We had our early
start. Brian van der Merwe was waiting for us in a fine new flat-bottomed boat
with a big outboard motor. St. Lucia was a national park, and the boat was
really meant for taking out parties to view the wildlife, but they had made an
exception for us.
Mist curled away
as we batted wildly down the great open waters of the estuary. "Know any
good spots?" I shouted. In a place like this, more or less untouched by
anglers, even 100-pound-test line might outwit the unsophisticated fish,
unsporting as that might be. Here the estuary had widened out into an enormous
lagoon, 25 miles across, and the fish could be anywhere. "We'll go right to
the far end," yelled Brian. I think he was anxious to discover what the
boat could do, and we made a wide circular tour before we finally fetched up in
the reedy fortress with the crocodile and hippo.
I gave it a good
try. Conceivably, a fish big enough to swallow a whole pilchard might come into
three feet of water, but I doubted it. "Can we find a deeper spot?" I
asked Brian. "It's all like this," he replied gaily. Except, I thought,
for the hole that the hippos had a lien on.
It was a great
morning for ornithologists. Two handsome fish eagles circled us, then settled
on a tree stump to watch. A long involved discussion started between Jim and
Brian on the question of whether the legs of the adult white heron turned
yellowish or black in the winter. It was then that I realized I would have to
be firm. "I don't think we're going to do a lot of good here," I
As I say, polite
puzzlement was the reaction. My eccentric pastime might as well be carried on
here as anywhere else, they implied. "We do catch mullet for the pan
sometimes," said Brian, "but I don't suppose you would be interested in
that." My friend, I felt like telling him, I'd be interested in any way of
catching fish at the moment. More discreetly, I said, "Is that with rod and
admitted, "but I'll show you."
I reeled up. My
pilchard was untouched. I hauled the anchor, or, more precisely, picked it up
from the bottom. Brian started up the engine and we hammered out of the bay at
full throttle, his favorite speed, sending up a bow wave that rocked the hippos
at what seemed to be their moorings. I saw the croc slide gently from the mud
into the water. Had he been lining up to fish our spot? If he had been, he was
in for a disappointment.
We were out in
the open lagoon, the heat haze blurring the shoreline. Great dark clouds of
widgeon burst off the water. The ornithologists have got St. Lucia all tied up,
I thought bitterly. Meanwhile, the other two were keeping a sharp lookout for
the quarry. Suddenly, a big mullet of six or seven pounds shot straight up out
of our wake, a yard or more into the air. More followed, until there were a
dozen fish in the air at the same time. "We're in, man!" yelled Brian
as he gunned the motor, and we planed wildly over the little choppy waves. Just
how we were in I couldn't see. Maybe he was going to produce a butterfly net
from the locker.
But the procedure
was a good deal less elaborate than that. I began to see the intention. Brian
was going to corral those mullet in the way that a thresher shark will corral
mackerel. "Hang on!" he roared, a wild, daft grin on his face, and we
swept in a circle as mullet sprayed out everywhere. "Keep your heads
down!" As the fish were compressed into a tighter and tighter pocket, two
big mullet slapped smack into the rear of the cockpit. Another hit the
windshield. It didn't shatter but it subdued Brian for a moment. But we had two
fish, and he was triumphant. "That's the way to do it," he said.
"Course, you've got to be careful. Had a bloke the other day, fish came out
of the water and broke his ha, ha, ha, bloody, ha, ha, jawbone."
We went in for
lunch after that, and the head ranger of the park informed me courteously that
there were no fish in the lagoon at the moment. No serious fish, that was to
say. The place to go was the surf and, in particular, Mission Rocks, a few
miles up the coast. There, he said impressively, we would get kingfish. A
60-pounder had been caught the previous day.