Growing up with an identical twin is like having an exact replica of yourself. The same fire that burned in my belly to go fishing as a young man, burnt a hole in his too.
Mark and I spent our youth from four years old, fishing with our great uncle Willy on the Pondoland coast, locally known as the Wild Coast on the eastern seaboard of South Africa. Our fishing mentors were both older local Xhosa speaking Mpondo men, Kanditole and Juluka. These men instilled a deep sense of respect and love for the ocean in us, be that fish, crustaceans or shells. When our mentors took us out fishing during the school holidays, we learnt about tides, moon phases, crayfish, octopus, fish species, where to fish for them and more importantly, about only taking enough to sustain yourself for the day.
This love of wild places and fishing implanted in me an unquenchable thirst to explore the aquatic environment. It channeled my tertiary education into a fisheries science diploma in Nature Conservation. That was the ultimate dream - fishing and conserving fish as a job? Yes please!
This sheer passion I had was only getting bigger. I became a registered fish tagger through the ORI (Oceanographic Research Institute), of which I contributed many hundreds of tagged and released fish over many years. At the same time whilst Mark and I were fishing in a very remote part of South Africa doing conservation research (with our beleaguered wives in tow), I took my trout rod to the beach and caught my first marine fish on fly. I remember looking at Mark and saying “this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life” and since then, I have made it my life’s work.
Fishing has led me to the far corners of the world, such as the isolated remote islands in the Seychelles where we, as South African guides, set up the conservation protocols of the existing fishery. The Seychelles are regarded today as the premiere saltwater fly-fishing destination worldwide, thanks mainly to those early pioneers exploring and developing the outer islands with strict fishing conservation ethics.
Tanzania, Maldives, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Congo, Gabon, Uganda and Israel are just some countries I have guided and fished. This increased my reputation in the fishing community, and led me into the realm of television. Whether I was appearing on local shows or international shows, I was always committed to getting my underlying message across to the viewers. If fishing has given me and millions of other people so much pleasure in our lives, then surely “every fish deserves to be caught more than once” and by using good handling techniques, the fish need not suffer too much capture trauma. I suppose one could equate that to a human going to the dentist and getting a tooth removed, and then just a few days later we are feeding again!
I must share my newest passion with you: freediving. This is the next frontier to observe fish in their own environment. Freediving is just a big gulp of air and a relaxed descent into the fishes’ world without the noise of scuba or man-made aids. Quietly, weightlessly, drifting in the aquatic space, watching fish and the aquatic environment interact with each other. For me, it is the next step to understanding and immersing yourself into a fishes realm. Once we see how beautiful this world is, surely we will try harder to conserve it, right?
Fishing has been the driving force in my life. It has taken me to the ends of the earth, and places I could only dream of. Wherever I have landed, I have always vowed to impart a sense of appreciation and respect for fish, from cowrie shells all the way up to whales.
The most important thing to remember is that we all have a place on this amazing planet called earth – always an ironic name for a place that is 70% water.
Fishing for Giants is on Thursday at 8pm on Nat Geo WILD.