The Seven Ages of Anglers
Andy Scholey looks to the bard to describe the long journey through our angling lives.
All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Apart from making great fishing tackle old Shakespeare knew a thing or two about life. In his play As You Like It he writes of a person’s lifespan being a play in seven acts and it occurred to me that as anglers we pass through various stages as we grow older and, perhaps, wiser.
The first age of an angler is usually being taken fishing as a youth by your dad or a relative. If you’re lucky you won’t catch anything first time out so’s not to think it’s too easy; but you’ll enjoy the riverbank, the plants, animals, birds and insects and watch in awe as your companions reel in some fish from the mysterious element in front of you.
Almost certainly, you will want to go again for you have been hooked by the enchantment of fishing: the mystery, the challenge, the joy, the satisfaction, the camaraderie, the wildlife, the peace and the solitude all in one sport.
The second age is usually when you are a teenager; without responsibility, with loads of time on your hands. You fish three or four times a week through your spotty years, anywhere you can, in all weathers, all waters for all types of fish. You think nothing of walking two or three miles loaded with your tackle to get to a good swim. It takes ages for you to walk past a river, pond or lake, and even longer if there’s someone fishing.
You become proficient; you learn the knots that are to be your lifelong friend; you acquire the basic equipment, money is tight and you can’t afford everything you want but Christmas and birthdays become much easier for your family. If you’re wise, you soak up all manner of advice from older more experienced anglers. You make friendships that will last a lifetime.
In the third age you discover match fishing. You are at the peak of your powers, and the competitive element serves to hone your skills. You can hit a lightning-fast roach bite at forty yards; concentrate for hours on the tip of your feeder rod and strike at tiny touches; you can tie minuscule hooks to incredibly thin line and fix tiny shot. You seem to have the ability to conjure bites from nowhere.
However, this can be a dangerous time; a young man’s thoughts naturally turn to feelings of romance, as Shakespeare suggests ‘Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad’. Only the strong willed progress beyond this stage.
By the time the fourth age befalls, there is a risk that you have started to become quite scathing of older anglers, scoff at their floats with 2 inches of scarlet quill showing, fishing half a rod length out. In fact, some become scornful about every other angler on the bank. They start to believe in the superiority of their own, and their friends’, methods and tackle and this dangerous arrogance can lead them down false avenues.
With luck, most anglers come through this phase without long-term harm. The warm humour of angling buddies, with a touch of well-meant sarcasm teaches you not to take yourself too seriously; a lesson that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.
As your trousers become tighter you enter the fifth age, you are searching for more out of life. You may look to specialise; many anglers don’t get beyond this point; they become carp anglers, destined to sit for all eternity (which is a very long time – especially towards the end!) waiting for a leviathan that may or may not come. Others become specimen hunters, armed to the teeth with secret baits and methods; they join groups of similar minded souls and share information about special venues. This activity requires that you might grow a beard or take up smoking a pipe.
The sixth age shifts into one where nostalgia looms large, you long to fish how you did in your youth. You acquire old rods and reels at great expense and convince yourself that they have more ‘soul’ and ‘sensitivity’ than the modern tackle. You eschew fashionable baits and return to fishing with bread and worm. If we’re getting all poetic, ‘Look not mournfully into the past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the Present’; bear in mind it’s hard to be nostalgic when you can’t remember anything!
In the final age you are limited to only going fishing when someone else takes you. You have to use large hooks and shot because, as Shakespeare puts it, ‘with spectacles on nose’ your eyes are not what they used to be. Your scarlet quills project 2 inches out of the water just so you can see the bites. You miss more bites than you hit. You venture out less frequently, and certainly not in inclement weather. The number of individuals prepared to take you fishing diminishes as you bore them to death about how good fishing was in ‘your’ day.
Eventually you enjoy thinking, reading and watching TV about fishing more than actually going. The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don't change at all.
So, as Will wrote in the Merchant of Venice ‘With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come’.