Cod, Canada and a Goodbye to Football Stickers - How I Learnt to Love Fishing
By Ben Whitmarsh
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The first time I went fishing I was about 12. I fondly imagined a day of raw excitement by the river bank, wrestling with gilled beasts as they tried to drag me into the Thames, before ending the day comparing battle wounds with my salty sea dog friends a la Richard Dreyfuss (I had recently seen an illicit pirate copy of Jaws on a BetaMax cassette - kids, ask your parents). Instead, I suffered from sunburn, and boredom in equal measure. The sunburn lasted days, the memory of the tedium lasted years. From then on, I decided to take comfort in completing the West Ham line up in my 1986 Panini football sticker book and not touch fishing with a bargepole - ironically, I'd probably have caught more if I'd used a bargepole instead of a rod.
Fast forward to 2012. I find myself in the rugged Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, at the historic town of Bonavista frantically trying to channel the vague memories of my salad days on the banks of Berkshire.
"You're going fishing. In a boat. For cod. You'll love it."
The optimism of the locals was touching, but I feared it was misplaced. But off to the boat I went, armed with a line and the companionship/knowledge of Jerry, an experienced cod catcher.
Before any fish are bothered though, a bit of location detail for you. The first European to get to Bonavista was Giovanni Caboto. As he did this in 1497 before the advent of Premiership football, the English could not get to grips with a foreign sounding name and called him John Cabot. Think of Thierry Henry being called Terry Henry, or Enrique Iglesias being Henry Church (not so sexy now, eh?)
Anyway, his first words were "O buono vista!", translated as , "Oh happy sight!", and the name stuck. That wasn't the only thing said about the area. His crew reported that "the sea there is full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets".
But what about the cod fishing? Carried out at a subsistence level for centuries, large scale fishing began shortly after John Cabot's arrival. Approximately eight million tons of cod were caught between 1647 and 1750, a period encompassing 25 to 40 cod generations. The factory trawlers took the same amount in 15 years.
Then in the early 1990s the industry collapsed due mainly to overfishing, which I must admit made me wonder if I would even get a sniff of cod, the merest fishy whiff. Of course though I needn't of worried. Just like all those years ago I took a back seat whilst someone who knew what they were doing (i.e. Jerry) reeled in the catch.
And it was then that I realised I had exorcised my fishing demons. After all, to be successfully hunting for your dinner whilst dolphins dance all around would convince even the most hardened sceptic. Not even the never to be found Frank McAvennie footie sticker could have tempted me from the waters. Dreamily I cast my line and simultaneously cast my mind back to my original angling experience. It prompted harsh thoughts. I had been a quitter. I walked away too easily. I HAD WASTED MY LIFE.
I slapped myself round the face with a wet cod and I snapped out of it. It was time to turn over a new leaf. Time to put oversized wading boots on the Christmas list. Best of all, time to book another trip to the 'vista.
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