Joe Bennett: Supping with the gods as the sun shines

It's been said the hours spent fishing are not subtracted from the sum of a man's life; that the worst day fishing beats ...
John Bisset

It's been said the hours spent fishing are not subtracted from the sum of a man's life; that the worst day fishing beats the best day working.

OPINION: Oh, I was spoiled. Spoiled like a grandkid. I had gone to Nelson to help with fundraising for a hospice and I was given a guest-house all to myself, sumptuous, spacious and high on a cliff. On one side lay the ocean, an orchard on the other. The ocean was a table-cloth; the orchard bent with the freight of fruit.

But that was far from all. My host and hostess, Murray and Mary, gave me gifts. Murray took me fishing. There are few ways to make me happier. And Mary gave me a book, The Elements of Eloquence. "I thought," she said, "it might help with your writing."

The book dealt with rhetorical devices. I started it on the plane home and did not expect to be surprised. For I knew all about alliteration, I was not unfamiliar with litotes, and God himself could not match me for hyperbole. And of the periodic sentence, the thrust of which is held back in order to intensify its power, I thought myself the master.

But whoa. Here in this book was more, far more, a host of terms I hadn't met before, some English, some Latin, but most Greek, for the Greeks loved few things more than rhetoric. Here were epizeuxis and diacope, syllepsis and catachresis. I drank them in and wondered.

Would they still serve today, I wondered? Would wordy tricks employed by antique Greeks beside the Aegean Sea, work just as well beside the Bay of Nelson? I wasn't sure, but maybe I should tell you of the fishing.

Fishing, lovely fishing. They say the hours spent fishing are not subtracted from the sum of a man's life. They say the worst day fishing beats the best day working. They even say that when men fish it isn't fish they're after. But I say only, fishing, lovely fishing.

To fish anywhere is good, but to fish in Nelson is to sup with the gods: Nelson where the sun shines; Nelson where the waters teem; Nelson where the snapper snap and the kahawai carve the surface like fat knives of silver.

And I was invited to fish those teeming waters, not from one of Nelson's many beaches, nor yet from some protruding wharf or jetty, but from a beast that goes to find the fish instead of waiting for the fish to come, that guarantor of laden hooks, a boat. A great big bloody blessed motor boat.

We launched the beast at Motueka. Or rather Murray launched the beast while I stood usefully by as he reversed it down the ramp and stepped into the shallows and leapt aboard the trailer frame and slipped a bolt and gave the prow a shove and set the beast afloat and threw a rope to me and got back in the ute and towed the trailer up the ramp and off to park and left me with a motor boat on a lead. The thing weighed maybe half a ton but I walked it down the jetty like a big red puppy.

On board was tackle, fishing tackle. Show me the man who has no love for fishing tackle and I'll show you a shrivelled soul. A cluster of rods, some stout, some whippy, reels, fixed spool reels, multiplier reels, reels with bright brass handles, sprockets, brakes, reels smeared with fish scales, spools of nylon, spools of braid, tackle boxes, hooks and swivels, floats and sinkers, jigs and lures and flounder spoons and a rusted knife for cutting bait, a vast and fragrant floating arsenal, all perfumed with the slaughter of the past.

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The outboard puttered through the moorings then cleared its throat and thrust us up on to the water's skin and drove us out to sea while towing at our back a foaming, interwoven wake. And on the dash a sonar screen. Down we could see, down into the lightless depths, down to the darkling beauty of the fish.

Oh, what chance had they? What chance against this boat that sought them out, this boat that saw them in the dark? What chance had fish, mere brutish fish, against the hunger and the cruel tools of man?

"There," said Murray, pointing at the sonar screen, "snapper." He killed the engine and the fishes' hope of life. A long line we set out, some 20 barbarous hooks all baited up with cubes of herring, tubes of squid, dropped to the ocean floor and marked with buoys. Then we went some distance off and fished with rods for an hour and brewed a cup of tea and told tall tales of fishing, then puttered back to haul our bounty up. We hauled up 20 cubes of herring, tubes of squid. "Well done, fish," said Murray, "well done, fish."

In Motueka we bought terakihi fillets. And drove back home in triumph and the ute.

 - The Dominion Post


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