© Wolf Avni Sept 4, 2004
TROUT IS JUST A FOUR-LETTER WORD
“It’s a rotten job, but someone has to do it”
How time flies! Yes indeed, this week’s column marks an anniversary. It is exactly one year since my relationship with the pages of the Weekend Witness began and that is surely a fine thing. Yet when we think of the amount of good fishing time that it has cost us, I must wonder if this is not just another exercise in futility? After all, it has neither made me, as writer, wealthy, nor you, dear reader, a better angler. For all the zillions of words that have ever been recorded about trout and about fly-fishing since the invention of writing, I’ve yet to meet a fish that had read a single one of them. As to the universal angler... we must take cognisance of the fact that, well, these times in which we live are not particularly literate - your good self notwithstanding. Even were it not so, there are strong grounds for debate as to whether any kind of reading about fishing can in any way bring a wanna-be angler a jot closer to the existential experience of fishing. For that to happen, it could be claimed that you, or he or she, would need to spend less time reading and more, fishing!
Not that I would ever challenge or gainsay the seductive power of the written word - in fact, one might say I depend upon it - and no one would dispute that in literature many lyric things await discovery, like for instance the fantasy of that narrow plane of perfection, that space/time continuum wherein all things meet in flawless harmony; the angler, the fish, the weather, the understanding and the experience, all conspiring to produce a blinding flash of perfect self-awareness. Ya nee, let us not forget that anything which sounds too good to be true is generally neither good nor true. It kind of transports one back to the sixties, to where urban legend had it that if one played Black Sabbath backwards at 78rpm, one would see God! Hell, I played Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Blood Sweat & Tears, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, John Mayal and Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, backwards, forwards and maybe even upside down . And though the fault may well be entirely mine, not only did I not see God, but I could never entirely shake a miasmic suspicion that he may have overlooked me, too. So much for urban legends.
But I digress and must hasten on to the point, which, simply put, is that we who truly comprehend that there can be no better platform from which to develop a magnetic attraction for trout, or any other fish, other than spending time out in their habitat, their comfort zone, are left with no easy options. We must perforce fish. Our realisation of self depends upon it. The going, the doing, the being, are all that we have. This is no frivolous matter. It takes a well developed sense of duty and the burden of it all is sometimes crushing.
Looking back over my shoulder, I now perceive that I have travelled full circle, and returning to the point of departure, see the place for the first time (#1). They say that hindsight is the only perfect science and casting back down the long path of selfless sacrifice which I myself have endured in this pure pursuit of the noble trout leaves me in no doubt. I can see it clearly now. From the very beginning these damn trout have, for me, been the cause of nothing but trouble.
The first trout I ever met was in the frigid snow-melt flowing off the Golan Heights , in the crystal waters of the Chgatzbani River, northern Galilee. I never even knew it was a trout. I must have been about eight years old, a resident of a kibbutz called Mayan Baruch (Blessed Spring). Mayan Baruch lay within a finger of land situated precisely on the confluence of the borders of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. They came together on the banks of the Chgatzbani. All three countries were intractable enemies of the newly formed state of Israel, and we children were regularly conditioned, cautioned, assailed and reminded by the adults, that across the border dwelled Ishmael, Jew-hating, blood-lusting and capable of unspeakable cruelties. We were forbidden, on pain of unutterable terrors, of ever wandering near the dreaded border. That pretty much put the Chgatzbani out of bounds. However, overwhelmed by the pent-up curiosity of an eight year aspirant fisherman, what was I to do? If one discounts the kibbutz’s commercial carp-ponds, of which I had long-since tired, there simply was no other fish carrying body of water within striking range. One thing led to another and before too long I found myself sneaking around in the dense and forbidden undergrowth along its banks, flicking hook-impaled grasshoppers and earthworms into riffles and glides. Not that I had ever heard of trout or of fly-fishing, or that I even owned a rod, yet still, it seemed as if I were guided by some ancient, ancestral, genetic memory. My tackle was no more than a switch cut from the brush with a couple of metres of gut tied to its tip. And soon, though I never knew their name, I was catching fish of a speckled hue(#2), till the adults, eventually noticing my absence from the classroom and the communal life, came looking. It all ended so unnecessarily badly. I was discovered and hauled back in ignominy, unceremoniously thrust before a council of elders, whereupon the sticky stuff really hit the fan. It was the beginning of a pattern that has pursued me down the years.
Did I ever mention what a burden it is to be so misunderstood? What started badly, in time got worse. In time, underwhelmed by the inevitability of pubescence, I discovered women, or rather, they somehow discovered me. There I was, minding my own business, as peaceable as any fisherman out in God’s own country, when I was entirely blind-sided - not once, but like the girls from Roedean School, again-and-again - by what can only be described as ‘the chick thing’. I never knew what hit me. Now, here I am, my grown children with families of their own and still I am bereft of any understanding. What I know for sure is that the meaning of even simple, once familiar things, is now changed by the necromancy of the chick thing. Take for instance the blood-knot. Once I thought it was a pattern of knot designed to attach a fly to the leader without any significant loss in the breaking strain of the line. I now understand it to be that inextricable bond between a man and a woman which prevents an honest angler from enjoying his due and fair share of fishing time.
These are weighty matters and this anniversary sets me to thinking as to how we might appropriately broach the subject of a long-overdue increase in the pittance I get paid for this exertion. If you agree, tell it on a postcard and send it to the editor. Swamp his bastardy desk with strident demands that my creative juices be recognised more forthrightly. Do that small thing for me and I shall repay it a hundredfold. Sometime before the next anniversary of this column roles around, I swear on the graves of my unknown ancestors that I shall reveal the innermost secrets of all you ever wished to know about how to actually catch a trout. Trust me, I’m not a doctor. Happy birthday and all!
1. Apology to John Fowles (The Magus)
2. Another apology to Alianus (De Natura Animillium)