Fed for life?

There is a well-known saying which goes:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

According to Wiktionary (which, as I’ve just discovered, covers proverbs and sayings as well as words), this particular proverb originated in the 1885 novel Mrs. Dymond by Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie.  As far as I know, neither the novel nor its author are especially famous – certainly I’d heard of neither – but apparently she was the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, who is quite famous (mostly, I believe, as the author of Vanity Fair — a classic satirical novel that I have not yet read).

Anyway, the reason I mention this saying is not that I particularly want to talk right now about Victorian literature but that I went on two fishing trips over the weekend.  Obviously the proverb is intended mostly to be interpreted figuratively, as a more memorable way of saying “it is more worthwhile to teach someone to do something than to do something for them”, but that teaching vs. doing dichotomy could apply just as well to the provision of fish as to anything else.

As far as I can remember, I have previously been fishing twice.  The first time was when I was still at school, when one of my best friends at the time (a keen freshwater fisherman) took me fishing on a local river.  As I recall, I managed to catch one small minnow.

My second fishing experience was on a trip to South Africa while I was a student (about 17 years ago).  We spent an afternoon fishing (with rods) from a small boat in a river mouth, then did some sea fishing (again with rods) standing on rocks in the early evening and, after dark, finished the trip with a go at spear fishing (using spears we had made for ourselves in our spare time over the previous fortnight).  That was also a fairly unsuccessful trip, measured in terms of number of fish caught.  Between the six of us, we caught about 3 fish.  I caught quite a small one from the boat and one of my companions caught another, slightly larger one, also from the boat; the final fish was caught from the rocks.  We cooked these up for dinner before embarking on our entirely fruitless (though not pointless!) spear fishing expedition.  Although the catch was very small, they were just about the tastiest fish I’ve ever eaten, being so fresh (and I’m sure the knowledge that I’d caught one of  them myself added to the flavour too).  I can’t remember the sort of fish we caught but I don’t think they were ones found in British waters.

I’ve been living fairly near the coast in North Wales for nearly 14 years now and unsurprisingly I know a few people who are into sea fishing.  A few times, one or other of them has mooted the idea of taking me on a fishing trip (or I’ve dropped hints that I wouldn’t mind giving it a go) but nothing has ever actually got round to happening until this weekend.

A friend of mine who has been fishing for about 3 years took me and another friend of his who was visiting from England out on Friday afternoon to have a go at fishing down in Menai Bridge, at the base of the old bridge.  We went at a time which was convenient for us (early afternoon), which unfortunately didn’t happen to correspond to a time that was good for actually catching fish (as the tide was on the way out).  Still, although we didn’t catch anything we had a pleasant time and I learned a few basics such as how to bait a hook and how to cast off (as well as when not to go fishing!).

Undaunted, we decided to have another go on Saturday and this time we set out fairly early in the morning (around 9am) so as to catch the high tide (due shortly after 11am).  On this trip we went to a place called Mackerel Rock, just outside Trearddur Bay.  I’m not sure if this is an official name, but it is quite descriptive as it is a rock which is apparently a very good for catching mackerel a bit later in the season (probably from May onwards).  To get to the rock you have to climb down a cliff (it’s steep enough to have to take your hands out of your pockets but a fairly gentle scramble rather than a proper climbing job) and then walk across some lower rocks which are submerged at high tide.  Unfortunately the tide was already high enough and the waves big enough by the time we arrived to make it too dangerous to try and get across to Mackerel Rock, so we switched to our backup plan of going up to fish off the breakwater at Holyhead.  We didn’t manage to catch anything and, speaking to the other people fishing there (of whom there were quite a few), it seemed that there were not many fish around to be caught, probably because it was a bit too cold.

We packed up our fishing gear somewhat earlier than intended and finished the trip with a short walk up Holyhead Mountain (a mountain in name only, although it is the highest ground on Anglesey).  Once again, the day was not wasted despite our lack of fish to show for the trip, as we had a pleasant time together and were able to admire some beautiful views in fine, if cold, weather.  This was also my first ascent of Holyhead Mountain.

I set out on Saturday morning looking forward to a nice bit of fish for dinner.  In the end, I did indeed have quite a nice bit of fish but it was frozen haddock from my local supermarket (via my freezer) rather than fresh fish straight from the sea into my frying pan.

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