Alice as my witness

2010-10-19 00:00

AS you know, fishermen come home smelling of strong drink with the truth not in them But this is a fishing story with a difference. It seems as tall a tale as they come but there is a witness, a snapshot and, besides water, not a drop of drink in it. The witness is my daughter Alice to whom I promised to publish this story and picture in The Witness sometime. So here goes keeping a promise and preserving a memory with an elaborate caption of a family snapshot before it recedes into the misty distance.

Midwinter five years back when she was eight and still within that lovely wonderland of childhood, Alice had slept over in the forested mistbelt hills of Byrne Valley with her friend Jade. When I went around to collect her I thought I should try a few casts in the dam on the way home at the bottom of the valley. I explained to the proprietor advertising trout fishing on his farm that I might not be long as I was dependent on my daughter’s patience. He said if I had no luck I could come back another day free of charge. I had a feeling that it was going to be a good day as a lifetime of mistbelt trout fishing had taught me that midday, midwinter the trout can get on the prod for some reason.

I got busy casting a green damselfly nymph over the weed beds and was quickly rewarded with a savage tug and a searing run with a spectacular aerial display. Rainbow trout are cold-water fish so only really give a good account of themselves when the water is northern hemisphere temperature as it only is in winter at this altitude in KwaZulu-Natal. After a few runs the fish began to tire and as it came closer I noticed that it was being chased by another. The water was crystal clear and I soon saw that I had hooked a hen fish and it was being ardently pursued by a cock fish. I pointed this out to Alice who was more interested in nature then than she is now. I said: “Shall I try to get both?” She replied: “If you want to.” So I put my net into the water a little way out and drew the hen fish over it. The cock, in his full rainbow mating colours, was blinded by the determination his hook jaw expressed, and swam after her without noticing me. In one fluid movement I scooped him onto the bank, returned to the object of his amorous intentions, netted her, pulled out my priest and dispatched them both swiftly. In less than 20 minutes of fishing a fine brace of fish was landed. The “priest”, by the way, is the affectionate term fly-fishers use to refer to the blunt instrument they use to humanely bludgeon fish when not practising catch and release.

I explained to Alice the momentousness of what she had just witnessed and that in a lifetime of fishing, having started younger than her, I’d seen some amazing things, but never this and probably never would again. I told her never to forget. She told me she never does. It’s true, she doesn’t — especially promises. She has her granny’s acuteness of memory coupled with her quirky take on the world that has provided our own fascinating trivial pursuit over the years. She was by then a vegetarian but tolerated my blood sport. She asked: “Why didn’t you let them go Daddy?” “Well,” I replied, “the owner thinks now he has stocked the dam that they can have babies but, as much as they want to, they can’t because trout need rivers to hatch their eggs and can’t breed in dams. He says nobody comes here to fish anymore, so I might as well eat them. You know how much I love trout.”

“How many are you allowed to keep Daddy?” she asked.

“Two.” I replied.

“So can we go now?”


So what is the moral of this story? There is a lot that one could make into lessons for young ladies. For instance, the hen does not need to put on any colours to attract the cock. Now Alice is 13 and she is a snappy dresser, likes make-up and will be rather distressed at her lack of fashionable attire in the picture. So she is not taking any dress lessons from dull hens. As for other lessons? Well, I said to her after she went from tween to teen: “So, I’d better tell you about boys.”

She fixed me with a twinkling look implying that I could tell her nothing on the subject, and sweetly replied: “Yes Dad.”

Blinkered chasers of my daughter beware, my priest is polished and ready.

• Winners of the True Stories competition will be announced on December 2.


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