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Chapter 66
I fished with a variety of hooks at a variety of depths for avariety of fish, from deep-sea fishing with large hooks andmany sinkers to surface fishing with smaller hooks and onlyone or two sinkers. Success was slow to come, and when itdid, it was much appreciated, but the effort seemed out ofproportion to the reward. The hours were long, the fish weresmall, and Richard Parker was forever hungry.
It was the gaffs that finally proved to be my most valuablefishing equipment. They came in three screw-in pieces: twotubular sections that formed the shaft – one with a mouldedplastic handle at its end and a ring for securing the gaff with arope – and a head that consisted of a hook measuring abouttwo inches across its curve and ending in a needle-sharp,barbed point. Assembled, each gaff was about five feet longand felt as light and sturdy as a sword.
At first I fished in open water. I would sink the gaff to adepth of four feet or so, sometimes with a fish speared on thehook as bait, and I would wait. I would wait for hours, mybody tense till it ached. When a fish was in just the right spot,I jerked the gaff up with all the might and speed I couldmuster. It was a split-second decision. Experience taught methat it was better to strike when I felt I had a good chance ofsuccess than to strike wildly, for a fish learns from experiencetoo, and rarely falls for the same trap twice.
When I was lucky, a fish was properly snagged on thehook, impaled, and I could confidently bring it aboard. But if Igaffed a large fish in the stomach or tail, it would often getaway with a twist and a forward spurt of speed. Injured, itwould be easy prey for another predator, a gift I had notmeant to make. So with large fish I aimed for the ventral areabeneath their gills and their lateral fins, for a fish's instinctivereaction when struck there was to swim up, away from thehook, in the very direction I was pulling. Thus it wouldhappen: sometimes more pricked than actually gaffed, a fishwould burst out of the water in my face. I quickly lost myrevulsion at touching sea life. None of this prissy fish blanketbusiness any more. A fish jumping out of water wasconfronted by a famished boy with a hands-on, no-holds-barredapproach to capturing it. If I felt the gaff's hold was uncertain,I would let go of it – I had not forgotten to secure it with arope to the raft – and I would clutch at the fish with myhands. Fingers, though blunt, were far more nimble than ahook. The struggle would be fast and furious. Those fish wereslippery and desperate, and I was just plain desperate. If only Ihad had as many arms as the goddess Durga – two to holdthe gaffs, four to grasp the fish and two to wield the hatchets.
But I had to make do with two. I stuck fingers into eyes,jammed hands into gills,crushed soft stomachs with knees, bit tails with my teeth – Idid whatever was necessary to hold a fish down until I couldreach for the hatchet and chop its head off.
With time and experience I became a better hunter. I grewbolder and more agile. I developed an instinct, a feel, for whatto do.
My success improved greatly when I started using part ofthe cargo net. As a fishing net it was useless – too stiff andheavy and with a weave that wasn't tight enough. But it wasperfect as a lure. Trailing freely in the water, it provedirresistibly attract............
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