Over the last weekend I returned to the city of Launceston where I’d lived from 1972 to 1974. I felt a sense of nostalgia flying over the Bass Strait. We drove past the church in Margaret Street where I’d been to Sunday School and boy scouts. Faces and a few names came to mind. Happy times. Times of mischief. Losing my voice for a couple of weeks as I dived to catch a ball and coat-hangered myself on the edge of a wooden bench.
I remembered a man at the church—I think it was Mr Nicholls—asking me if I was left or right handed. He planned to buy me a fishing rod and reel and he wanted to know what type of reel to get. I was right handed, so he bought me a left handed reel! I’ve used the same fickle approach with my kids as he thought it made more sense to have your strongest hand on the rod.
Mr Nicholls was simply a kind-hearted bloke in our church. Neither of my parents fished, so he stepped into the gap. He introduced me to what would become a lifetime hobby. To be fair, my dad sewed my first rod and tackle bag, and my mum would reimburse me for bait if I provided fish for a meal. I thank Mr Nicholls because he demonstrated that adults can have a major influence on the life of kids—even when they’re not our own. He taught me something about being generous and taking an active in interest in others.
I still love throwing a line in the water. It doesn’t happen that often, but there’s something peaceful about watching the sun rise over the ocean as I wait for the first bites of the morning. There’s not too many other things that get me up before dawn. It’s thrilling to hook into a boiling school of tailor, to watch a massive barramundi do all it can to throw the hook, or to come home with a heavy bag of fresh fish. I enjoy the solace of being alone with my thoughts.
Fishing has also been fun for my family. Fiona and I used to share a kiss if we caught more than one whiting on the same worm! The kids would spend hours with me digging for pippis, catching little (and sometimes bigger) fish. Sometimes we’ve depended on catching fish for food and managed to catch enough to keep us going. One time we caught so many fish my reel seized up and our bags broke from the weight of our catch.
We’ve had some unbelievable moments, like the time Matthew got a fish hook through his finger, while it was still attached to a live barramundi, with our whole family in 4 meter tinny in crocodile infested waters in Kakadu. This was after someone yelled at him to stop hanging his feet over the side. And this was just before a 5 metre croc leapt vertically out of the water to take a large bird. He got to publish his story in a national fishing magazine at the age of 9!
There’ve also been some sobering moments. Like the friend who took his two boys fishing and only brought one home, after a large wave tossed his son into the ocean. Fishing has brought me great joy, but it’s also been the context of major tragedy for others. We bathe in the wonder of this beautiful creation and yet we’re so small and exposed. Each time I return home without having caught a fish I’m reminded that I’m not in control of this world—I depend on the one who made it and sustains it. God is the one who gives me my daily bread and my occasional fish.
And I thank God for introducing me to Mr Nicholls.