The next day I woke up at about noon. The sun was high in the sky, the room felt relatively warm, and there was a note stuck to the fridge ‘Tommy and I have gone to work. I’ve written our numbers down below if you need to contact us. Have a great day today!’ I took the note with their numbers and stuffed it into my back pocket before picking up my phone and wallet and walking out the front door.
The first thing that hit me was the chilling wind. It was fresher than anything I had ever felt before, but it had the distinct taste of fresh water that seemed to give a certain hydrated feeling to everything around me. Even the buildings seemed refreshed by this small breeze. I buttoned up my coat to keep the cold out and set off on a small walk from my friend’s fiance’s house to the nearby town of Taupo in search of the place where I had learned I could hire fishing equipment. It was a wonderful walk; the lake collapsed down into a stream that came by at a gentle enough pace, and I walked along a bridge over it with cars rushing by. The path was small, but I took a bit of time to look out over the edge of the bridge and consider the passing current. The people who passed me by along the path were friendly enough and every now and again I would get a ‘hey,’ or a ‘hello,’ or ‘morning,’ and I would look up and give back my warmest smile. But there was a distinct difference between their greeting and my return. They were all genuine. My smile was the smile of a PR professional who knew exactly how to act human in any given condition and was pleasant to everyone. But right now I needed to be genuine and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t. I just kept on giving off this phony smile that I made sure included my eyes in its expression. It was wide and full of teeth and I crinkled my eyes ever so slightly and I followed the other person’s eyes – everything that I had been taught to do when smiling at someone else in order to convince them to like you.
After a few people passed me, looking down at my false reflection in that fast running river, I decided that it was less insulting to just not look at them rather than insult them by faking genuine happiness and humoring their greetings. It was just me, and my reflection, and a world passing us by. After a while I thought to myself ‘I wonder how long I’ve been standing here, not worrying about anything?’ And the more I thought the more I was convinced that this was the first time in at least six years that I had spent more than a minute not worrying about anything, not including sleep but, even then, most of that time could still be included.
Finally I moved on and up a small hill to a strip of road that had a park on one side and a plethora of stores on the other. There was a place to get fresh brewed beer, a place to get coffee, a fish and chips store that advertised soggy looking burgers, and enough bars to satisfy even the thirstiest travelers, and then the place I wanted to find – the bait and tackle and pole hire shop. I walked in and an old man with salt white hair looked at me with beady black eyes.
‘Hey there young fella, what’ll you be wanting for this afternoon?’ he said in a surprisingly upbeat sort of way and then swung his arms around, offering me the choice pick from the rods that stood about. I looked around and all I could see was some poles with some sort of wire type thing.
‘Uh, well,’ I began, looking down in an attempt to hide my embarrassment, ‘I’ve never actually been fishing before. But I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve read about it so many times and I’d love to catch something. Hell anything!’
‘Ah, that’s no problem then. We get plenty of your likes in here, and am always more than willing to help a kindred spirit get into the great game of fishing.’ His face beamed with a wide smile, and I knew that this here was a man who wanted to teach a man to fish more than he wanted to fish himself. He came out from behind the counter and walked over to a rod. To me it seemed much the same as any other rod at the store, but to me a mustang looks much the same as a VW. I’m just not particularly interested in those things and so any specifics go by the wayside. Mostly, I was interested in the isolation that fishing granted so many of the people who I had read about, and I wasn’t really interested in the specifics of the lead or the pole or the bait or the fish or anything. But this man seemed as good a guide as any I could ask for.
‘This is a great starter pole. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll still know if she’s going to snap. Not too many controls, just a clutch and a pounds meter. You’ll generally keep the clutch at the same spot I give it to you at, and the pounds meter – which is this thingy here,’ and he pointed to something that was probably not known in the professional world as a pound meter, but it was helpful to me. ‘I assume you’re going out to the lake out there then?’
‘Uh, yeah, that’s the idea. Is there much good fishing out there?’
‘Yeah, sure there is. My grandpa used to fish out there every day and bring home a nice few fish for dinner each night. I wouldn’t expect to be setting any world records on your first time out, but you’ll probably catch something. Especially with this rod and the bait I’m about to sell ya.’ He took the rod back behind the counter and went into the back and came back with a small bucket of live worms.
‘Alright now. Since this is your first time I’m gonna give you a simple overview. You take the worms out of here,’ and he pointed at the bucket, ‘and ya put em on ‘ere’, he said pointing to the hook. ‘Then, you put the pole behind ya back. Ya then look back ‘ere,’ and he mimicked putting the pole behind his back and looking back, ‘and make sure the ‘ook is way back ‘ere. If it aint then you re adjust and make sure it is. Then you look out. Make sure you looking out. The cast ‘ll go where you look. You look way out and you fling the rod forward and then stop at about ya waist. The cast goes way out. When you feel a tug you just reel it in with this thing,’ he said and pointed at the reel.
He placed everything on the counter in front of him, looked it over for any faults, and said ‘right, that’ll be $45 for the rod for the day and the bait. I’m giving you a novices discount.’
‘Yeah, sure, that’ll be fine.’ Then I handed over my card and he swiped it and then handed me the equipment I would need to, hopefully, become a master fisherman.
I walked down to the lake with my satchel, the fishing rod, and the bucket of worms. I found a nice peaceful spot where I didn’t think anyone would bother me. There was a small hut right next to me, but it seemed to be used by some kind of club that obviously didn’t meet on this particular day, and there was a small little walkway that went about 10m into the water. I put my rod and the bait down and pulled my water bottle out of my bag and filled it up in the water. It was good and clear water, I could see the sediment and the rocks 10m out. Taking a sip of the good stuff was like tasting an elixir you had never had the privilege of experiencing before. It was nice and cool, but it was smooth and contained a certain flavor that can only be experienced at the lake of Taupo and nowhere else.
Picking the pole back up I felt its weight in my hand and analysed the precision with which the hook had been made. I had no clue how to analyse either of these things, but I certainly knew how to appreciate them. After some time spent looking over my equipment and trying to remember everything I had read or seen about fishing I finally decided to commit. I stood to the side of the rod and threw the hook over my shoulder.
‘Come on. You have a driver’s licence, a motorcycle license, a bachelors in accounting and a BSC. Surely you can do something that people have been doing since thousands of years before writing even existed.’ I closed my eyes and almost threw out the reel. But then I opened them, remembering the wise words of the nice old pole lender. I looked out exactly where I wanted the hook to go and then I threw with all my might.
Thirty seconds. One minute. Two minutes. Ten minutes. So on. My hook stayed out there, bobbing up and down and not catching anything. One minute, two minutes, I would pour myself another tumbler of scotch and suddenly it wouldn’t matter that I wasn’t catching anything. I just felt okay. I wasn’t feeling okay or bad or satisfied or anything like that. Actually, I didn’t even realise they were even emotions that I could feel. They were just distractions. Eventually all I felt was the tug and pull of the fish line against my relatively well developed forearms. Well, the trout weren’t exactly 15kg dumbbells, but they were more than nothing.
I pressed my heels against the gaps between the wooden planks in the broad-walk type structure and I attempted to put my weight against that of the fishes’. But it had survived in the water far longer than I had attempted to kill it in the water.
And so that’s how most of the rest of the day went. I threw the line out, a fish would grab hold and I would trust my human instincts over its fucking fishes’ instincts. In the end I wasted a fair chunk of what little money I had brought over here.
He and she were digging into some delicious looking tucker – the same that sat before me, but which I didn’t feel worthy of digging into due to the effort that both she and he had gone through in order to get this meal, compared to the nothing that I brought to the table. So, instead, I just played with my food – as if I were some disgraced adult. Fuck, I don’t even know if my actions or my reactions are more embarrassing. Eventually that huge oxe of a fucking kiwi asks me how I did and I feel I have to reply ‘alright’ so that I don’t embarrass myself and also don’t embarrass my friend.
‘But, well, I didn’t catch anything.’ I said out of pure nervousness.
‘Ah, well, fuck it,’ he said as he took a gobfull from a lamb shank, ‘my dad worked the lake for years and was taught by my pap. Never caught anything worth catching for years. It’s not something you pick up in a day.’
‘Yeah, I guess so,’ I said while I looked down defeatedly at my beans and rice and assorted cheap meats.
‘You know my pa never even really learned how to catch properly. He went into construction,’ said that Tommy. ‘That’s where I get it from.’
I continued to look focusedly into my relatively shitty meal. I knew that I wanted to get into construction about as much as I wanted to get into whatever Tommy was into. I liked him, but he wasn’t who I wanted to be. For some reason, I still wanted to be a fisherman. Or, at least, I wanted to be some sort of independent personage.
Finish the story here.