It's a pursuit that's the most addictive real-life puzzle, writes Clarke Gayford.

If it were to have a medical warning, professionals might advise that an obsession with fishing can strike at any age. Once contracted, there is little anyone can do to ease symptoms, which are often pronounced through full and new moon cycles. Sufferers note affected sleep, moods and strained relationships. The condition is easily observed in others through an accoutrement of accessories, and at times a slight odour on the skin.

New Zealanders are particularly susceptible, in part due to the fact that we have the ninth largest coastline in the world, more even than China.

On March 12, 1986 a 10-year-old skinny rural kid from Gisborne already knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. "Fishing" it would seem, had struck early. Hardly surprising, considering his dad had exposed him at such a young age. "When I grow up I want to be commercial fisherman, have a radio and a depth sounder," his pencil printed text clearly spelled out, already familiar with the necessary accessories required to become a proper fishing professional. Little did he know then that eventually fishing would find him, albeit in circumstances he could never have dreamed of back in room 3 of Makauri Primary school in Gisborne.


Fast forward to 2018 and while scrolling Twitter recently, I stumbled on this innocuous tweet drifting the binary.

"There are NZ male emotions that can't be realised on TV in any format other than fishing shows" — Ali Ikram.

At face value, it perfectly surmises fishing's innate ability to extract emotion-like blood from granite-like fishermen. However, I suspect the writer had no idea he had actually cracked a door on a much larger cavern of feelings, generated by the whole-body connection people have to it, and not just blokes either.

Because fishing isn't a hobby. Fishing isn't even a job. It's much more important than that.

For immediate proof of this, try joining any online fishing forum and boldly suggest that a PR-knot is far superior to the FG. Or perhaps have a go stating how unfair it is that commercial fishers can take tiny baby snapper at 25cm, and sit back and watch the fireworks.

Although this would be a natural point in the article to remonstrate our aqua-animalia-adoration by verbosely slobbering through several paragraphs of clumsy prose on "callings", "soul-passion", "lineage" and "intrinsic Kiwi way of life", instead, I want to tell you about Canada.

It is a fascinating place when it comes to fisheries, owing in part to the two distinct systems running on different coasts, one creating a control for the other.

Academics and scientists have started to use this to better understand the social implications of fishing. When quota systems were introduced to coastal villages in the 1980s these invariably trickled up to larger boats in distant ports, causing the loss of small boat fishing fleets everywhere. Many of these communities were born out of their fisheries; fishing wasn't something they did for a job, it was woven into their DNA. Fathers passed generations of acquired knowledge to sons, sons aspired to own their own boats, and so on it went for hundreds of years, until suddenly it didn't.

So it was perhaps unsurprising to learn that with the loss of access to fishing, suicide rates in these towns increased. This of itself might not be attributable, but then an interesting thing happened. One coast in Canada went through reform that returned small-boat fishing fleets to regions, reconnecting families to the ocean. Once again suicide rates fell as the way of life returned, and people got back their sense of purpose.

Fishing is the most addictive real-life puzzle you could ever hope to be afflicted with. It's a constant state of problem solving with more variables than a 1000-square chessboard.

Even having the grandest of acquired fishing "knowledge" will only get you to a place where it's possible to glimpse into a void of just how much you do not know.

Be it for recreational, commercial or customary, the condition of "fishing" doesn't just get under your skin, it becomes your skin. A life pursuit that pursues you for a wholeness of life, if you should be so lucky.

Clarke Gayford hosts FISH OF THE DAY, returning to Three in 2019.