“Early on I decided that fishing would be my way of looking at the world. First it taught me how to look at rivers. Lately it has been teaching me how to look at people, myself included……The Bible tells us to watch and listen. Something like this suggests what fishing ought to be about: using the ceremony of our sport and passion to arouse greater reverberations within ourselves.” Thomas McGuane, The Longest Silence.
My Grandfather was a Gamekeeper in Scotland and tended pheasant, grouse and salmon so that rich people from London could come up on the overnight train from London and kill them. My mother learned fishing from him in the Scottish Highlands and brought her knowledge and affection for the sport when the family moved south to England. My father fished in canals and lakes around London, where he was brought up. He wooed my mother in Sheperton, on the Thames. I was their first child in 1950.
With my younger brother Simon, we moved to Hong Kong when I was five years old, and became Expats. I’ve been one ever since. My parents were teachers then and schools were closed in the hot afternoon months, so we went swimming in the South China Sea and fishing in the reservoirs and dams of the New Territories. Mum and Dad caught bass and perch using live bait and spinners, while I fished the nearby streams with bread paste bait and filled my bucket with small frenetic silver fish. I was a minnow millionaire.
I’ve fished ever since, except in my darkest days when I was a fish myself, floundering in a vat of confusion, despair and poison. Fishing connects me to hope and being open to the surprises life can spring on you, even the bad ones, and there have been many. Laying that line on the water is an act of faith that something unexpected may happen. It’s an act of renewal also, of never letting your eyes or your heart get jaded by familiarity.
Proximity to water crystallises the beauty and the pain of time on earth. So many waters to fish, so little time. Fishing connects the world in which I walk and breathe to a world beneath the surface where I cannot do either. It ties me to the mystery of creation every time the line reaches out and falls on and then beneath the surface of the water, and my own incomprehension. There are things that we can only feel and not mould words to. Fishing is the mystery of life, in a cast.