Stone Age Today

In Patagonia, Argentina, not foul hooked this time
In Patagonia, Argentina, not foul
hooked this time

In Ruin Frank takes the man who bankrupted him fishing on a Guatemalan jungle river. But not fly fishing.  By then in Part Three Frank has been traveling itinerantly in research for his book about unorthodox fishing techniques from the past. They are after “alligator fish,” gar. And for their bait first caught bottom-dwelling minnows with preposterously romantic names that perhaps lonely ichthyologists gave them. The fishers have great success, including Frank braving the fast river to swim to a giant gar who stole their rod, which he retrieves. Recall the pike in the Lake Erie drowned forest that stole Francy’s rod, irretrievably.

Like most of the fishing episodes in Ruin this is loosely based upon my own experiences. My wife and I were floating a black-dark Peten Jungle river and the rod did indeed go overboard. But it was our teen-age guide who jumped in and tried to recover it. Alas this was not fiction and he could not.

For his book Frank is rigged as a paleolithic Stone Age fisher with no hook or barb. It is a device he heard of from someone at the Anamorphosis Flyfishing Club.

Back to the reality behind Ruin: I saw this fishing method work in a remote reach of Eastern Bhutan. The simple reality was as good as fiction might make it. We were trekking with a local crew through a rhododendron forest on a Himalayan slope. At streamside lunch I set up my traveling fly rod for a try. The whole crew except the cook excitedly followed, since as Tantric Buddhists they were not allowed to fish. My gear was a mess from days of travel, and I am slow to rig under best conditions.

While I was fiddling, a very short thin man appeared on the opposite bank of our big pool, carrying a twenty-foot sapling from which hung a rope with a rock tied at its end. A foot up from the rock a six-inch loop was tied, at the joinder of which was a bright red berry or bead. My guys said, “Boss don’t talk. He’s bad.” What he looked like to me was an indigenous tribesman, so not a Buddhist. The guys said, “Boss hurry. Show him.” My technology aficionados.

But within the five minutes of my further fumbling the little cave man grunted and levered a gleaming bronze five-pound carp over his head. With never a look to us he bonked it dead and walked back over the ridge toward dinner.

“Boss!” My fans were close to tears. I put on a weighted black leech and cast relentlessly. Finally, success … another big carp.  But it was foul-hooked behind its dorsal fin.  I did not explain the sporting nicety.

The guys were suddenly ecstatic. We drove on in the top-down old Land Rover. And each time we passed someone, a member of the crew held up and waggled my trophy, singing loudly. I slumped down low in the passenger seat, realizing I actually was wearing a safari jacket (for the pockets, just for the pockets). Dinner was fish stew which the guys could eat because just some foreign devil had caught and killed it.