ONE MAN’S POISSSON IS ANOTHER MAN’S POISON
To the standard bearers of indigenousness as the only yardstick of goodness, the poor old trout fish has become something of an easy target. In the currency of modern day radical-chic , alien fish in general and trout in particular have become a symbol for all that is destructive of the natural environment. In this world, to be politically correct would be to side with the populist position which has dug itself in behind an elaborate defence fabricated of unidimensional absolutes, adequately reinforced with labels. So trout become ‘chainsaws-with-fins’ and trout fishermen become ‘eco-terrorists’ , but really, if you think about it, the labels themselves and the dogma they spring from is itself a form of Echo-terrorism. Repeated often enough any buzzword takes on a life of its own. Repeated often enough they eventually fill all the vacuous spaces in the public mind. There, unchallenged, unhindered, in that vast and unexplored terrain, dogma spreads as surely as any alien invasive.
That trout, in common with virtually every introduced alien species (including practically all of the species - animal and plant - which we humans regard as economically significant) has the capacity to inflict enormous environmental damage is undeniable. That, in the case of trout their introduction more than a century ago into first order lotics in many of our sensitive catchments was irresponsible, is beyond debate. Their introduction must have changed stream ecology in ways that we can barely measure, in ways that we will never even know, for no pre-introductory audits were ever done in these aquatic systems. No-one of sound reason could ever possibly support their continued spread into new waters in intact catchments, or indeed their protection at the expense of vulnerable indigenous biota within parts of their established ranges. Yet still, in the scale of things, the introduction of trout into these environments has done demonstrably less cumulative damage to the system than any other exploitive activity that you could name.
But there is more to any picture than just its obvious outlines. There are layers within layers, subtle shadings, certainties and measurements that the anti-trout brigade would far rather that you never knew. There are places within otherwise developed landscapes where, for no other reason that the trout themselves, it is viable to maintain oases of undisturbed wildness, places that set standards of environmental health that rise like beacons amidst environmental degradation of every type. Trout do best in well cared for aquatic systems where the fundamental biology and chemical fabric of the entire catchment is robust and undamaged, there occupying a narrow ecological niche within complex biological tapestries. I know of such a place. It is my home. Set between a pair of stream bio-monitoring stations which return some of the highest scores on record, in a catchment which has been home to trout for more than a century, on an aquatic system which has proven itself to be so pristine that it is regarded by many as setting the benchmark against which upland streams and aquatic systems might measure their own health, it lies on the Umzimkulwana river, straddling the throat of a high valley.
This is the setting and here, fishing, year in and year out, apprenticed to trout long before it lost its polished reputation, I discover other things. For me, this process began with trout, and I a grain of sand, no more than a simple hunter of simple fishes. It has led me into undreamed-of expeditions. And in that space, travelling, I discover worlds within worlds and through them, if fortune stays the course, perhaps some part of a primal self. These pictures are nothing but hints, superficial outlines of endless, sumptuous expeditions of discovery that lie in wait for any curious fisherman. Nature teaches its own literacy, sharing itself generously and these are a few modest macrocosmic representatives of the many creatures that share a water column in fine equilibrium, notwithstanding the presence of trout.
The Doors of Perception, a most incisive and insightful commentary on the workings of mind and how it defines or blurs the boundaries of reality, lays it out quite clearly. In it, Aldous Huxley says something to the effect that if you begin with fault lines in a basic premise, where fundamental awareness ensues from mistrusts incubated in alienation and negativity, then everything in the environment outside of the self, every interaction, every communication with the world around, every living impingement will incline to prove the existence of plots and sub-plots, exposing and confirming these conspiracies against your person - but that if your basic premises are founded on the tonics of harmony, on feelings of safety, of security, then the context of those self-same influences and forces will be entirely the opposite. Those same experiences become affirmations of connectivity to nature in the broadest sense of life and all its manifestations. To the God-fearing the basal experience of consciousness affirms a sense of belonging, a sense of un-severed partnership with every part of the life force. This is all very esoteric stuff, but to the extent that Huxley is right, certain questions naturally arise regarding the inflexibility in the dogmas of the voguish anti-trout lobby.