On the base level fishing is a waste of time. Let’s face it, sitting about in the cold waiting for a chub that may or may not appear, is a very odd thing to do. It is not as if we need to catch it for food. Indeed, we are only going to weigh it, maybe take a picture, then put it back.
There is no discernable reason for it. In fact many of our lives may well be enriched if we did not go fishing every Sunday or Wednesday night or whenever the Mrs allows us. We could do so much more: we could invent a hydrogen powered car, write a book or change the world in a positive way. But no, we sit about playing with feeder rigs and boilies, only to put back all the fish we catch; it’s almost as pointless as golf!
So there must be some other reason. I reckon we do it not just for enjoyment but for something more fundamental. It satisfies a deep ingrained hunting instinct: ‘Me man, me hunt’. It’s basically the caveman in us who is to blame – the swine!
But I also believe that fishing is a great parody for life itself, that it can teach us all valuable life lessons; without actually having to get a proper life in the first place, all we have to do is learn to listen.
So, and without further preamble, here are six life lessons that fishing has taught me personally:
A few years back, just before Christmas, I decided to head down to the top bit of Throop fisheries for some pike fishing. I had spent most of the evening before tying traces, getting things sorted and completely ignoring my girlfriend while she watched TV.
The next day, after I had dropped off a rather grumpy young lady back home, I headed down to the river full of excitement and optimism. She had spent most of the journey complaining she was coming down with a cold. Good job I’m not spending the day with you then, I thought.
I dropped my kit off and went for a wander and, arriving in a likely swim, decided to have a closer look. I placed one foot on the slope leading to the swim and lifted the other and in one smooth and dramatic motion my only grounded foot slipped, I lost balance and there was a sickening moment where I realized that both my feet were above my head. I landed horribly on my shoulders and completely winded myself.
Dazed and embarrassed, I rolled over onto my front to try and get up and as I got to my hands and knees my feet slipped again and before I knew it I fell face first into the mud. I was covered.
I went on to blank and spent most of the day sheltering under my umbrella, only to get home and realize I was coming down with something horrid. The next week was spent in bed suffering badly from one of the worst colds of my life.
Life lesson: Never annoy your other half; she will get you back in the end.
It was a perfect evening on my syndicate lake in a hidden valley in Surrey. Not only had I already caught a 23lb carp off the top I had also had my first decent grass carp of around double figures.
I got back to the car feeling relaxed and looking forward to having a curry but as I packed up my gear in the car I noticed that my back left hand tyre was flat.
Now usually I would spit blood at this, generally over-react and start kicking things. However, this night I was in a good mood and I actually thought it was quite funny!
So out came the spare, the socket set and the jack and I proceeded to try and jack the car up – whistling a happy tune as I did so. It was then that something funny started happening…
Every time I jacked the car up a little it would rise then slowly but surely lower itself down again. Thinking my jack was broken I looked closely at it only to realise that on the soft earth the jack was gradually sinking further and further into the grass.
“Bother!” I said showing great restraint to tell this story without swearing.
There was some harder ground a little further up the road so I reasoned that I could drive the car up there and change the flat on the gravel. The plan was good bar one thing; the car could not pull itself with the back tyre flat, at least not on the soft ground. The front tyres spun up mud which sprayed everywhere and my car remained firmly stuck; in fact it was even more stuck then before!
In the end I had to walk into the village, ring my dad, then my boss and eventually, after nearly two hours of being stuck, I got the car out and the tyre changed. To this day I remember quite how good that curry tasted, despite the fact it was over cooked and by then slightly cold.
This goes to show:
Life Lesson: Just because things are going well doesn’t mean they will stay that way.
It was March and I arrived at Longham free stretch on the Dorset Stour in a hurry; it was one of the last weekends of the season and I NEEDED a good swim. I practically ran down to the bramble bush, desperate to get it, and I did – Phew! I set up, quickly began to spray maggots and was soon trotting away happily.
After 30 minutes or so, I realised something was amiss. It was time to relax a while; I stopped trotting, poured a cup of tea and rolled a fag. However, when I went to light my cigarette disaster struck! My only lighter, the most important thing to smoker, failed with a faint ping sound. Not only did it fail but it broke completely – bits flew off into the unknown and there was no way in the world I could fix it.
I was now left in a conundrum: did I leave the swim and risk losing it to another angler? Did I continue to fish without nicotine? Did I leave my gear, thus reserving the swim, run to the petrol station but risk some chav nicking my kit?
I was stuck.
It was with heavy heart that I decided the lowest risk option was to pack up and go to the petrol station; the other two choices were not even worth considering.
As I trudged towards the high bank I bumped into young Rob. “You had enough already?” He asked.
I explained my predicament and how disappointed I was and how these things always seem to happen to me and that I may not even come back because it had all gone to pants.
“Do you want this?” he said, and in his hand was a little yellow thing. “It’s a lighter, I just found it lying on the ground and it works too, I don’t smoke so you can have it if you want?”
There have been very few occasions in my life where I have considered kissing a bloke – this was not one of them – but I was very grateful. He had saved my day and before I knew it I was trotting for those monster chub once again, puffing away more then usual in celebration.
Life Lesson: Sometimes when all hope is lost things have a funny way of sorting themselves out.
The carp in Rushmoor Lakes in Surrey got quite a bit of my attention mainly due to their closeness to my house – and the fact my boss owned the place Unfortunately I soon got bored of catching them on carp tackle so I decided to set myself a challenge of trying to catch one on the fly.
I had heard of this being done and it looked like a lot of fun, so armed with a little fly outfit and some mayfly imitations I headed back down the lake determined to nab one.
Now I must say right now I am not the best caster of a fly line. In fact, at that time I had never even tried it in anger. But nonetheless I gave it a go and soon found some fish under an overhanging bush on the near bank. I tried side casting to the fish which mainly involved lots of arm waving and a big swishing sound and the fly landed perfectly – the line, however, was wrapped around about five branches and was badly tangled.
So, after a short tug of war I re-tied a tippet and away I went again. Needless to say pretty much the same thing happened, except this time the tug of war spooked the fish.
After the next re-tackle I walked about ten yards down the bank and found some more carp, this time by the reeds. Again I attempted to re-cast but this time I felt as though I knew what I was doing and the fly soared though the air in a perfect arch.
Before too long a pair of lips came up and went for the fly – this was it! If I timed it correctly then I would have done it. Time seemed to come to a stop, the lips opened, the fly disappeared and I struck hard…
There was a huge swirl, the fly line tightened and I started to smile – then everything came back at me and I watched, still in slow motion, as the fly line, fly and tippet sailed past me, flicking around and came level with the bank on my right. The problem was that being level with the bank to my right meant that it was hung up in the self same hawthorn bush.
Life Lesson: One well placed bush can mean you undo your flies many times.
I used to fish another pretty little stretch of the River Wey around Elstead Mill, a very nice pub restaurant. It was deep and slow and full of wonderful hard-fighting river carp and chub. It was also were the local farm grazed its summer bullocks, these frisky fellows needed penning in and there were fences of various descriptions surrounding the river banks.
This one particular day I had decided to treat myself to a pint or two of Ye Old Hairy Chest real ale before fishing and arrived mid afternoon feeling fuzzy and more then happy with myself. I settled in the sweeping bend where I had been successful before and I chilled out completely. The sun was warm, the bees buzzed, birds sang and generally things were peaceful and relaxing.
I dozed in my chair for about an hour, confident that any carp would scream off and wake me up. After nearly falling asleep three or four more times, I decided to stand up and try to wake up a little. It was then I realised the ale had worked its way through my system and I had one of those little silvery feelings. I stood up, turned around and without looking started that most natural of things.
Out of nowhere it felt like someone had punched me, very hard, in my watsits! The pain shot up my….. well…. watsit and then hit the rest of me about mid chest. I fell backwards, gasping for breath, I would have screamed if I could have managed to draw breath. What in God’s name had just happened?
I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked around desperately and there hidden amongst the balsam was an innocuous looking wire, I followed the wire with my eyes to its inevitable end and there, sitting in the corner of the field, was a battery and a red sign saying WARNING ELECTRIC FENCE!
Life Lesson: Be prepared for a sudden and horrible shock, they can happen at any time.
There are so many examples of this last lesson it has been very difficult to pick just one. I would go so far as to say this is the lesson which fishing teaches me the most and I will endeavour to give an example by going back to Throop.
Tucked away down the bottom of Beat 2 are some superb swims, the kind of swims one dreams of: clear gravel, big chub, huge barbel, clouds of minnows and dace with white flecked Ranunculus swaying back and forth.
It is so clear it is possible to sight fish and this day I was doing just that; lying face down hanging just over the edge of the steep bank watching a big barbel twitch her whiskers. Then out of nowhere I noticed a kingfisher fly toward me only to dart into the bank then fly away very quickly. This happened a couple more times, so I adjusted my position to get a little closer.
I could see an entrance to a tunnel only three foot from where I was and staying low I waited. Sure enough the kingfisher came back, with a bleak in its beak, and it hovered at the entrance to the tunnel from out of which two chicks appeared. She stuffed the bleak into a waiting gob and flew off to land on a branch on the opposite bank.
Next time it was a minnow, wolfed down again by the hungry chicks. Time and again the tireless pair feed their young with a procession of small fish and I watched this for over an hour spellbound so much so that I nearly forgot about the barbel under my feet.
As the evening drew in and the swallows transformed into bats, the sunset was a beautiful fiery red explosion lighting up the surface of the river with colours that even Turner’s pallet could not replicate. I sat in total awe of the majesty of the world, listening to the male nightingale scaling his notes.
There have been countless evenings where my emotions are plucked like this, and the same message is heard every time:
Life Lesson: Those who take time to open their eyes and actually see, will be rewarded time and time again, over and over.
I have learnt a lot over my years of fishing. Not just things like how to tie a hair rig, or where the best barbel swims are on Throop. Fishing has had a profound effect on my life and, I think, made me the better for it. The patience, the companionship and the beauty of it all have all changed me on a fundamental level. It has altered my outlook and opened my eyes to wonder – even if I seem to spend a fortune on bait.
When people say to me: “Why go fishing? I just don’t understand!” I just smile. If only they knew, if only they knew.