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Fourteen-year-old fisherman makes a splash in Eastern Province

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Nathan Barris has been selected to fish for Eastern Province, making him the first special-needs person ever to make a provincial deep-sea fishing side in South Africa.

The 14-year-old Barris, who has Down Syndrome and is in Grade 7 at a Montessori school in Gqeberha, is also the first third-generation provincial angler in the Eastern Province.

Many years ago, his paternal grandfather captained South Africa in deep-sea fishing. “I also represented South Africa,” says Barris’s father, Colin. “My dad and I won national colours. My son is the next generation to follow suit. It’s a lovely story.”

Barris’ paternal grandfather started fishing as a young kid. “The bug bit him,” says Colin. “It has gone from generation to generation. It’s been a good road.”

After developing a passion for angling while fishing with his dad, Colin went on to fish at the 2017 World Championship Big Game Fishing tournament in Mexico, before being selected as one of the top three anglers in South Africa to compete in the 28th edition, hosted by KwaZulu-Natal two years later.

Barris and Colin go deep-sea fishing almost every weekend, weather depending. They fish as the Port Elizabeth Deep Sea Angling Club.

“Over the past few years, Nathan has been excelling at the club, winning some of the competitions and doing very well,” says his dad. “When they start looking for who can represent the province, you make a CV of what you have caught and on what line classes you caught them on. You can identify skills from there.”

The CV belonging to Barris includes five Eastern Province junior records for fishing. “He caught five different species of fish,” says his dad. “In the junior records, no one has caught fish the size he has. He has caught many species. The yellowtail was a record. It’s one of the better fishes ever caught.”

That’s saying something, especially in an angler’s paradise such as South Africa. The country borders two oceans, the Indian and Atlantic, increasing anglers’ chances of hooking monster offshore species. In addition, we have numerous bays and coral reefs spanning the almost 3 000km coast, many mountain streams boasting trophy-sized trout, and a range of rivers and reservoirs that are stocked full of prize fish.

While Gqeberha’s consistently mild climate means fishing in the province is usually fruitful, Barris has something else going for him – he could fish before he could walk.

“He started fishing as soon as he sort of held a rod,” says his dad. “The first time he went on a boat, he was six weeks old. He would come on the boat in nappies when we used to go fishing.”

This year, Barris is looking forward to competing in a national event at St Francis Bay, just over an hour’s drive from Gqeberha. “He also has a special-needs fishing competition in Durban,” says his father. “It is a development thing we are doing through the South African Deep Sea Angling Association. It’s about awareness of special needs. This whole thing was inspired by Nathan.”

Movies are made about accomplishments comparable to what Barris has achieved, says his dad. “He’s a kid with Down Syndrome who is competing against typical people his own age, in no special category, and he’s excelling.”

Barris’s condition limits him in one or two ways, says his father. “It just takes longer for him to, for example, tie his knots on a rod and cut the bait. However, as for the actual angling and the fighting of the fish, he competes. He does better than most kids his age. He’s dedicated. He’s passionate.”

Barris has inspired a lot of people, his dad says. “He’s the advert. This stuff is going viral in South Africa. It’s a huge accomplishment. You know, when kids are born, you worry if they can talk and walk. Then they accomplish things like this. I just can’t express how powerful this is. It’s emotional. It’s absolutely fantastic.”

Asked what Barris would like to achieve in fishing, his father says, “Basically, he wants to do what his dad has done. I think he would like to do the best he can, and go as far as he can in angling. We would love to see him represent South Africa one day.”

Gary Klein, the seasoned professional angler who co-founded Major League Fishing, has some wise words for anglers like Barris. “The best advice I can give is to remain focused, have a good time, and most importantly, always listen to what the fish and conditions are telling you,” the Northern California-born Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inductee said in 2015.

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