“A little gold entered into the sunlight. The bay became bluer and dimpled with shore-wind ripples. Those lonely fishermen who believe that the fish bite at high tide left their rocks, and their places were taken by others, who were convinced that the fish bite at low tide.”
In ‘Tortilla Flat’ John Steinbeck may have been writing about the Pacific waters off Monterey, but he could just as easily have been sitting on a rock looking out over scenic St. Sebastian Bay. More importantly, I think he was right: never believe a fisherman.
Take my recent misadventures in angling along the banks of the Breede as an example.
“Ja, when the weather is cloudy you must mos take advantage,” drawled the old man in a legionnaire’s hat, standing knee-deep in water near the river mouth. He already had a Grunter and a Bream in his bag, so I took him for something of a local expert. “Prawns are what you need my friend, prawns. But, you know, after everyone comes here for the school holidays; the prawns, ag they’re gone…” he trailed off.
Right, prawns. Prawns are what I need, I thought, marching back to my car. My prawn pump still had its price tag attached, and it’d been 25 years since I last sucked a crustacean from its muddy hiding place. But how hard could it be?
“Prawns?” said the two young fishermen in the car park, sceptically. They had head torches and jackets and a clutch of rods, evidently settling in for a long cold night of fishing. “Ja, maybe if you want Grunter, but sardines… sardines are what you really need.”
“Sardines,” nodded the other in agreement.
Just one problem. The only shop on my side of the river was closed for the next three days. Only one thing for it, I reasoned: paddle across the Breede, walk a kilometre up the hill to the nearest shop, and stock up on some fail-safe sure-fire sardines. An hour later, they took their place next to a tackle box filled with a menagerie of lures and spoons and white plastic poppers.
“The leeries will go mad for these,” the salesman at the tackle shop in Cape Town had promised, ringing them up at the till. For good measure why not a few rubber fish too, he’d suggested, guaranteed to attract the hungriest kob in town.
“Nee man, for kob you must get seekat (octopus),” said the old farm worker I gave a lift to in the drizzle the next morning. His business was sheep, but his passion was fishing the rough waters of the Breede River mouth for giant kabeljou. Talk turned to lambs and weather and fishing and the legendary Zambezi sharks that frequent the river.
“Daai f****n sharks,” he chuckled, as if remembering a loveable rogue of a friend, rather than a toothy apex predator. “You must watch out for them, they will come and steal the fish right off your line.”
His voice echoed through my head that sunset as I tied up my kayak mid-stream to cast a line. I resisted the urge to let my toes drag lazily in the water. Surprise, surprise, I returned home empty-handed.
Finally there was the friendly couple from Durbanville, escaping the city for a few days of fishing the Breede.
“Pump some prawns and try down at Aasbank, near the rocks,” they suggested kindly, pushing their neat cabin cruiser into the ebbing tide. More advice, yet more empty catch bags were sure to follow.
But you know… they were right. That day ended with a fish on the braai and a smile on my face. But then, perhaps they were all right. And perhaps I was wrong. Maybe, sometimes, you can trust a fisherman.