It’s hard to fish a favourite from this treasure trove of angling stories because it’s brimming with jewels.
Edited by Edward Truter and Martin Rudman, with artwork by Craig Bertram Smith, Fishing Stories for Africa has netted 40 vivid tales from the first 10 years of The Fishing & Hunting Journal, the respected magazine founded and edited by Truter’s father, Bruce.
I’m not an angler – but I loved the book. There are stories here of thrilling adventure, fascinating methodology and extraordinary catches; of great hilarity and great depth.
Sense of place is a leitmotif: the lie of the land, birdcalls, the presence of plants or trees or a reef, the role of the weather and the look of the water. The fever which seems to infect every angler is celebrated with fresh vigour each time – that solid tap on the line as a fish engages, “the wild cocktail of elation and curiosity and fear” as the reel whines and the line carves through the water; the catcher, trembling like a pointer; “the rod arched into the most beautiful shape known to fishermen”.
As entrée there’s a deliciously sly and riotous tale of fishing on Kariba that intersects with a dubious plan to smuggle emeralds across the border in the tyres of a pink bicycle ( The Fish are Biting by Bielie).
Then Truter senior serves up something different.
A legend in hunting and fishing circles in the Eastern Cape, he describes in Gold Rush angling off Port Alfred one evening in the ‘70s, the sea flat and lifeless, and the lines quiet. Then a fish jumps clear and he recognises a species he has seen only in pictures before.
Suddenly he and his two companions are surrounded by golden dorado. “Around the boat they were leaping almost in slow motion.
“We were in the midst of acres of dorado. Never again did I see numbers anywhere near like we saw that afternoon.”
There are other amazing encounter stories like Colin Levy’s mysterious Mazeppa Mail Boat, Keith Hendry’s 90kg Nile perch (A Fish So Big), Jokl le Roux’s 2m kob, the Halley’s Comet of Rooikrantz, and Edward Truter’s monster Capitaine caught with a Super Shadrap lure in the deep dark Comoé River in the jungle of the Ivory Coast.
Port Elizabeth-based Edward Truter has worked and fished in some wild and fascinating places, and his adventures in West Africa and the Amazon make for some of the best stories here.
Yet some less glamorous species provide for super reads too. In Spare the Rod, we have eel fishing in a ravine with little mountain frogs as bait.
(Bielie doesn’t say where, but it sounds like Tzaneen where he apparently lives and where I once did because he mentions matumi trees. Matumis are protected as they are threatened with local extinction because of rogue harvesting for the luxury furniture industry, but that’s another stor y).
There’s another winner about catching giant river crabs on the Kowie by Eastern Cape Green Scorpions chief Div de Villiers, who then goes on to describe the illegal trade in these poor creatures through a shoe factory in a King William’s Town township. Sweet & Sour is one of the sharpest tales in the book with a killer punchline.
Some of the most exceptional writing comes from David Butler in his story, Domkrag, a taut study of violence, fear and absolution. “Steve looked forward. When he walked through the arch of the bush the sound of the surf would wash around him, he would see the river glinting like steel.”
The Fishing & Hunting Journal was about conservation and this is the undercurrent of this book too. In the culminating story, Outside the MLI Tearoom, Truter senior recalls when he was a boy back in the ‘50s, night fishing on the same totemic Kowie.
In a dream-like sequence two men in a boat are towed down the river by a huge fish on the one man’s line. Following in a hushed crowd along the bank, the lad can hardly imagine how big it must be.
“I could not separate the two, the fish and the river. My imagination couldn’t come up with anything to fill the gap it would leave if it were no longer there.
“There was only a void, an emptiness.”
The good news this week is that our municipality has finally fixed the pipe which was bucketing sewage into the Swartkops River. It’s unacceptable that it took so long.
Since October more than 12 million litres of sewage have spilt into the river.
As Zwartkops Conservancy spokeswoman Jenny Rump explained it to me, the metro needs to budget for maintenance and upgrades as the years pass and the population grows.
It needs capable engineers and more of them (there’s now one whereas there used to be 44).
Let’s hope the pipe stays fixed. Cared for, the Swartkops and its fish could be of huge value to us in a myriad ways – economically, environmentally, recreationally, in terms of quality of life for all our communities.
If we let it collapse, we will have scorned a treasure.