Written by Sean Christie. Illustrations by Conrad Botes. As featured in The Mission Issue 05. 

Mrs Daniels’ English class, standard 7, set two: the one time in my life I plagiarised another writer. It was a creative writing assignment, the sort of thing I had relished and excelled at in my last year at junior school. Yet, rather than build a story from first principles, I had copied, virtually word for word, an article from a fishing magazine, about a good fight on a glittering river. It was from Hemingway descended but still very good, with the river and the reeds and the cold air and the quality of the light well drawn. Mrs Daniels was impressed, and asked my permission to read aloud to the class. Nobody seemed particularly suspicious afterwards. My stolen stream with its dark rocks and golden reed beds was well matched to the surrounding countryside, which is rich in fishable dams and rivers, and lodges with names like Troutbagger. If the author had attempted to layer his narrative I would for sure have been exposed, but he had not, and I could write descriptive sentences.

“The one facet that could not possibly have come from me was what made it good: the detailed descriptions of rod and tackle, and the fisherman’s working relationship with his tools.”

The one facet that could not possibly have come from me was what made it good: the detailed descriptions of rod and tackle, and the fisherman’s working relationship with his tools. When the large rainbow snatches the fly, the line, reel and rod spring to life as characters in their own right, each protesting the sudden activity in their own unique way and making it clear that in inexpert hands they will conspire to lose the fish and fall still. These were not understandings I possessed, having come no nearer to the techniques of fly fishing than a mid-audience seat in a 1992 screening of A River Runs Through It, in Fourways Mall. But we were all first years in that class of strangers, and so the deceit went over, although not entirely without consequences.

conrad botes

My problems started after class, when a boy I was becoming friendly with approached and said, “Great story. My family belongs to a fly-fishing syndicate out near Dullstroom. We should take a trip out there in the holidays.” He was a dead-ringer for adolescent Ethan Hawke, with a fringe like a St Bernard’s ear and bright, uncertain eyes. I said I would like to visit Dullstroom with him, to fish, and that I had always enjoyed the fishing in that part of the country. Plagiarist, and now liar. I have since wondered about what my motivations but at the time I had one thought: how was I going to get through a weekend in Dullstroom without being exposed as a fraud? My new friend had not forgotten his invitation, as I had hoped, and not many days went by that term without some banter about the giant fish we would hunt together. Worse, he had asked to photocopy my story in order to share it with his father – a man who radiated gravitas and was 10 years older and several zeros richer than most other dads. I unfairly suspected that my new friend, in sharing my story, meant to appeal to his father’s sense of noblesse oblige, as in, “See how passionate this one is about something we too love to do. Let’s grant him access to the real thing – he is bound to be grateful.”

“I prepared to excuse myself from the trip and live with the consequences, which would surely include a premature end to a promising friendship.”

Back in Johannesburg, day one of the winter vac: I made my way to ME Stores in Randburg, where I used my savings (I ran a tuckshop from the trunk beneath my bed) to buy a basic fly-fishing rod, reel and spool of line. My family lived across from a peri-urban Country Club and that evening I practiced casting on the fourth fairway, eventually building up the courage to send the line out over a water hazard. Even without a hooked ending the line became ensnared, and the reel jammed when I tried to pull free. I broke the rod down, wrapped the surplus line around it and stalked home. Back in my room I closed my flea market copy of The Compleat Angler and scrunched up my notes, which included definitions of words like double taper; tippet; palming; presentation; and roll cast. That last term was a punch in the guts: Roll Cast, noun, A cast in which the angler does not throw the line backwards. Why not abandon euphemism and just call it a fucking Magic Cast? I prepared to excuse myself from the trip and live with the consequences, which would surely include a premature end to a promising friendship.

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The phone rang. Lots of stammering. Lots of apologising, on his side. Dullstroom was off – his old man had done his back. I had said not to worry, we would bag those monsters yet. He said we undoubtedly would. The line crackled and my spirit soared free. Then a surprise proposal: his father had this friend, he said, who owned this farm to the north of the city, not far from Lanseria Airport. On it were dams stocked with the biggest largemouth bass in the country. Of course the estate rule was fly rods only, and there was just one window of opportunity available: that afternoon. All I had to do was say “no” and I would have been in the clear, but an hour later I was in a taxi on a veld-bitten road north of North Riding, staring at a leathern tube that had entered the vehicle with my friend.

“Couldn’t resist bringing her along,” he had said, adding, “Split-cane Hardy – inherited her from my grandfather.”

Read the rest of “Fishing Without Honour” for free online in The Mission Issue 05 below, or buy the print version online (we ship worldwide).