The following was first written in September 2016 when I was challenged to write a piece including the words: Float, Wisp and Scatter. I have had a more recent fishing experience this week.
Several times throughout my life I have been persuaded that fishing, or angling to give a more precise definition of the sport, is the most popular pastime in Britain. Aficionados claim it is the most relaxing of all sports. Now, correct me if I’m wrong but my idea of sport is the pursuit of some form of activity that actually involves expending more energy than having a cup of tea or climbing the stairs to visit the loo. Something that actually gets you slightly out of puff. Even a sport like archery involves strengthening arm and shoulder muscles and a regular walk back and forth to the target to collect the arrows, but fishing…well. It involves sitting, fiddling with some nylon line and hooks and then…more sitting.
The argument is that it is a mental tussle between man, the hunter, against the living creature being hunted. However, I don’t really put it on a par with say bullfighting in terms of the adrenalin rush it might produce.
My first experience of fishing was sitting (that word again) on the bank of the Leeds/Liverpool canal with a friend who was an angling enthusiast. It was more of an educational experience for me: a tutorial in which I learned about types of rod (steel, carbon, bamboo etc), reels, different breaking strengths of line (I could never understand why you didn’t just use the toughest line – but apparently that’s not sporting) and flies and floats and lots of other paraphernalia, which was a far cry from the time when I was a small boy with a net, trying to catch sticklebacks.
On that day, hours passed with no sign of any fish, although one did rise to the surface, seemingly to see what I was doing as I sat there with my eyes glued to the float, as I was instructed, to see if there had been a bite. I swear the fish in question (my friend reckoned it was a gudgeon) shook its head in despair at my feeble efforts before sinking below the surface again.
I should also point out that this so-called relaxing sport does not confine itself to enjoying the sunny outdoors on balmy summer days. Not at all. The best times to catch fish are apparently on dull, preferably rainy days, and just before dawn breaks, since this is when the fish are ready for breakfast. Naturally, this requires the relevant all weather kit of clothing and a large umbrella or a small tent-like shelter for the even hardier, making this sport one of the more expensive for the serious minded. Speaking of serious mindedness, it occurred to me that this pursuit was something more than merely dipping a line into water and hoping that some poor unsuspecting, hungry fish would plant its mouth over your No. 10 hook (oh yes, I forgot – lots of different graduations for these too). I realised that it bordered on meditation and had serious connections with the teachings of Zen Buddhism. Generally, it is a solitary pursuit, since two or more anglers together might create conversation, and any sound that might scare off the intended prey is taboo. In these circumstances, contemplation of the meaning of life (if not the purpose of fishing) must be paramount.
Hours of isolation on a remote riverbank or beside a lonely lake clearly denies any access to a corner shop or cafe for a snack or other sustenance, and it therefore requires drinks and nourishments to be taken along to the selected spot for the day. Some will merely rely on the sustaining power of cigarettes to keep them going, and sad is the sight of an angler, forlornly looking at the water, peppered with raindrops, which thrum against his umbrella, as a silent wisp of smoke drifts from beneath his shelter, like the sad end to a doused fire. And I have to question whether this person is really happy. But a lot of our happiness comes from personal achievement, and I suppose in the case of angling that comes from catching a prize fish after hours of stalking and luring and then struggling with, especially when it comes to deep sea fishing and catching massive marlin, tuna or even sharks. Now, I would concede that that is a sport. However, back to the riverbank, or canal as it was in my brief experience.
Just now I referred to luring the fish. This is done in a number of ways, using attachments to the line to attract the fish. Fly fishing is a prime example in which brightly coloured lures, many made by fishermen themselves, are meant to look like particular types of fly or gnat or other insect. A further attraction for the wily fish is to distribute ground bait on the surface of the water in order to bring them closer to your hook. To my mind, a scatter of meal on the water is nothing more than an offering of a free lunch to the fish and as good as telling them that this is hook-free food.
Most times, even when a fish has been caught, bizarrely it is put back into the water, in order that it can grow and be caught another day. For all the arguments given as to the benefits and enjoyment of this sport, I am afraid I am not persuaded and the only fish that I shall be pursuing is the battered variety from my local chip shop.
Last Monday I was invited along with writing colleagues to visit a local trout farm, where one of our group members offered to catch some trout and prepare the same for our lunch in an oak chip ‘smoker’. Thankfully, our only requirement on what was a drizzly morning was to stay inside a hut and await lunch, and draw inspiration from the calm surroundings to write something. This I managed in the form of haikus. Oh, and the trout was delicious.
Willow trees close-dipped
Where raindrops dapple water
Sway in shy embrace
Casting lines caress
The gently rippled surface
Innocent fly floating
Hang beneath a cold, grey sky
Oak smoked pyre awaits