“Man, the gee tee were sa-ta-nic today!”
I can still hear the phrase coming out of Nicola’s mouth right now. I first heard the colourful, Italian, fly-fishing tour operator describe fish as “satanic” (pronounced sah-tah-niek) while sitting in the lounge of his steel catamaran off the coast of Sudan. Since then it has stuck in my fishing vocabulary.
I’d travelled to the Maldives hoping for weird things… A new parrotfish species, sweetlips, something colourful. I’d found some of those and, to my delight, healthy triggerfish numbers. My relationship with triggers can only be described as a competitive rivalry that they don’t know they’re in. I particularly enjoy setting the hook. It’s the same sort of sadistic joy I imagine they get destroying crustaceans or biting divers when they’re moody or on the nest. I play the role of the Punisher in my own little triggerfish movie. Like many great rivalries, there is a lot of love too. At least from my side. Every single trigger you will meet has a slightly different way about him, and, if I can stretch it, a different personality, something that’s quite rare among fish. If you’re a sight fisherman and you’re exposed to them enough, the trigger love will get you. They’re an octopus in a world of cuttlefish. Intelligent, cunning, curious, aggressive.
I’ll also admit that my obsession with them has led me to killing one for a gyotaku, (the Japanese art of printing fish onto rice paper). Although gyotaku involves the death of an animal, nothing will tell you more about their form. Every scale has Braille on it, two or three little spots per scale. And they have multiple different types of skin on their body. That moustache on a titan triggerfish is not just colour, it’s an entire texture difference that shows itself in a print. It may or may not surprise you that, after spending an hour-and-a-half in a hole in the sand on some little island in Sudan, the particular unfortunate titan that I decided to print, still tried to bite me when I dug it out of the sand. I learnt that day that they can seal off their gills. I guess that’s handy if you like killing crustaceans in shallow tidal environments. The shock on the guides’ and fellow anglers’ faces when I arrived back on the mothership that day to a disgusted welcome, soon gave way to fascination as the almost four-hour long gyotaku process began. As luck would have it, the only humid day in Sudan we’d experience that trip would be this one. Preparing and pinning the fish was hell in the thick wet air. It didn’t help the bamboo paper either.
Read the rest of the story in issue 39. It’s FREE!