COVID-19 restrictions and treatment for cancer may have forced Don Wilson to spend time away from his beloved fishing rods, but that didn't stop him from throwing out a line in another way.
He went fishing in his memories as he sat writing at the kitchen table.
"It was simply that I was doing nothing," explained the 86-year-old from Anna Bay. "I thought 'I'll start writing stories'. And one thing led to another."
What all that reminiscing and writing have led to is a book, titled Long Tails or Just Short Tall-Tales, with Mr Wilson diving into more than eight decades of him and his family fishing and prawning in the Hunter region.
Don Wilson's love of fishing began when he was a boy, on the "high bank" of the Hunter River at Hexham. The Wilson family had a rustic weekender on the bank. His father, who had worked as a prawner on the river as a teenager, had bought "The Shed" during the Great Depression in the early 1930s.
A feed was never far away from "The Shed". The family could sit out the back and drop a line straight into the water. Or they could take the old wooden skiff that had come with the building and row up and down the river.
Not that they were alone, with a string of boat hire businesses along the Hunter.
"You'd see 30 or 40 boats anchored and fishing," recalled Mr Wilson.
As the family photos in the book show, the fish were not just plentiful but often large. Don Wilson said the largest he hooked in the river was a mulloway weighing about 45lb (20kg), but his uncle, a keen fisherman who would row down Ironbark Creek from Wallsend, recounted how he had caught one that was 106lb (48kg).
"It was incredible compared with now," Mr Wilson said.
As Don Wilson has noted in the book, so much has changed. Siltation and pollution affected the health of the river and what was caught, he said. The author recalled from his childhood catching "very tasty" mullet, but the fish became inedible.
"We gave up as they tasted of oil, napthalene and tar and became contaminated with heavy metals," he wrote.
Don Wilson believes the river's health has improved but is still affected by runoff and industrial discharges. And the fishing, which he still loves, remains "pretty good".
Long Tails ... is Don Wilson's second book, his first being, Driven Out, about life on the Hunter River islands.
The new book is not just about the Wilsons' love of fishing, but its production has been a family affair as well. The author's granddaughter, Estelle Leishman, was the book's cover designer and artist, and his niece, Adele Beckett, was the editor. Mrs Beckett said she hoped her uncle's book would open more eyes to the past, and to the beauty of the river.
"People stereotype the Hunter River as something nasty and dirty, when it's just as beautiful as any other river in the world and has its own history and sociology," Adele Beckett said.
As for the stories of big catches, Don Wilson assured they were not tall tales, or fishy, so to speak: "They're authentic."
Read more: Memories, and transformation, of Ash Island
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