Memories Of A Lion Fish

Dr Mike Finnley

We all have to live with regret. A terrible by-product of memory is nostalgia. Just like the dressing of a Christmas tree past, memories only seem to become pertinent with age.

My Grandfather’s great passion was fly fishing.

He made for myself and my cousin a fishing-rod each. I can almost recall each of the ‘eyelets’ beautifully bound to a cane rod. Sadly, I abused mine while my cousin learned to successfully use his.

His main hobby was the keeping of tropical fish. When I was around five or six years of age I remember visiting a shop with him. Dark but bright. Aquariums lit with florescent tubes and filled with coral and fish of all colours. The gentle hum of the air pumps and bubbles were somehow soporific.

One of his suppliers (in the mid-nineteen-eighties) had to close. Knowing my Grandfather, he offered him not only two large tanks (I can’t recall the exact dimensions but at least four feet width and made from nearly half-inch glass!) but also a young ‘Lion Fish’.  The ‘spines’ of which are poisonous to Humans.

(I’m not sure of the breed, but it looked very much like the Wikipedia photo shown. A ‘Red Lion fish’.)

He kept this Lion fish in one of those tanks for nearly five years, a feat that the original seller couldn’t quite believe. I remember watching him feed it with raw liver on the end of a stick. It would just ‘hover’ with its toxic spines waving gracefully in the water. When it sensed food they would ‘collapse’ or ‘fold’ and it would become as nimble as a shark. Amazingly quick with all those spines.

Initially, when it was small, he kept other varieties of tropical fish in the same tank. The trouble was that as it grew in size it would kill and feed on those fish. Eventually it was the only fish in the tank!

The Lion fish died in the early 1990s. My Grandfather ‘cremated’ it warning us all that the spines were toxic even in death. Usually he’d just throw dead fish on his compost heap – not so good for the local cats in this case. A slight irony in a cat being poisoned by a Lion fish!

I wish I’d have paid more attention to that fish. A beautiful creature.

I also wish that I still had that fishing-rod and had learned to use it.

(c) Dr Mike Finnley