The Fish Whisperer
Kite boarding is big in this town. Langebaan has a massive, tranquil lagoon and the wind never stops blowing. Walking out of your door on any day of the year is getting your hair styled at 45 degrees. It could easily be argued that it is the kite boarding capital of the world.
Fishing however runs deeper, partly because of the Afrikaans culture. Afrikaners, where do I start? 300 odd years ago, a people formed, a hard core amalgamation of Germans, French, Dutch, Flemish and a few other bellicose European nations. They are big, they are proud, they are fiercely independent and they love Brandy mixed with coke. They are also very, very good at hunting anything that moves, including fish.
It is difficult to catch fish from the shore of the Lagoon, but if you can get a seat on any one of the three hundred or so recreational fishing boats that call Langebaan home, the fishing is fantastic. Getting a seat is tricky though. Most boats can only take four fishermen, the boat owner, his fishing partner or skipper, and two guests. For every two guest spaces available there are dozens of non boat owners wanting to fill them. It does not help being a skinny, pale, spindle legged English speaker.
Fortunately, I had moved to Langebaan for love and the object of my love was most definitely Afrikaans, and very well connected. Ultimately it was her ex-boyfriend (life has such bittersweet ironies) who offered me a trip in a show of characteristic largesse. This man, who I shall call the ‘fish whisperer’, was not only one of the strongest person I have ever stood next to (he is reputed to have beaten the world champion arm-wrestler) but he also has an almost supernatural ability to catch fish. I was told I had gotten the nod and it was a simply a case of waiting for the invitation to manifest. When it did come, no matter what the circumstances, I had to immediately accept, or I would never fish in this town again.
The invitation came on New Year’s Eve at around 9 pm. The Fish Whisperer walked up and delivered his invitation through the lens of at least one liter of brandy and two liters of coke:
- ‘Kom Engelsman, nou sal ons visvang!’ (Come English man, now we will catch fish!)
- ‘What now?’ I was alarmed. This was obviously a test. I was pretty drunk myself.
- No, we leave at 2 am, tomorrow morning.
What a terrifying thought. I don’t do well on hangovers and have a delicate constitution but I could not turn him down. I stopped drinking immediately and started drinking water until I almost drowned. Then at a minute after midnight, I found a spare room in the party mansion and tried desperately to get some sleep. My future skipper carried on drinking, picking up his pace, trying to get people to arm wrestle him. Apparently he was not going to sleep at all. Afrikaners, as I have mentioned, are a tough bunch.
At 2 am exactly, he stormed into my room and ripped of my blankets. I think I might have slept for about 40 minutes with all the techno music that vibrated through the house. I was feeling rough but determined.
- ‘Kom rooinek, kom pappie!’ (I am not sure what that meant but rooinek or red neck refers to English people getting burned above their T-shirt neckline. It was light bullyish banter.
By 2.30 am we were on the road and by 3 am we had fetched the boat, armed ourselves with sandwiches and a cornucopia of booze and were slipping into the water. It was pitch black and with the hum of the engine and the stench of petrol, we headed out. For the 100th time in my life I wandered if I would get sea sick. Fisherman have the utmost disgust for people who suffer from this condition. Cold, tired, nauseous and nervous we rode into the blackness.
By the blush of the fawning grey light of dawn, I started to notice the other boats, at least 200, who were positioning themselves in the Lagoons central channel, where all the bigger game fish migrated. I don’t understand Afrikaans very well so I had listened to their calming banter like you listen to the dulcet tones of a radio show while settling in at the dentist. The fish whisperer, who had not slept up until this point, rolled his bulky, muscled figure into a sleeping position and had fallen asleep. The other two passengers were still awake, the one a sweet, comforting man, the other a resentful monstrous creature with a squint, lazy eye, who did not speak to me at all and looked like he wanted to drown me. I tried to sleep fitfully.
Shortly after dawn I awoke to chaos. Afrikaans expletives, manic movement, the sounds of rods hitting, the sizzling snarling sound of escaping line.
- ‘Kom engelsman!’
I had no idea what was going on. Shortly afterward I discovered we had hit a school of Cape Salmon, robust, fit fish which were a treasure to catch and eat. We had one chance at this and the fish whisperer was taking it very seriously. This may be the only run of the day and for some inexplicable reason, our boat was the epicenter of the storm. They weren’t joking about this guy. The rods were on, mine the only one that remained silent. I grabbed the net to assist them, a sacred duty. One-eyed guy looked at me with menace. The first fish came up against the boat and I tried desperately to net it, slipping on the deck which was suddenly smeared with blood and bait. I took the wrong angle with the net and lost the fish. I had just committed social suicide.
As fast as it had come the fish run disappeared. We had managed to get one on board and only one other boat had caught something. The tension was palpable. Then they started drinking. Neat vodka, white wine (my contribution), beers, mixes, brandy and coke. Within two hours we were all completely drunk and the mood softened, the boys slapping me on the back with meat cleaver force and chuckling about English people in general. One eye did not speak. He clearly was not only not a fisherman but I suspect was getting horribly sea sick. He would cut his own throat out with a blunt spoon rather than admits this though.
By Midday we had run out of booze. The sun was smashing down against us and the lack of sleep was turning my mind into a sludgy sponge. The fish whisperer had retained great cheer, despite the fact that he had hardly slept at all, calling out across the waters to various boats, who all clearly knew him by site or reputation. He was also getting nervous at the lack of alcohol. One of the boats, or rather a luxury yacht – which had sidled up to us – was a local millionaire. His boat was three levels high and had a few bouncy blonds popping around the top decks. He was humiliated at not catching anything, despite the technology at his disposal.
The fish whisperer had started a negotiation with him. A bottle of tequila for the only fish on our boat. They get the credit (and the fish), we get a bottle of tequila from his groaning bar. The trick was to get the items swopped across thirty metres of water. The fish whisperer rose to his mad genius by casting out and hooking one of their mooring ropes which he pulled over. Then he wrapped the fish in a tight web of netting and cast it out so that they could retrieve it from the swirling tide. They pulled the fish up and deposited the tequila in the same net and cast it out again. With an expert flick he caught the net again with his line and pulled it in. Minutes later the greatest trade exchange I had ever witnessed nestled with hot fury in my belly. You have to give it to them, I thought.
By the end of the day, I had caught two beautiful Shad and the boat had collectively caught another two fish. It was an amazing experience and by the following day I had determined to make them my clients and show them how to turn their boats (three in total) into a really decent chartering business. In two weeks I had put together a complete corporate image, logo’s, business stationary, business and social strategy and a decent mobile friendly website. I really enjoyed turning my own experience (mad as it may have been) into an experience available to all.
Have a look at their website here: www.dreamcharters.co.za