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Thread: Anglers, Angels & Other Archetypes

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2007

    Default Anglers, Angels & Other Archetypes

    A chapter extracted from A MEAN-MOUTHED, HOOK-JAWED, BAD-NEWS, SON-OF-A-FISH , first published in 1994.

     Enjoy thy stream, O gentle fish
    and when an angler, for his dish, through
    gluttony's vile sin, attempts, the wretch, to
    pull thee out, *** give thee strength, O gentle trout,
    to pull the bugger in . (#1.)

    If the truth be known, a common and continuous thread runs through angling literature to its
    earliest roots. This thread comprises two intertwining strands and their themes are this:
    firstly we have a catalogue of unlikely accomplishments, surrounded by bizarre and
    preposterous assumptions. A tradition of erudite buffoonery is well established and examples
    there are aplenty. For, as David Profumo says: "Piscatory writing is par excellence the
    literature of a fanciful curiosity ... we find fish copulating with goats, turning inside out and
    going to church!"
    He claims further: "All anglers are congenital liars, and uniquely in the animal kingdom, fish
    enjoy a pronounced degree of posthumous growth. Hyperbole and a certain allowable
    amplification of detail are indelible characteristics of most piscatory writing." (#2.)

    No one who has read Longfellow's Hiawatha, your basic fishing-type tale, or Edmond
    Gibson's 1695 account in Camden's Britannica, would disagree. He says: "In Paphlegonia many
    fish are dug up in places not at all watery, and men there fish for them with spades."

    And how about Aristotle's account in Historica Animilium (100 BC). "Eels are not
    produced from sexual intercourse and [it] is the only animal which does not originate either in
    sexual intercourse or in ova. They originate in what are called the entrails of the earth. This is
    the mode of generation in eels."

    Or Nicholas Cox, who informs us that the sargus [blacktail] "is a fish so lascivious that
    when he cannot find mates enough in the sea, he will get ashore and cuckold a goat!" As if that
    were not enough, Mr Cox goes on to document the most opaque account that has ever been
    committed to paper. The words are precisely his: "In the year of our Lord 1180, near Orford in
    Suffolk, there was a fish that was taken in the perfect shape of a man. He was kept in the
    castle at Orford above half a year, but at length, not being carefully looked to, he stole to the
    sea. He never spake, but would eat any meat that was given to him, especially raw fish when he
    had squeezed out the juice." (#3.)

    To cap it all, I refer you to Baron Münchhausen's immortal account of his experience
    when travelling the East Indies with one Captain Hamilton:" some sailors who were fishing in
    the long boat, which was made fast to the stern of the ship, harpooned an exceedingly large
    shark which they brought aboard for the purpose of barrelling the oil, when, behold, they
    found no less than six brace of live partridges in its stomach. They had been so long in that
    situation that one of the hens was sitting upon four eggs and a fifth was hatching as the shark
    was opened." (#4.)

    Is it any wonder, then, that angling has always had its critics, from Plutarch, who held
    fishing to be "a filthy, base, illiberal employment, having neither wit nor perspicacity in it," to
    Lord Byron, who said of angling that it was "the cruellest, the coldest, the stupidest of
    pretended sports". (#5.)

    There are of course other views. A popular one holds that angling combines heroic
    existentialism with poetical, sensitive expression. Fly-fishing in general, and trout-fishing in
    particular, imputes for itself yet even greater nobility. Standing apart from, and rather above,
    common or baiting techniques, it encourages and nurtures the myths that give it flesh.

    The father of this modern trend is often, though mistakenly, thought to be Isaak
    Walton. He, however, was little more than a Johnny-come-lately, hiding behind the skirts of a
    confirmed plagiarist, Charles Cotton, who wove his idealised apology from threads that wind
    back to the so-called cradle of civilisation itself. The Phoenicians and Sumerians were known to
    tie and cast quite passable flies when not plucking papyrus and inventing alphabets. And ancient
    Greeks, from Marrechia on the Adriatic to the farthest Mediterranean reaches, began that
    most imprudent denuding of aquatic resources that our age systematically pursues today.

    Yet popular sentiment still holds that angling is basically noble, that common bonds bind
    the simple souls who seek solace and relaxation plumbing the essential nature and mystery of
    water. But I figure that the motivation that drives men to take pleasure in the pursuit and
    capture of a prey that is not required as food, and in many instances not even wanted, brands
    proponents with the vestigial mark of the predator beast. These are primal urges, older and
    stronger than family ties or human love. For popular sentiment, like law, is often an ass.

    Yes indeed, too often is truth far removed from the romantic fictions. A taxonomy of
    flyfishermen encompasses the broad diversity of order, class and species. And though I may be
    accused of posing answers to unasked questions, I will attempt a brief illustration of this
    esoteric fact. Our ancient forebears, in their seminal expression of raw emotion, set out to
    show that art imitates life. And so, by Jove, it did. Ancient Grecian flies must have been
    wondrous to behold, epitomising the ingenious use of natural material with infinite detail and no

    But the old civilisations flowered, then withered, as civilisations will. We have come a long way
    in the procession that followed. For now we live in an epoch where life has learned to imitate
    art, and the ideals that steered us here are adrift. Indeed, we live at a time when not only do
    flyfishermen have the gall to tie flies in preposterous shapes and outlandish colours, but the
    fish themselves are faithless enough to ingest these monstrosities with quite unseemly gusto.

    Even the fish, it seems, are adopting an anything-goes attitude. And the old-world
    courtesy that once bound flyfishermen to the cabal is now little more than a relic, existing like
    some endangered species only in isolated pockets, scattered here and there.

    Betrayal was perhaps inevitable. For no matter how noble their driving sentiment, those
    first early anglers knew no way to make the fish their partners without recourse to the deceit
    of a cunning and viciously concealed hook.

    "Aha", you might say, "but nature herself exists only by the grace of *** and the gift
    of those selfsame principles, the principles of claw and camouflage, of stealth and ambush."
    I agree, wholeheartedly and without reservation, for the fact is indisputable. But if trout could
    talk they might ask: "Are you then no more than animals?" The angler might reply: "Yes, like
    the otter and heron, like the leopard or the rat."

    That would be a pretty good answer, but it is just as well that trout cannot speak. They
    might otherwise ask the angler if he directs himself and his hooks with any measure of
    nature's wisdom or natural respect, as do the other predators. Questions like that can be very
    embarrassing and play merry hell with the comfort of myths. And times are tough enough
    without a man, after five thousand years of tradition, still needing to moralise himself into a
    stupor every time he wants some fish.


    #1. With apologies to Ballad to a Fish of the Brooke, by Peter Pinder (1816)

    #2. The Magic Wheel, by David Profumo (1985)

    #3. Gentlemen's Recreation, by Nicholas Cox (1674)

    #4. Gulliver Revived, by Baron Münchhausen, (1787)

    #5. Don Juan, by Lord Byron (1819)

  2. #2
    Pheasant Tail Nymph Banned User

    Default Deep Reflections


    You certainly have a way with words, and I understand from my readings that you are by no means fearful to have a controversial opinion, and you do not care to bother yourself with the criticism that comes with it. So I must be honest that when I read Tom Sutcliffe's review of this particular book(A MEAN-MOUTHED, HOOK-JAWED,BAD NEWS, SON-OF-A-FISH) in the TCFF issue 123, I did not think that I'd be interested in buying it. Being thirteen at the time (November 2004), my opinions were a lot more "traditional" than now. I have learned to have a more open-minded opinion and I think this is certainly one thing the reader of your book will learn, at least in some degree.
    Another thing that I noticed from this chapter is that you need to get all the information before seeing exactly what the pinnacle of the matter is.

    Simply put,it is a very well presented essay, with good food for thought. I just pray that we as fly fisherman can influence other anglers to change this impression that we have left.

    Well done Mr. Avni. Excellent!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2007


    Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil.....

    thanks dude. i see from your profile that you are a pilgrim of life. You should try & get hold of my new book ... don't tell anyone, it's more about freeing the spirit than catching fish

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Cape Town


    Wolf, I read your first book a while back and after enjoying it, I recently bought your second book which Im currnetly reading. As PTn said you certainly have a way with words.

    You make the area you live in come alive and reading your books have made me picture every scene you write about. So much so that im hoping to plan a trip to your area soon to experience it for myself.

    Once again, well done on a superb book.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2007


    Thanks Morne,
    creativity is its own reward, yet still, an ocassional bit of affirmation warms the soul & nutures the spirit.

    My cup runneth over !
    Now if only another couple of million people felt like you, it would runneth over a great deal more!.

  6. #6
    Pheasant Tail Nymph Banned User


    Quote Originally Posted by Surly Ghillie View Post
    Thanks Morne,
    creativity is its own reward, yet still, an ocassional bit of affirmation warms the soul & nutures the spirit.

    My cup runneth over !
    Now if only another couple of million people felt like you, it would runneth over a great deal more!.
    Certainly true, Wolf.
    "Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones."

    But I can say with confidence that are more people who feel like that. I haven't even read your books and I've already spoken to my parents about making a trip to your waters. Will they give ear to my request? Perhaps in due time. Till then I'll live some of my life verses"
    "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
    In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. "


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