I named my son Anton because (a) I wanted him to become a violinist, like Anton Stamitz or (b) a short story writer, like Anton Chekhov. He became a fisherman.
There was nobody around during his formative years playing the violin but there was plenty of fishing going on. There were fish innards all over the lawn, scales were stuck to the bench – traipsed inside on people’s shoes; the fridge was full of fish and the front picnic table was a busy industry of cutting and filleting.
The rank smell of flounders in sacks overrode all other smells. In the summer of 1986 a record number of 100 snapper were caught. Then along would come whitebait season bringing with it stands and posies and yearly arguments over whitebait nets.
Instead of poetry readings and music, he absorbed the odour of day-old fish and the excitement and cunning of the kill. Instead of photos of him standing on a podium in tails, conducting the orchestra with a violin bow, there were photos of him standing in the kitchen in front of the massive products of the deep.
As he grew older, instead of wool gathering on the river banks with a little pad and pen, scribbling, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud/ That floats on high o’er vales and hills/ When all at once I saw a crowd/ A host, of golden daffodils,’ he was up to his elbows in mud and water, ferreting out anything that flipped and had scales.
It didn’t help matters that outside our window the Orowaiti presented a yawning gap from horizon to horizon, and that with each incoming tide another bounty of fish flowed in from the sea.
His teacher said, “There’s no topic we discuss in class without Anton being able to bring a fish into it.”
He was actually the explorer who discovered fish in the race that ran the length of farmland in Selwyn District. He pioneered fishing in the Isel Park Stream in Stoke, on the boundary of my Aunt’s house. Fish weren’t part of the aesthetics of the Isel Estate; it was great trees, nurseries, hot houses, gentile folk and Anglicans. Nobody wanted anything as uncultured or rawly primitive as fish anywhere near the property.
Apart from a few stints where he liked gold-panning and then cricket and hockey, its been fishing all the way.
Now he’s invented, or is the founder of, a new kind of fishing – Saltwater fly-fishing on the flats for Yellowtail King fish. And it’s taking off. Australian TV has been over filming it.
It wasn’t always like this. I was the one who actually introduced him to fishing. I reeled in his fish and wrestled and elbowed my way up the queue outside the Westport Tavern to get Anton’s herring weighed.
He found a rare aquatic creature with millipede -like legs, which he took to Biology teacher, the late Ian McLellan, who said it was from a Tauranga Bay pool and had got its directions wrong. He found a lamprey eel in the shallows of the river.
We stayed at Spring Creek outside Blenheim, which had, as its name implied, a deep, clear spring creek. A day later, the peace and quietness – and rather conservative atmosphere of the camping ground – was shattered when someone came trumpeting through the trees carrying an enormous trout, bigger than himself.
He entered a fishing competition when he was sixteen. He said he was going to fish at the mouth of the river. ‘This will be a fizzer,’ I thought to myself, ‘what kind of fish can he catch at the mouth?’
He left the next morning, biking into a pea soup fog with all his equipment. I nearly ran after him crying, “Come back. Come back. Don’t go.”
I didn’t see him till about eight o-clock that night when he stood on the doorstep armed with Talley’s peas and frozen food, a huge fishing box, a new rod and reel. He’d won the competition. Two things happened after this event: we fed on Talley’s mixed vegetables for weeks, and his fishing career took off.
He plundered the North Island Rivers. At Rotorua he drove me to a nearby lake and we stood reverently in front of it. I guessed we were there, not to look at the convention centre, but to imagine the trout that were swimming beneath its opaque skin. “How could trout, that generally look the same, be different?” I puzzled on many occasions.
I visited him at Atarau, where the Grey River obligingly looped across the farm, not once, but twice. He caught a salmon in here.
I thought his interest would fade away and he’d recognise his true vocation as Victor Borge, telling jokes and playing pieces of music, eloquently.
And now he’s got his own guiding business. The name of his game is catch and release. It annoys him that there are foreign fisherman who hire beat up station wagons, and live on the river banks during summer and when their two-minute noodles run out, they actually eat their fish.
In recent times he’s been guiding in the Mokihinui, and while poised on a rock casting his lure into the water he’s been aware of thousands of aliens crossing the ridgeline. I told him they were cyclists passing along the Ghost Road Cycleway.
There is one other thing I’ve noted about him: he’s named his son Mako after none-other than the mako shark, because he wants him to become a fisherman. I think we will finally have a poet.