Oct/Nov 2004  •   Fiction

Fat and the Art of Fishing

by Chris Bleach

In the end, I'm fat. Three generations ago the servile classes would have thought I was rich and witty and flattered me. Now they assume I'm poor and stupid and despise me. The great irony of recent times is that the richer you are, the less of you there is and the more like the old working class you try to be: brown and thin.

I'd say it doesn't affect me, but I'd be lying. In the end the drip, drip, drip of surface sneering gets to you. If I wasn't a stronger person, I'd stay at home crying into my pie. Steak and kidney with puff pastry, chips, peas and two slices—one of my favourites. But I digress.

Fishing's my hobby, and I'm not going to give it up for the style police or the bleeding heart cruelty brigade. Sea fishing from a fishing pier. I still get the "Has the pier been reinforced cos I can't swim" jokes, but they're getting less every day. Two reasons for that—I take my nephew with me, and for some reason most of them won't show me up in front of a kid, and the other reason is I'm bloody good at fishing. I'm strong and, maybe it's because I appreciate them so much, the fish seem drawn to me.

My nephew Jack is a solid little guy but well proportioned. When I take him fishing though, I don't care about what he's going to look like, I care about whether he's going to be a fisherman, like me.

Early signs are good, really good. He knows how to cast. We've done some river fishing, but he knows off fishing piers you don't cast. Some of the people here do, but it's wrong—fish go where the food is, and that's in the trenches around the pier supports. Not always the end of the pier. At high tide the middle is just as good and less crowded.

I've never had to say any of this to him, but he's seen and he knows. He's a great caster is Jack, and he could be all fancy. Some of his friends come with their dads or granddads, but his quiet excellence in one so young astounds me sometimes. Coalfish, mackerel, bass, mullet he lands with ease. No plaice or sole yet, those are treats even I only rarely hook, but there's time.

We don't say much him and me. But his fish speak volumes. If the fat jokes are flying, he lands dogfish, conger, garfish, tub gurnard—ugly fish, livid, scowling. The jokes stop. If it's a sunny day and the lines are singing, he'll catch flounder, black bream, pollack and the hushed respect of those around us sustains us until that evening's feast.

One day soon he'll be as good a fisherman as I am, and I'll have achieved more than most thin people do in a lifetime.