Thursday, June 15, 2006

On fishing

You probably won't be surprised to learn that I'm a little bit ambivalent about fishing as a sport.

I first went fishing when I was eleven. Up to that time I'd lived in Tilbury in Essex. I've heard Essex described as the armpit of England. Well, Tilbury is the arsehole of Essex. When my father died in April that year my mother as always couldn't cope on her own. We fled up to her sister who lived on a farm in East Lothian with her husband, the cattleman. This change of scene was quite a culture shock for me. I was used to being in a gang and roaming the streets at night and roller skating and playing cricket in the street and falling asleep to the sound of the ships' horns down in the nearby docks where my father had worked.

The country was something strange and a little bit frightening. Living on a farm was lonely. I took to going for walks down to the river in the evenings. One night I saw fish rising, made myself a rod out of a piece of willow and, eventually caught my first small trout on a worm. It wasn't just the fish that was hooked.

I fished seriously until I went up to University seven years later. I joined the school angling club, learned to tie my own flies, became a very proficient fly fisherman. I only ever fished for wild trout and everyting big enough I killed and took home for the pot or gave to neighbours. I wasn't really fishing for sport, it was much more primitive than that. The fact that it got me out of the house and away from my mother and my aunt was a bonus. I fished the River Tyne in East Lothian and it's hard to picture a more beautiful setting.

Where I have a problem is the idea of fishing as a sport. My unease is simple. Who told the fish that they were playing in a lethal game? How can they win? Against me they can't. Flyfishing is the only thing I do at which I'm truly expert.

To assuage my conscience I now only fish for two weeks a year. In the Spring for trout and in the autumn for salmon. Once I've caught enough for the pot I stop. In the autumn that's one salmon.

I wouldn't deny though that fishing is exciting, addictive, bloodthirsty and deeply satisfying.

And yes, sometimes they do get away. Not often though.


  1. Your childhood sounds like a cornucopia of novel ideas - written any down?

  2. Well now, Minx, you are a perceptive old thing indeed. I'll treat you with a little more respect in future. My next novel is all about my childhood and the working title is "Mummy's Boy".

    Hm. I guess clever people like you can read me like a book. Which I suppose is the point, really.

  3. The 'cattleman' sounds interesting, conjured allsorts!!

  4. Hi Minx

    The cattleman? Er, okay. Maybe they do things differently down there in the deep south. Up here, during the sixties, it meant the guy who looked after the cattle.

    I was a kid remember, I didn't question these things too closely. I dunno, you think his relationship was more than platonic? Er, well, it's hard to see. He was a pretty hard-bitten kind of guy. I don't think he loved anyone, animal, vegetable or mineral. Don't get me wrong, he wasn't evil or bad. Just a hard guy, that's all.

    On the other hand, I don't know what the cattle thought about him. Perhaps they adored him. These things happen. As I'm sure you know only too well.



  5. It's true that you feel a bit bloodthirsty as your nymph drops above the pool you've selected and slowly slides downstream, and there is grief when a lovely creature dies, but not really that much. The grief is nothing compared to the electrifying strike, and a proud creature's fight to live. The only answer I ever found is to let them go, all of them. All except the ones you know no one will ever believe. But maybe those are the ones we should never kill.

    It's gotten too complicated. Now I just sit by the river and watch. It works for me. But then, I'm totally hooked.

  6. Bass dismissed.