Basil hill spins a yarn as well and as often as any other fisherman and after forty years in the sport his repertoire is extensive.
But there's a striking difference about the fishing stories that Hill tells because they are invariably about the ones that didn't get away.
For a land-locked country, Rhodesia produced, proportionately, a phenomenal number of successful deep sea anglers. But the king of them all is undoubtedly Basil Hill, who modestly maintains that luck has played a big part in his angling career.
An often-repeated anecdote about Hill is, that if a bucket of rain-water was left in First Street, Hill could put a line into it and pull out a fish.
In fairness to Hill, his 'luck' is more often than not the result of intelligent use of his extensive knowledge of the fish he is after. Completely dedicated to the sport, a lot of Hill's time has been spent in studying the habits of various species and in charting the vagaries of coastlines and shorelines.
The reward for Hill's dedication is nine African game-fish records, five of which still stand. One of his records, for garfish, was eclipsed by his son Robert, twenty-two years later.
His greatest achievements were two records for black marlin and a record tarpon caught in Angola. In his own mind, his finest moment was on 5 November 1971 when he was fishing off Bazaruto on the Mozambique coast and landed a black marlin of 860 lb. — the biggest of the species to be caught in African waters.
It was a unique catch in more ways than one, for Basil never actually hooked the 11 ft. 6 in. monster. Line was wrapped around its tail and the fish drowned through water entering its gills as it was dragged backwards during a fifty-five- minute struggle. The fish gave Hill his second record involving black marlin.
Bazaruto was also the setting for the first record. On 23 October 1967, Hill hooked another black marlin, while the bait, a live bonito, was being let out. Using 50-lb. line, Hill fought the fish for an hour and twenty-five minutes, during which the marlin jumped twenty-nine times — an extraordinary performance.
It tipped the scales at 431 lb. which was a new record for Africa on 50-lb. line and tackle. The previous record had stood at 308 lb.
Another momentous struggle for Hill was in the International Tarpon Tournament at Angola in December 1971. On the last day of the five-day competition, one of the Angolan anglers hooked the first tarpon to be caught — an 80-pounder from the Cuanza river.
With only one and a half hours left in the competition, the Rhodesian team, headed by Hill and encouraged by the success of the Angolan, struck it rich. They had begun fishing at the point where the first tarpon was caught and at 1.30 p.m., with the competition due to finish at three o'clock, Hill felt a series of gentle tugs on his line and struck.
The tarpon is a massive freshwater fish, which, Hill says, pound for pound, gives as good a fight as the black marlin. Hill eventually boated the fish four miles downstream after a tussle lasting two hours and forty minutes.
The fish was a beauty. Seven and a half feet long, it weighed 205 lb. which gave Basil another Africa record. He had used only 30-lb. line and this catch was testimony to his skill as an angler as during the fight to boat the fish, the vessel had broken down six times and sprung a leak. So Hill had triumphed in the most trying conditions. The previous tarpon record had been 161 lb.
Hill's fishing career began as a child. His father had a great interest in the sport and this rubbed off on young Basil, who clearly remembers catching a 51-lb. sand- shark when he was eight years old.
Hill was born on 26 April 1934 at Bethlehem in the Orange Free State but spent most of his youth at Durban where he went to Durban Technical School. After leaving school he went to work with a Durban sports-goods company (in their angling department, of course, because by that time he was well and truly 'hooked' on fishing).
He first represented Natal in 1951 and between 1950 and 1956, fishing for six hours on one Saturday afternoon a month in competitions, he landed an estimated 86 000 lb. of fish from the surf along the coast and the Durban South Pier.
He moved to Rhodesia in 1956 and three years later started his own fishing- tackle business, the Fisherman's Corner, in Salisbury. The same year he was chosen to captain national fishing teams in both the freshwater and deep sea fields.
Such was his skill that he became an automatic choice for national teams from 1959 onwards. During his career, Hill fished in internationals against South Africa, America, New Zealand, Switzerland, Brazil, Mozambique, Britain and Angola. He has also fished virtually every square inch of Southern and Central African coastal waters.
But Hill's achievements have not been confined to deep sea angling and he can claim to have founded the annual Tigerfish Tournament at Kariba, which has in the past attracted international competition. He rates the tigerfish as being the equal, pound for pound, of some of the deep sea game-fish. His freshwater records include a 53 lb. 12 oz. carp taken in Mazoe dam in August 1965 on 12-lb. line, a 10-lb. tigerfish taken on 2-lb. line and a 54-lb. vundu on 4-lb. line at Kariba which took more than two hours to land.
He started the Ultra Light Tackle Club in 1960. Under Hill, this team won the Tiger fish Tournament at Kariba six times and still holds the record for the most tiger fish caught — 107 in a single tournament.
Hill says fishing has been his life and certainly there is no doubt that he has done a great deal to promote the sport. With his family also taking a great interest in fishing, Hill was primarily responsible for getting Rhodesian juniors and women to participate at international level.
He has held a variety of administrative posts and since 1977 has been the chairman of the National Anglers' Union with which are registered 87 clubs representing 17 000 paid-up members. A former chairman of the Central Africa Deep Sea Angling Association, he has been on the committee for thirteen years.
National colours for deep sea fishing came his way in 1959 and he was also awarded colours for freshwater fishing in 1973, the first year colours were awarded for this sport.
Sharks provided one of his favourite fields in fishing and Hill estimates that he caught 42 of these creatures from the Durban South Pier, each weighing in at between 200 and 1 020 lb. Another of his Africa records is for a white pointer shark off Durban's South Pier in June 1958, when he landed an 810-lb. monster on an 80-lb. line. It took him three hours and ten minutes to beach the shark using a wooden Scarborough reel.
Hill's Africa game-fishing records are: tarpon, black marlin (two), yellowfin tunny, caranx (kingfish), white pointer shark, hammerhead shark, queenfish, bonefish and garfish (subsequently broken by Robert Hill).
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