In which Peter Leyland discovers a novel method for catching fish at Foxton Heads.
Good evening, Uncle Peter.
Good evening, young man.
‘Young man!’ I’m 72 — or is it 73, I can’t rightly remember.
It’ll come to you.
Let’s change the subject. Yesterday, when you told me about your fisherman friend, you didn’t mention his name.
That’s right, I didn’t. I avoided telling you on purpose, because I couldn’t bring it to mind. But it’s in there somewhere, tucked away. It’ll come back to me one day.
I’ll forgive your lapse of memory Peter, it was such a long ….
I’ve got it! It’s come back to me! It was Basil Walker. Yes! Basil Walker, the man with a real ‘kink’ for fishing. Infatuated he was. Fish, fish, fish! Nothing but fish!
How did you get to be the one who built the rowboat? Did you have some expertise?
I knew how to join two bits of wood together, that’s all. Basil was the fishing expert. He knew all about nets and the habits of fish — when they’d move up the river, and their comings and goings — but I thought to myself, if I let him try and build a boat it won’t be much good, in fact it’ll be terrible. I’d better do it myself — to make sure it wouldn’t sink.
Even though I was the one who built it, he was the one who taught me how to row. I didn’t know anything about rowing, but I practised a lot. The river-mouth was tidal, and the flounder would come in and feed on the mudflats. I’d row all around there until I got the hang of it. One day I decided to row out onto the ocean, so off I went. I was sure my boat would float on the open sea. It was fun, but after a while, when I thought the shore seemed to have got a bit far away, I thought it might be diplomatic to row back in. Of course we were young and foolish in those days.
Every Christmas and New Year the campground at Foxton would be bustling with holiday campers. They’d come down and stand on the riverbank and gawp at us fishermen, just for something to do. One day Basil and I had been out rowing. When I pulled ashore, who should we find standing there watching us, but this middle-aged gent — a sort of pompous and self-important looking person. And he peered into our boat and said, ‘I see you’ve got a decent-sized fish in there, but I don’t see any fishing gear — no line, no sinkers, no bait or net. Tell me, how did you catch that fish?’
‘I caught it under my arm,’ I said.
He repeated himself, as if I hadn’t understood him. ‘I can see your fish, clear as day, but no gear. Tell me, honest now, how did you do it?’
‘Under my arm!’
‘I’ve heard lots of tall tales from fishermen,’ he said, ‘but that’s the limit!’
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I caught it under my arm. I was rowing around, out there in the middle, just enjoying myself, and suddenly all these herrings started jumping all around me. I thought to myself, there must be sharks or kahawai down there, and they’re turning the herrings into flying fish. And as the fish keep jumping, I keep on rowing, and while I’m all stretched out sweeping the oars, I feel this whack under my arm. Now, as you no doubt know, when something strikes your armpit, your natural instinct is to clamp your arm down to protect yourself. I did just that. And that’s how I caught the fish without using any gear. I caught it under my arm. By instinct, you might say.’
‘Humpf,’ he snorted, and walked away.