No sport more popular and delightful

There is a book of great beauty given to me as a Christmas gift by my wife: A River Runs Through It, by Norman Fitzroy Maclean published first in 1976. A film based on it was made some years ago but I never saw it. It was the author’s first book written when he was past 70. It is a novella about family relationships and particularly the loving but tense relationship between two brothers. But it is also a classic account of fly-fishing in rugged country in Montana, an account given in marvellous detail and informed by a life-long love of the sport. It is beautifully, sparely written. The book ends with the lovely line which has become famous: “I am haunted by waters.” Anyone who loves the wild spaces of Guyana and fishing in its rivers should read this book.

Fishing is at the very heart of A River Runs Through It – fishing as a beloved sport and way of life.  Not many people guess right when asked, “What is the most popular sport in the world?”

The irony is that, more than any other people in the West Indies, Guyanese are in a position to say what is the most popular of all sports simply because Guyana provides a better environment for it than any other Caribbean country. The most popular sport in the world is fishing. Quite apart from its pursuit as a business or in earning a living, fishing is a universal relaxation and sport.

And, of course, Guyana is a perfect place for fishing. This land of great rivers and streams, myriads of trenches, ponds and lakes and big conservancies is a fisherman’s paradise. And there is no sport in which peace and beauty play a greater part. Go fishing at silver dawn in a ballyhoo for lukanani in the Lama Conservancy or at Rockstone up the Essequibo; you will achieve a tranquillity and sense of life’s proper perspective which no other sport pretends to offer. I knew a world-famous Professor, whose love of fishing approached the fanatic, who used to return to Guyana whenever he possibly could because here he found a sort of Wimbledon or Lords of the sport he loved. It is surprising how few Guyanese seem to appreciate the glories that others envy us.

I have always been attracted to fishing. It has more philosophy in it than any other sport. It is a teacher of patience. It soothes the mind. When you fish you notice beauty. And apart from anything else, fishing has inspired more good literature than any sport except cricket, the greatest game of all. The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton is not only a great book on fishing, it is one of the sweetest books ever written in English. And Izaak Walton’s good friend, Sir Henry Wotton, gives the best description of fishing that there is:

“Angling,” he used to say, “was an employment for his idle time, which was then not idly spent… a rest to his mind, a cheerer of his spirits, a diverter of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of passions, a procurer of contented ness; and that it begat habits of peace and patience in those that professed and practiced it.”

I remember, with a strong stab of nostalgia, Sonny Rodway, a great man, who fished in Guyana’s waters for over 50 years. (He, by the way, greatly influenced Derek Walcott when he taught him in St Lucia and in his honour Walcott named a fellowship for young poets in the region).  Sonny Rodway used to quote Sir Henry Wotton’s words to me and some other lines from Izaak Walton:

“Let the blessing of St. Peter’s Master be… upon all that are lovers of virtue; and dare trust in His providence; and be quiet; and go a-Angling.”

Yet even though I recognize the special attractions of fishing as a sport, and even though my wife is an expert, dedicated and successful in the art and craft, I myself must be numbered among the world’s most unsuccessful fisherman in terms of fish caught per hour spent fishing. This is not the end of the world since the actual catch of fish does not wholly measure what fishing is all about. And yet it is, in the end, irritating, and even humiliating, especially for a person used to judging success in a sport by points scored, not to be able to notch up a catch or two now and then. But I just don’t seem to have the skill.

When I was a boy I once caught two barracuda in the clear blue water off Antigua’s coast. Since then I have caught a few patwa and some catfish. But my main ambition – to catch a shimmering lukanani – remains unfulfilled. An old fisherman called Narine, whose eyes were the gentlest I have ever seen, and who I estimate must have caught 10,000 lukanani in his lifetime, once took me out in the Lama and tried his best with me. But in two hours concentrated fishing I caught nothing but weeds and takubas and floating lilies. Then, for the sake of lunch, old Narine took the rod from me and in 15 minutes caught three good size lukanani. But I do not despair. I will renew my ambition. One day I will catch my five-pound lukanani, shining like the dawn, and then I will exult, exult with a beating heart as if I had won a match at Wimbledon on the centre court itself.

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