The leap in the heart when the first tentative tug on the line is felt. A bite! The thrill when that turns into something more substantial. A trembling pull. It may be on! The instinctive lift of the rod. The strike! The weight taking up in the tip of the rod. The quivering bend. You can see it, feel it. All your senses come alive.
The long moments of nothing doing are obliterated in an instant. It’s all on! Got it! It’s hooked! Now it just has to be landed. Careful, careful… set the drag on the reel. Not too tight. There’s got to be enough friction, but some give. Immediately you start visualising how big it is. The insistent tugging on the line tells you. The screaming runs on the reel. The quick reeling in when you now it’s swimming closer. The delicious play of patience and pressure. The constant risk of the line suddenly going slack and empty. The risk of losing it. But the knowledge you’ll probably land it – if you do the right thing. Just play it cool, against the wild beating of your heart. The pride you’ll know on bringing home the feed. Such is the enduring appeal of fishing.
All these elements are there – and in excess – in the new sport of Rat-angling. It’s become all the rage since the seas were emptied. Now fishing and all its accessories, folklore and finery, has shifted to the land. Most of the equipment previously used has been modified to suit the new circumstances. Rods, reels, lines, lures – all pretty much the same. Even the boats. Only we have no need for oiutboard motor any more. So we’re saving petrol, which is good. Quieter, too. Baits come in many varieties, but the new synthetic lures are definitely the way to go. The chocolate flavoured ones aren’t half bad. Easy to handle, too. They have so many advantages. There’s an ongoing debate about which works best, chocolate or peanut butter or bacon flavour. Each option has its devotees, no doubt influenced by a memorable outing, a record catch.
We’re still doing the same thing – fishing – but now we’re going after rats and other land-based pests. A new hierarchy of target species has now been set. Rats are the most common – they’re everywhere, just like the spotted pink fish used to be in the old days. But to get a stoat – that’s the pinnacle of the new sport fishing. They’re fast and cunning. It takes a lot a time and skill to hook one. And when you do, it’s even harder to land it. Then you can yarn about it forever. You get you picture taken, holding it up, close to the camera at arm’s length, to make it look bigger. You put that picture on your Facebook page. Possums are slow and heavy, not really a sport catch – but if you’re after sheer weight, there’s a whole subculture building around that.
Same with recipes. We’re all working on them, experimenting with better, newer, more innovative ways of cooking and presenting the catch. We’re out to impress. Fiery spices and grilled on skewers is the latest, hottest thing. For rats, anyway. The sale of special barbeques that have been designed for this is going gangbusters. Possums you casserole. Stoats tend to get mounted for display above pubs.
And nobody complains about it. We’re doing the right thing. Only now, it seems the rats and stoats and possums will last forever. There are so many of them. Enough to support this new sport. Enough to support the new magazine about the pastime, Rat-angling Rules! This is going to last forever. There are rats everywhere. I’ve heard of people starting tour companies, taking people to exotic locations, off-the-beaten-track, where the angling is of a fabled quality. Big suckers everywhere, never going off the bite.
But for me, I still fish from my boat, only now I can do it right here, from the convenience of my own driveway. None of that hassle of towing it, of paying for petrol, of wasting petrol, or waiting at the slipway. No getting wet. No vaulting cots. No licence fees. No regos needed for the trailer. No hassles, either, if I forget something at home. (Though the true Rat-angler has his standards. You do things properly. No short cuts.)
So I cast out into the darkness. A bit like the old style fishing, night or early dawn seems to be the best times. If I can get the lure out near the compost heap, that’s the best spot. Got to avoid the snags. Pōhutukawa roots are especially tricky. Don’t get your hook caught in there, or you stand to lose your hook and bait, and you’ll have to tackle up again.
Then I settle, to sit and wait. Take up just enough slack on the line. My mind floats away, but always I have my finger lightly on the line just above the reel, my eye on the tip of the rod. It’s the notion that some action is always possible at any moment, no matter how quiet it seems – that is the essential appeal of Rat-angling. Come to think of it, just like it was in the old-style fishing. Same thing.
Aha! I feel a brief tug on the line! A bite! It becomes a shivering pull! It’s on! Got it!