This Sporting Life: Ben goes fishing

Cartoon from the Glasgow Looking Glass, 1825

Fishing and writing go together like the ALP and Howard-era immigration policies. The Compleat Angler was written by Izaak Walton in 1653 and is widely considered to be one of the earliest sporting books ever published.

If Ernest Hemingway wasn’t drinking or hunting or passing on suicidal genes to his offspring, he was fishing. I present to you my own fishing tale and, like all good stories, the main character learns a lesson.

What I learned from my ocean ordeal off the coast of Geraldton was the truth behind the proverb “half the fun is getting there”.

If, that is, by fun you mean “a growing sense of unease that keeps building and building until it is a full blown terror that you would gladly sell your soul to stop, please God make it stop!”

One morning my mother’s neighbour’s personal trainer invited me and my father to join her and her husband for a morning fishing the open sea.

I reluctantly agreed, having been assured the seas would be calm and the boat was quite big and equipped with a radio to let me listen to the Test Match.

After all, cricket is a sure sign of civilisation, unless you are a member of the WA team.

So I cautiously boarded the boat and to my slight relief “quite big” was a bit of an understatement.

I am pretty sure they didn’t have troop carriers that big at Normandy.

The sheer size was thanks to my mother’s neighbour’s personal trainer’s husband’s job in the mining industry. if the boom is over, nobody told him.

I assumed we would be heading one or two kilometres offshore before dropping anchor with the coast in sight. Half an hour later, with the grey blob of land behind us indistinguishable from the grey blob of cloud ahead, I knew this was a mistake.

After crossing what seemed like half the Indian Ocean (is that Mauritius in the distance?) our host finally stopped.

It was at that point I realised fine weather was a relative concept like time or beauty or a fair price for a cup of coffee. In Perth it means nice weather to be outside, while you hang your washing on the line. To Geraldton fishermen it means waves that only toss the boat 45 degrees from the ocean’s surface rather than at complete right angles.

In this frightful scenario it was deemed appropriate we all be issued with long flexible poles tipped with dangling barbed hooks.

Was I the only one who found this ridiculous, particularly since we were getting disturbingly parallel to the horizon?

Our host was clearly descended from orang-utans as both his hands were occupied with his rod yet he managed to stay balanced, possibly through the use of prehensile feet/hands he had hidden by his boat shoes.

I was not so genetically blessed and had to choose between crouching behind the boat’s side while I poked my rod over the edge or stabilising myself with one hand as I gingerly stood up and fished with my one free limb.

Like all sensible arts graduates faced with a situation that involved balance, spatial awareness and hand-to-eye co-ordination, I chose the option that involved sitting down.

I would have downgraded the whole experience from aquatic nightmare to an unpleasant afternoon if we had caught any fish, but it seemed they had sensed just how foul conditions were and had sensibly swum away.

When our host saw the colour of my skin matched that of the Wicked Witch of the West, he decided it was time to end our expedition and head home.

Our return to civilisation was quicker because the wind at our back gave the boat extra speed. It also launched the vessel from wave top to wave top, each time landing with a filling-loosening crunch. While my hands gripped the seat, my mind was making deals with any deity I could think of just to step on dry land once more. At one point I was offering to build a cathedral of solid platinum.

One of my prayers must have been heeded because eventually the boat docked at Geraldton. I was the first off and was quickly doing my best Pope impersonation in the marina’s carpark. And just to put the cherry on the whole turd sundae that was my fishing trip, the first words my mum said as I staggered through the door were: “That’s some nasty sunburn you’ve got on your face, dear.” As they say on Facebook, FML.

Now if you will excuse me I have to go see a man about a Cathedral.

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