This “tongue-in-cheek” article looks at one of the hidden dangers of fishing near rivers in New Zealand.
It was late on a hot summer’s day in mid-February. The ground was still shimmering from the oppressive day time heat and everything was limply hanging out for the respite that would come with dusk. We were dressed in tee shirts and shorts but it made little difference. There was no escaping the heat radiating out from every riverside pebble and boulder. It wrapped us in a smothering blanket that made movement difficult.
Those of you familiar with fashion trends from the 1970’s would remember the fashion crime that was “Stubbies”. Shorts so short, that they struggled to contain even a modest package and clung to the buttocks in a most immodest way. Ivan quite liked Stubbies and was wearing his favourite pair whereas I, the painfully shy teenager, was wearing shorts that were still in two minds as to whether they were shorts or longs and had a hemline which covered the knees.
The sun was falling steadily towards the top of the ranges as we left the car and headed off along the riverbank to our favourite pool on the Manawatu River. Headed off in my case, but charged off in Ivan’s. Whenever he got to the river the pattern was eerily similar. He tackled up with indecent haste and was off at brisk trot before I’d had time to catch my breath. Let’s be honest, it was more of a gallop than a brisk trot as his aim was always to reach the prime lie first.
I was in my early teens at the time and life was one long daydream. Whereas Ivan was single minded in purpose I was drinking in the scenery and idly wondering about the composition of my next meal, even though we’d just eaten dinner. You can imagine the angst this caused with someone who was focussed and in a hurry to be somewhere.
He was 50 metres ahead of me before I knew it striding ahead purposefully. I dawdled along still trying to come to terms with the sudden size of my feet, which now coincidentally occupied size 11 gumboots. Somehow I managed to keep in touch with him and not lag further behind.
Suddenly he came to a halt and impatiently called to me to hurry up. He’d reached an electric fence that was strung hip high across the riverbank path and was kindly waiting for me to arrive. I then realised that he had placed his foot on it and was holding it hard against the ground with the tip of his left gumboot.
I sped up and stumbled my way to him which took a minute or two. He made some comment about how long it had taken me to get to him which simply went in one ear and straight out the other. I stepped over the fence and took a few steps past him to safety.
What happened next will live with me forever. He put his right foot over the wire and straddled the electric fence like a wishbone. The wire seeing its opportunity wiggled out from under his left toe and sprung upwards with incredible venom. It screamed past his calf and knee in a half a blink and before Ivan knew it the wire had wedged itself between his upper thigh and his left jewel aided, in no small part, by the cut of his Stubbies. Its progress halted the wire then began to play patter tennis with his left jewel and thigh as it vibrated from side to side.
I swear Ivan jumped two feet off the ground and executed the most perfect mid-air side roll that I’d ever seen. An Olympic judge would have raised a card with a 10 on it, of that I am sure.
Thankfully he hit the ground on my side of the fence and started to writhe about in agony clutching the front of his Stubbies. I asked him if he was OK and gathered, by the fact that one eye was rotating clockwise and the other anti-clockwise, that he was still too pre-occupied to discuss his predicament.
Fortunately five minutes later he was back on his feet and had regained a modicum of normal composure. I asked him if he still wanted to go fishing and he nodded his agreement and mumbled sure so I set off towards the river at a steady clip. For some reason he was slow to set off after me and when he did his gait was more like that of a ruptured duck than his normal jaunty self.
I cannot remember how many fish we caught or how we negotiated the electric fence on the way home in the dark but from then on Ivan always got twitchy when he saw an electric fence and his hand inevitably strayed into his pocket to see if he was carrying a handkerchief.