Angling: Glorious failure

Fishing Lines
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Catching fish is an interesting but relatively inconsequential part of angling. It generally requires little skill, it makes your hands smell and it impresses nobody except like-minded simpletons. A far greater talent is the ability to contrive convincing excuses for why you have spent all day by the waterside and caught nothing.

Old hands can gauge a fisher's experience simply by his excuses. Newcomers will blame the weather; those with a few years' exposure put failure down to more technical factors like the thermocline. Good excuses, possibly even true, but scarcely the stuff of legend. Real experts, however, can weave a veritable Narnia out of a few unsuccessful hours on the canal.

Next weekend I have the privilege of speaking to a select group of such luminaries - a unique society dedicated to celebrating failure. Members of the Old Blankonians all have one thing in common: they are highly accomplished at failure.

It is one of those rare occasions for which I feel eminently equipped. I have not only qualified for their highest grade of failure, the Tweed Class, which recognises those who fish a prime beat of an expensive salmon river and return with an empty creel. I have also (according to the secretary, John Bennett) proved so inept that a special elite category has been named after me.

The Elliott class is indeed an exclusive honour and one that few will achieve, though many may aspire to it. Only those who embark on an expensive trip to distant waters legendary for the size and quantity of their fish are even in with a chance. Typical examples? Parts of Alaska where the salmon are counted on calculators, the mahseer rivers of Nepal and perhaps those bits of the Amazon where a big fish feeds just by opening its mouth and swimming forwards.

We're talking locations that anglers dream about. To fail in such a situation seems unthinkable. Yet it is possible. I know. I have failed to catch mahseer on a tributary of the Brahmaputra which had never seen an angler; I spent three weeks in the Ecuador rainforest and didn't tempt a single arapaima; I even angled for a week on the Great Barrier Reef in prime black marlin time and, well, you can work out the rest.

I suppose it's a talent. Not a terribly useful one, but a talent none the less. I took a fishing rod to the Maldives on honeymoon. The area is an angler's paradise. Huge splashes like someone throwing a cow out of an aeroplane are all around you as the boat takes you to your holiday island. Two days later (it was my honeymoon, after all) I was after those unseen monsters. Suddenly the rod jerked and the reel screamed. It was like hooking an underwater Ferrari. The line raced off the reel, and continued to do so . . . 100, 200, 300 yards. I could see the bare spool and the fish wasn't stopping. It kept going. The rod bent further round - and the line snapped. I had lost the lot.

I hadn't thought to bring any extra line, and the only shop on the island just sold sarongs, T-shirts and postcards. A spool of 50lb line? I had more chance of seeing snow. My fishing trip had lasted about 10 minutes, and for the rest of the holiday, I had to do the boring things that honeymooners do.

The story behind that Ecuador adventure is even better - but you'll have to be an Old Blankonian to hear it.