During my teaching at Fort Victoria Primary School in the early ‘70s one of the first of the local shop owners who I became good friends with was Tommy Flaxman who owned a small boat sales and servicing business in town. Tommy not only sold me my first new boat – a ten foot fibreglass Sport powered by an amazing little Yamaha 8 – but at the same time that I launched it at the wonderfully unique and private “Lomagundi Farmers’ Club” near Glenlivit on magnificent Lake Kyle, he taught me some of the tricks of bass fishing. Angling for bass is very different to normal fishing with bait so there will always be plenty to learn no matter how experienced one may profess to be.
We all had very limited choice when it came to purchasing our equipment because of the blanket sanctions that the rest of the world had imposed on Rhodesia, so we treasured what we had. Imported lures, reels and so on were sometimes very hard to come by and those who owned them usually brought them in from neighbouring South Africa.
The Rapala brand was a good example. An accepted part of our fishing technique was on every occasion when one got stuck, to retrieve our lures from hidden rocks, trees and other vegetation underwater, no matter how difficult it proved to be. Indeed, we invented marvellous contraptions to help us get our lost lures back.
I remember how one morning while my pupils were busy telling me all they knew during a “Show-and-Tell” session, Tommy’s son was demonstrating to his classmates some of his favourite bass fishing equipment. He paid particular attention to the importance of the sets of three-pronged hooks dangling from some of his lures, informing us about the bass species’ methods of ambush. Referring to some of the pretty rare and very much sought after Rapala lures he had in his collection, he said that although they were important, if the fish were hungry they would actually even go for a carrot! How true.
When I did manage to land my first bass, while standing in my Sport shortly before sunset one magnificent summer evening and with no Tommy on board to keep improving my skill and education, I remember being amused at how difficult it seemed to be to remove the hooks from the bass’ hard, bony mouth. What I quickly discovered was that whichever way I twisted one hook, at least one of the others would hook into the fish, or into my own fingers. The scene would have presented quite a comedy to any onlooker. But eventually I got the better of it and the task became second nature to me. The reason why I am explaining all this to you will become more obvious a bit later.
Many months later Barbie agreed to come out onto the water with me to an area close to where Tommy had first taught me the ropes. On that occasion the bass were feeding in numbers and so my wife agreed to leave our young children on the shore with friends while she fished with me for a while. She hadn’t caught a bass before then. I handed her a rod and showed her where to try and place her lure, keen to see her land “a Big Un.” She had always been good at fishing anyway, so she needed very little coaching.
Barbie sat fishing from the front seat of our boat while I emulated her actions from the back seat, with my knees up against the transom. The atmosphere on board while we cast and retrieved our lures over and over in silent determination was almost tangible. It’s a kind of excitement that all anglers know well and it is one that adds to the motivation to go fishing. – As if that is ever really necessary!
As the fever induced by her excitement increased I became aware that Barbie was sometimes “poaching air space” by swinging her lure over a bit too close to my head. In the interests of personal safety and as gently as any threatened husband would do in such a predicament, I gently reminded her that I was seriously at risk of becoming hit, or even snagged.
A few minutes later I thought I had been shot by an assassin lurking in the vegetation behind me, so sudden was the attack. Before I could comprehend what was happening to me I heard a short, sharp pop, not much unlike that of a shot fired from a .22 rifle. It felt sure that a bullet had found its mark in the back of my head and, simultaneously, I felt a warm trickle running down my neck. My reflex reaction was to shoot my hand up to where I felt it happen, to feel for and assess the damage.
That was the worst thing I could have done because as soon as my hand found the place, of course I got a bunch of needle-sharp hooks set deeply into it pulling the skin on both my hand and wrist this way and that. Not able to see what to do to ease the pain, every time I moved my hand the lure Barbie had accidentally hooked into my head tore at my scalp making it worse for me.
Being the caring young wife she was, her immediate contribution to assisting her husband was to burst into tears and drop her fishing rod into our boat, minus the lure.
We’re still married, believe it or not.