Sun | Jun 24, 2018

Tony Deyal | Scaling the depths

Published:Saturday | June 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM

On a scale of one to 10, fishing rates at several thousands or even millions. In fact, you have more than enough to scale Mount Everest. You might start on a small scale like me.

My fishing career began by trying to communicate with the fish. I dropped them a line but did not get a response. My friend, Trevor, had invited me to spend the weekend at his home, and his father decided to take us to the nearby river to fish. Before we left the house, he made us dig in a damp patch near the outside washtub and sink to get some worms. Trevor used a fork and I was given a cutlass.

I was aghast. I tried to wriggle out of it, but they all insisted, and seeing the joy that Trevor's sisters got out of my discomfiture, I decided to dig manfully, since I dug his eldest sister and did not want her to feel that I was a coward. But first I had to work it out. I figured if they allowed Trevor to dig, the activity was safe. I also whispered to Trevor, "Dey have snake in here?" "Me eh know," he said, and I went back to my original thought - if Trevor's parents allowed him to cast the first fork, then we had nothing to fear, except Trevor's inability to control the fork and my incompetence with the cutlass.

If I was on Captain Kiddandre's crew, he would have made me walk the plank. I was not sure exactly what the worms contributed to the fishing expedition, except that they were bait. I mused that if it entailed teaching them to swim, I was the wrong person for the job.

We got some worms. Using my hands to extricate them from the soil and watching them wriggle in the little ice cream container we put them in made me queasy, but I bore up manfully to the task, and when we got about 10, Trevor's father led us purposefully towards the fishing hole.

Being unaccustomed to the flora and especially the fauna of the area, I still clutched the cutlass manfully. When we reached the river, with a stand of bamboo on its edge, Trevor's father cut two small and supple bamboo branches, tied a piece of string on each, put a tiny hook on the end and showed us how to thread the worm on it. My first attempts were painful. Somehow, the nimble worm was able to elude the hook and so manoeuvred and manipulated the situation that it was able to get my fingers into the hook. Eventually, with a little help, I was ready to catch my first fish.

Unfortunately, my first fish was not yet ready to be caught. Nibble, pull, miss. The one that gets away is always the strongest, biggest and fastest fish in the river, stream, lake or sea. Nibble, pull, miss. Nibble, pull strongly feeling the weight on the line, fish bursts out of the hook heading in one direction back into the water, and the hook does a loop and lands on my back where it demands its ounce of flesh, and I scream as the others try to extricate me from the hook.




In Trinidad, when you're rude to someone older, the person would say, "Boy, ketch (catch) yourself." I did. More than once. But eventually I learnt the knack and got hooked for life.

Eating the fish was a different story. A few weeks later, Trevor's father invited me for another weekend in which the high point was a night in the forest. We would camp by a pond and fish for our dinner and then we would go hunting. Now an expert at the small fish called 'coscarob' (aka 'cosky' from the cichlidae family), I helped to contribute to the bucketful we caught and we then went, me armed with my cutlass again, to hunt for 'wild' meat, leaving one of the guys, Raj, to cook.

When we returned, tired, hungry and barehanded, Raj proudly said the food was ready - white rice and 'curry cosky'. I took my first bite of the fish. It slipped right out of my mouth and plopped on the ground, leaving its scales on my teeth. Trevor had bitten into his and it squirted stuff into his mouth. It turned out that Raj had never cooked fish before and did not know that you had to take out the scales and intestines, clean the fish well, maybe put some seasonings and salt, and then cook it. I still view steamed whole fish with suspicion and apprehension. Like most fishermen, in fact, I prefer the fishing to the fish, and in my life have given away thousands of pounds of fish, including a few giant groupers.

Last year, I had introduced my son, Zubin, to what we call 'banking', or dropping a weighted line to the bottom of the sea trying to catch snappers, groupers and grunts, both the fish and us as we pulled up the heavier ones from the sometimes more than 100-foot depth.

Jasmine likes being in the boat, but not the fishing. Her attitude is understandable and not as extreme as the way the Puritans felt about bear-baiting. It is not the pain it gave the bear that they detested, but the pleasure it gave to the spectators.

Now, many, many years after I caught my first cosky, I am still a fishing fanatic. First, I learnt the trade with fishermen in their pirogues, boats modelled on the long, narrow canoes made from tree trunks by the Amerindians, and then on my own little but speedy boat that took us out to the oil platforms in the Gulf of Paria looking for big fish. I liked to sit in the anchored boat on an early morning or late evening, occasionally bouncing my sinker on the bottom of the sea and waiting for a bite. It is the life. When anyone brought a radio on board, I made sure they played something catchy.

Last weekend, on Father's Day, I decided to introduce Zubin to trolling. I don't mean the Internet version which the Urban Dictionary defines as "being a pr**k on the Internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent bystander, because it's the Internet and, hey, you can". It is "fishing by trailing a baited line along or behind a boat."

It can be boring. You wait and wait for a fish to bite and then pull it up. I don't use rods or gloves, and we fish with steel lines. But it can be the most fun in the world, and I had mine when a 14-pound Kingfish hit Zubin's lure and I saw him jump, eyes opened wide and his expression of surprise and exultation, "Waaaiiii!"

- Tony Deyal was last seen remembering the Mafia expression, 'Sleeping with the fishes', when this fish surfaced with a machine gun and made him an offer he could not refuse. It was the Codfather.