Rob Wright's Fiji Times columns were published as a book in 1969. Hook, Line and Sinker was published by the Fiji Times press, but my dog-eared copy does not have a title page, and I don't know if it is still in print. I thought it was well worth giving you a taste of it though, and if you can get your hands on a library copy it makes fascinating reading.
Following the channel through the turgid water, he swam slowly upstream savouring the water every now and again to make sure that he was getting nearer to the source. The flavour became stronger, and he now was picking up small pieces of food, beautiful stuff which he rolled round in his mouth before passing it on to his gullet. Finally he came to the source. It came from the river bank where the food was funnelled into the stream from a gutter. He lay at the bottom picking up the scraps as they filtered slowly down, then, surfeited and sleepy, he swam off in search of a hole and a doze.
As he swam, small schools of damu (red snapper) eyed him suspiciously, for this was their territory which they shared with the qitawa (tiger fish) and saqa (crevally). Nearer to the surface, small ogo (barracuda) eyed him with distaste. Witless big brute, they thought. On the sides of the muddy banks, kuka crabs gazed apprehensively at him as he poked his nose into anything which looked like a hole, and here and there a qari (mangrove crab) raised its claws defensively as he hove in sight. And so it was that Horace came to make his home in the river.
In the days that followed, Horance began to set a pattern of day-to-day living which, in the years to follow, rarely varied. Most of the time he spent beneath the bank where the food came into the stream. Occasionally it would gush in as watery red wine. On other occasions it would be thrown in as great chunks. He shared much of it with the damu, qitawa and ogo who, after his long residence, had come to tolerate him.
The only ones he couldn't get on with were the cheeky small sharks which came in from the sea, full of their own importance and bad manners, and snatched and grabbed at everything.
While they milled about lunging at one another, he would lie quietly on the bottom and get the food as it sank down to him, as he knew it would. But the sharks did not stay long. They were too temperamental to stay in the river. They had to get out into the ocean and get the mud out of their gills.
Once in a while, Horace would add to the now familiar menu. He would leave shreds of food stuck in his teeth, then sink to the bottom, open his mouth and lay still. It was quite effortless to remain like this - even for hours on end. Qari, with their keen sense of smell, would soon be attracted to the food, and they would poke round his teeth cleaning it all up. When they were through, he merely closed his mouth on them.
Once in a while Horace would get the itch. This he knew was caused by sea lice, so he'd swim out of the mouth of the river and beyond to the harbour and the nearest coral head. Here he'd find the blue-striped wrasse, a tiny fish barely three inches long, which was adept at picking the lice from his body.
In the many years Horace spent in the river, he came to know that there were other things besides fish in the world. He had the wits scared out of him on a number of occasions when long shapes would zoom overhead, creating a terrific din of staccato noises with long trails of white foam.
On other occasions he would see scintillating shapes following in the wake of these creatures, but having sampled one - a peculiar device which pricked him when he closed his lips on it, he decided it wasn't a good source of food. Then one day he saw a shape which had no noise at all. It glided silently on the surface of the water with such ease that he rose to have a clear look. In a flash, a searing pain ripped through his body and his back was twisted with the force of a tremendous blow. He dived frantically for the deeper part of the river, straining desperately to free. himself from the thing which stuck in his back. Only by rubbing it against the bank was he able to do this, and for days afterwards, he lay in his hole to recover his strength. Horace getting old, and the once sleek form of the cod was now bulging with fat.
One evening at dusk, Horace moved out to get his meal only to find the pesky young sharks back again, gorging on everything they could pick up. They annoyed him intensely, but he'd show them. When the next morsel came into the water he shot upwards to interpose his bulk between the food and the sharks, and smirked slightly as his mouth closed over the food. Simultaneously Horace knew he had erred. He felt a terrific weight on his jaw and knew he was being pulled to the surface. He mustered the muscles which had lain dormant for so long, and with a gigantic thrust, surged towards the bottom. For a time held his own, but relentlessly the pressure increased until, for the first and last lime in his life, Horaces' head appeared above water. It was the end.
Fred Dukuram and his two companions looked at the great bulk which lay on the concrete slab of the Suva abattoir on the bank of the Tamavua River.
"I bin know that fish for two year," he commented, "when I see him I no telling anyone. I know one day I must catch him. Two, three times I see him and nearly get him. My boss say ‘him no big fish-only shark’. But I know. On Friday when I look in the river I know he's there. I put a big piece of tripe on a big hook with a strong line and throw in the river and the cod take him."
Horace had put up a game fight but was unequal to three muscular men and their companions who joined in the tug-of-war. When his massive body was placed on a scale it tipped the beam at 396 pounds, gutted. His gut, which contained qari and other morsels, would have weighed at least 25 pounds so his fighting weight would have been about 420 pounds. His back bore evidence of a deep wound which had healed. What was his age? Who knows? Ten, twenty, thirty years? When groper of this type make themselves a home, they stay in it for years.
[This species of fish is known variously as the giant sea bass, jewfish, cod, groper and, in Fijian, kavu. Its scientific name is Promicrops lanceolatus. They have been known to attain a weight
of 1,000 lb and a length of twelve feet. Horace was over seven feet long.]
This 450 lb grouper was caught in Florida