Thursday, July 14, 2011

The eye of the tiger.

Being a vegetarian and going fishing don't usually go hand in hand. But I'm not a vegetarian, I'm a pescatarian and I eat fish. I've been known to say that one of the reasons for my fish but not animals policy is that I could bring myself to kill a fish, but not, for instance, a defenceless baby cow. I suppose the reason might also be that I don't like fish, the slippery little buggers.

So, on the edge of the Caprivi Strip (a little rectangle that belongs to Namibia and is bordered by Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana), my new wife and I made camp and arranged to go out with a local big game hunter, Anders. We were going onto the Okavango river in search of our lunch, what the locals call Nwembe, but known to you and I as Bream, and what Anders enthused was the tastiest fish in the world (and this from a man who has eaten elephant).

What people really come to the area for though is the Tiger Fish. Said to hit the lure at 60kmh and have teeth like a shark, they are on many peoples fish hit list, if such a thing exists (and if it doesn't, it should).

Anders probably hadn't taken many pescatarians out fishing before, and it goes without saying that he hadn't taken any on big game hunts (there being not much point in not eating meat if you're going to kill it in the name of fun). But he was open to talking about his way of making a living and Fay and I learned a great deal. We learned that nearly all his customers are American. That the rights to hunt animals are strictly controlled. That the government allocates to tribes different quotas of animals depending on how endangered the various species are. The tribes will then sell some or all of those quotas for a considerable sum to companies and then individuals pay for the privilege to hunt and kill the animal. An elephant sets you back a mere 50,000 USD. But if you want that extra special something hanging above your fireplace, above, presumably, your polar bear skin rug, something that just NONE of your neighbours will have, then why not go the whole hog and bag yourself the very endangered black rhino? A snip at a quarter of a million US dollars. Their eyesight is so poor that they can barely see. But don't let anyone tell you that shooting the thing from 50 metres away, from an armoured jeep, with an elephant gun, makes it an unfair fight. If you tell yourself you're a hero enough times, then it must be true, heh?

Anders hadn't killed a rhino, and said he probably never would. He also said that one of the biggest subjects he had to study at animal killing school was how to kill as humanely and quickly as possible. He seemed to mean it too. He said that when his clients insisted on trying to kill an elephant with a head shot, they would invariably miss the brain, so he insisted that as soon as they took their shot, he would shoot the elephant in the heart at the same time. It's probably a given that he's not going to win the Greenpeace 'Man of the Year Award', but he had his morals and he stuck by them, which is more than can be said for me as far as this story goes.

We fished by 'trawling' with rod and reel. This meant we let our artificial lures out about 30 metres behind the boat and then the boat chugged along and the artificial lures get towed along and act like little fish that the bigger fish want to eat (from that sentence you can probably gauge what an experienced fisherman I am). After a blissfully happy unsuccessful hour or so of fishing, I felt a tug on the line. I reeled in my prey to find that I had caught a Tiger Fish, but caught it through the eye, and not unsurprisingly it hadn't put up much of the fight it's famous for. I grabbed hold of the fish and with a handful of fishy goo, tried to disgorge the hook. I managed it, but disgorged the fish's eye along with the hook. I'm not sure who disliked the experience more, me or the fish (but accepted, probably the one eyed fish). Tiger Fish aren't really for eating so I threw him back and with the eye still attached to my hook, I cast back into the river and over the next couple of hours caught two more unfortunate beasts. But alas no Nwembe, no lunch and my pesky-tarian moral high ground sunk and drifting between the murky reeds, looked down upon by my cycloptic victim.

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