Intent. I was there with an intent. In today’s broken world of waste, refuse and discardment, I wanted to find a place untouched. Somewhere devoid of the signs of progress.
I was disappointed. Bitterly.
I had travelled thousands of kilometers to get here. I had scoured information for any source – and there wasn’t much. Rumours mostly, with some concrete hope in between. I was here to catch a fish so shy that it has become known as the Holy Grail of fly fishing. And here, along this coast, their habits were different to those of their flats cousins around the world. Unique and hardy! Here they are tough, shorebreak surfing feeders that endure the hardships of an exposed and desolate coastline.
But the ‘Yellow Perms” were only a part of the reason for making this… this pilgrimage, I’ll call it. Living in the growing concrete and fluorescent jungle of one of the world’s fastest growing cities – a place full of progress at the expensive of almost everything – had led me to intensely yearn for the wide open spaces that I had left behind me; the seemingly untouched mountains and lagoons of Cape’s South West Coast in South Africa and the flats of the Seychelles. Beautiful coastlines that keep hidden the true state of our oceans through the effort of good people and organisations.
So I packed my 4×4 and left with the intent of breaking out of the concrete jungle to free my soul in nature.
Adventures led me to different beaches; dotted along on the coast in a pearl like fashion. These are the places that these fish are said to be in ‘good’ numbers. I’d seen photos and spent time with guys who caught them there. And I saw them too. I had my shots and, although I’d missed the Yellow Perms, I got enough to keep me quite happy!
Once upon a time, my first trip to a truly isolated coral atoll left me awed – yet hindsight left a nagging bitterness at the state of the windward side of paradise. There was no end to the plastic! Flipflops, fishing buoys, rope, bottles and the odd computer screen littered beaches that should have nothing but old shells and bleached bones.
This coast, despite its incredible beauty and isolation, was no different. The fish were there, not like they used be – I know from pictures and stories of the stalwarts. And despite the hankering that that time for this fishery is running out, I was happy.
On my last morning I woke up under the hulking sandstone cliffs that guard the hinterland of this stark land. I had arrived in the half light of the late dusk, shared a dinner and drinks with a new mate and crashed after a long day of driving.
What greeted me that morning seemed to drain joy from my soul. As I walked the beach I was greeted by the bottles, discarded nets and other plastic debris that lined the highwater mark; it seemed to strangle the little vegetation that existed. It screamed at me: “You can’t escape progress. You can’t escape death!”
Breakfast was an unenthusiastic affair. I didn’t feel in the mood to enjoy something hearty while surrounded by such filth. I stared out over the green ocean – no longer was it the vibrant crystal blue of a few days ago. It seemed sick, like a mucous from the festering of an infection at the back of your sinuses.
What are we doing to our oceans?
I slowly strung up my fly rod; taking care with the leader and tippet setup. I tied on my fly and got going. My steps were slow; the normal cautious steps of stalking were now confused with a creeping dull fatigue that shouldn’t be present while pursuing such esteemed quarry.
And eventually, at last, I saw a Yellow Perm. It wasn’t tailing or surfing in on the shorebreak. It merely lay there; not glinting silver, sun yellow and full of life but dull. The life once contained in this now tarnished fish had departed. Its eyes now hollow voids, cleaned out by the scavengers. The carrion eaters had torn away the soft flesh.
I stood over this dead fish. In itself this was not a strange sight on a forgotten beach. The ocean does, after all, have its cycles of life and death and the death of a fish is par for the course. But for a moment in time it became a scathing metaphor for what we are doing to this world.
Here, a seeming million miles from anywhere I suddenly realised that there was death all around me: Plastic bottles and plastics. Old nets. Empty fuel containers. And dead fish. Suddenly there were dead fish everywhere. Grouper, barbel, bream and triggerfish lay in varying degrees of decomposition. Harrowingly empty eye sockets. Flaking scales off hard leathered skin.
I stopped. Turned my back on the beach and stared out to the ocean hoping to somehow hide my mind from the desolate thoughts creeping up on me. But all I saw was a brand new plastic bottle – label still neatly affixed – slowly get blown in by the wind.
What are we doing to our world?