfish!
Anyway, on the day before the big event my brother would turn part chemist part alchemist as he prepared the ‘perfect’ bait for whatever species of fish he wanted to catch. Rumour and legend have produced an entire industry dedicated to making ‘THE’ bait. Every tale of a monster fish caught invokes the inevitable interrogation, “But what bait did you use? Tell me!” I’ve heard of combinations that no living thing should have a preference for, but fisherman SWEAR by these concoctions: kerrie pap, piesang-en-buinbrood, vanilla flavoured mielies, pilchard pap (a bit cannibalistic), salt-impregnated lures, etc. There is more variety of recipes to catch fish than there are dishes at the nearest Casbah roadhouse!
Then the big day would arrive. My brother either woke up early or didn’t sleep at all, but he’s already packing the car at 4AM in the morning! It is a pity that he won’t be so fervent to unpack the car once he is next to the waters.
After arriving at the ‘perfect spot’ (usually spotted from far off by my brother), the usual preparations would begin. First, we would unpack the car. Second, we would clear away the used tampons from the log we intend to sit on and be flavoured by wood smoke. (To all those ‘skurwe’ Afrikaner women out there who were responsible for these scarring scenes; if you can bring yourself to shamelessly leaving your tampons on a log for the entire world to see, why even bother using tampons at all?). Third, dodge the dangling hooks! By now, my brother is in ‘hengel mode’ and he is butchering frogs, small fish, and crickets to get his first line in the water—this is now his baber-stok!
The baber-stok was usually followed by two or three more rods, each dedicated to a particular species of fish—none of them edible! After this frantic hour, the day’s action evaporated and the endless wait set in. Once I’m done gathering damp, parasite-infested wood for the still not lit fire (the only form of entertainment I had), my mother would holler for us to come try the first batch of samies. At this stage, my brother does not feel hunger or thirst; he is tending to his rods.
Whenever one of his ratchets barked, the sense of pain left his body. My brother could leap through a campfire, hit his shin on a rock, step into a rusted nail, and suffer lacerations to his face as he ran through low-hanging branches in an attempt to rip that rod off its mounts and imbed the hook deep into the mouth of whatever ill-fated fish was nibbling on the bait at the other end of the line. Only after the line snaps and he dejectedly walks back to his tackle box would my brother even realise he is bleeding! But it’s nothing major, he washes his wound off in the dam water and readies his next bait—now reinforced with a metal tracer to keep the fish from chewing through the gut!
Not all fishermen are common, though. Some have a little class and intelligence, who would have thought? In the final stages of his fishing career, my brother became an avid bass fisher. He fancied himself part of the arista of anglers. But to me this sport was as ridiculous as pap-gooing! They just had different names for things, (usually English names) but in practice, the sport was equally hilarious. One type of lure is called a South-Carolina Husky Jerk. To me it sounds like, I was in South Caroline jerking my husky. Who invents this stuff?
The leisurely nap and tanning that accompanies pap-gooing was then replaced by a fanatical amount of rowing about the surface of the lake and casting plastic lures in the weirdest of fashions. Bass fishermen are attracted to logs and reeds because their lures were designed to swim down and grab the fish where they sit. Sigh… they make these claims, not me!
And bass have to be the dumbest fish in water! You can catch them with little bits of rubber and plastic! You can’t catch even a starving Bon Accord baber / karp with a plastic lure, no matter how realistic it looks, splashes, swims, or what flavour it’s been ‘impregnated’ with! Therefore, I don’t know how bass-fishermen consider themselves the intelligent and classy folk of the fishing world, especially when one reflects on the fact that their sole focus is on catching the world’s most retarded fish!
Even fish seem to appreciate the medicinal (and hallucinogenic) properties of alcohol. Maroek, a byproduct of the winemaking process, is apparently the key to landing the big one! I can just imagine a school of drunk, one-hundred-year-old carp daring each other to strike the bait. “Kom jou bangat! Daai is twaalf-pond gut my maat, jy weeg veertig pond! Moet nou nie `n poes wees nie, man! Klap daai stuk pap!”
Hey don’t look at me in a strange way; someone has to try to make sense of this stuff.
And fisherman can curse! “Ag vok tog! Ag nee jirre jeesus man! Wat de poes!?” What’s wrong? “Ek het `n vokkin kraaines gespin! Poes tog!” I assure you this is the censored version. And for those who may be wondering what a ‘kraaines’ is, it is when the reel over spins, forcing the gut to come loose and tangle into a mess that looks NOTHING like a crow’s nest. To fix this takes at least one to two hours and hundreds of meters of new gut (something the fisherman always forgot to pack)—so, needless to say, the victim of a kraaines has to go hungry for longer.
Occasionally there was an emergency other than incest. The neigbouring camp now have a mate who is drowning in ankle-deep water. He somehow fell off the little canoe they sent him out in to take their lines as deep into the dam as possible. But alcohol poisoning, fatigue, and untreated sunstroke have taken their toll on the canoeist, and on his way back, he fell off the boat. Two equally dilapidated guys brave the shallow and calm waters to rescue him—that sums up the entertainment for the day. The next bit of excitement will come only after the sun has set and someone gets a bite from the waking catfish.
Types of Fishermen
While no two fishermen are alike, there are some main mentalities that comprise the bunch and every fisherman will fit at least partly into one of the following types.
Type 1 – Datsun Dan and the fishing clan
You hear this guy from a mile off. First he crashes into the boom gate, then he spins his Datsun bakkie in front of the restaurant, so all the people can notice him, and then he turns on his car’s sound system (which is so powerful it sucks away half the power from his engine). On the back of his bakkie is a bunch beer-guzzling feral Afrikaner youths without T-shirts (yes, some are female). Their incessant cursing and hollering are almost as loud as Dan’s music! Later on they will be accusing one another of sleeping with each other’s girlfriends, and then someone will get moerd! At least this group provides some entertainment when the fish don’t bite. Tip: don’t approach them unless you have a loaded gun in your pocket!
Type 2 – The Englishman
While not a common sight, some Englishmen do enjoy the sport of pap-gooing. My impression of the Englishman fisher is that he is reserved, well prepared for the trip, and has a bottle of cognac and/or Johnny Walker Green Label in his cooler. The Englishman is also the only one that wears a proper hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. He always uses his trusty Weber gas-braaier to cook his food. He is (usually) accompanied by a radio, which is tuned to Talk Radio 702. Tip: this is the guy you want to go to if you run out of anything—he has everything and usually more than he needs. The Englishman is also one of the few Homo sapiens that you can safely approach without ‘vokoff poes’ and a few rocks being flung your way.
Type 3 – The family
This is the bunch that usually arrives in two double-cab Isuzus! Everyone is there, the parents, the children, the aunts and uncles, the grandparents, and the cousins. This is a merry lot and usually well behaved. The kids can be annoying with their harassment for bait and a glass of coke. Sometimes the wealthier variant of this type will make it to the damn, the only difference being, they have jet skis and four-wheelers in tow behind their Isuzus. Tip: don’t even think of asking them if you can have a spin on one of their entertainment vehicles!
Type 4 – The Wanderer
This guy swears he is a serious fisherman, yet he spends most of his time walking about the perimeter of the dam to ask everyone he meets the same question, “Het julle enige iets gevang?” This guy is mostly harmless and sometimes just smells of beer. Tip: whatever you do don’t let him near your keep-net! He always has some sob story about some of his black workers who always ask him to bring them the fish he catches, but sadly, his legendary skills were ineffective in landing him a keeper. Don’t give him your fish! Advise him to pay his workers properly, so they can afford to eat some meat!
Type 5 – Mr. High-tech
This guy is a sight to see! He is a man of quality and skill! He is not at the damn to drink, work on his tan, or fuck his sister with the excuse that he thought she was someone else. This guy is there SOLELY to catch fish! He has all the latest hi-tech gear: waterproof nylon pants, Black Marlin fishing rods with R5, 000 sea reels on them, radio-controlled bait boats to take his line deep into the waters, electronic buzzers to alert him when the fish are nibbling on the hook, and every type of bait imaginable! This guy does not have a tent (he has no intention of sleeping), and he only drinks coke (as I said, he is not there for anything else but catching fish). Tip: don’t bother this guy, he does not have time to talk to you; he does not share his secrets, and nothing that you have caught so far can impress him; if there really is a monster in the dam, he will soon catch it!
Type 6 – Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?
I saved the worst for last. This group will give you the unmistakable impression that you have seen them somewhere before, and you have, they were the monsters in that movie called ‘Wrong Turn’. Only two things can produce a family stricken with hunchbacks, body and facial deformities, and rampant mental retardation: nuclear radiation or cross-generational incest! These are not the people who leave used tampons on the log; these are the people who eat them! If this crowd takes the spot next to your camp, pack up and fuck off! You do not want to become their dinner, do you? Tip: no seriously, pack up and go! They are not there for the fish; they are there for the people!
And wherever a successful Afrikaans fisherman lands a baber, there is a traditional Afrikaner wife who knows just how to convert the snotty, mud-flavoured creature into a culinary delicacy! Salted baber, baber-koekies, ingelegde baber, baber smeer (like fish paste), and baber-kop pot all are classic baber treats. The traditional hardship that comprises most (if not all) of the Afrikaner’s history has enabled them to make a feast out of the vilest of creatures.
Much more can and should be said, but this article is a bit long and most people's attention a bit short. This will have to be it.