Fishing lines: A world of excuses

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The Independent Online
MY FRIEND Jack once broke three Irish sea-fish records in a day. You won't see his name in any record books, though. And he's got a very good explanation why he is not recognised as an angling icon for his achievement.

He was fishing a few miles off Cork and in less than an hour he had hauled up a big dogfish, a whopping bass and an unusual ray. Each was so spectacularly large that he weighed them on the spot. Goodness knows how many more records he may have gone on to catch, but suddenly he noticed that the boat seemed lower in the water. The Irish skipper told Jack he was imagining things, but when he opened the cabin, it was full of water.

The reason - and they say things like that happen only in Ireland - was that the skipper had been carrying out maintenance and had forgotten to replace one of the engines when he put the boat back in the water that morning. While the boat was chugging along, things weren't too bad but once it anchored, the sea started to sneak aboard. It sounds very funny, but Jack said it was terrifying. He thought he was going to die. The skipper found one very old flare, which fortunately worked. They were rescued just in time, and watched the boat glub beneath the waves a few minutes later. The record fish, of course, went down with the ship. When you are going to die, your catch, however impressive, is not one of the three things you take with you.

Non-anglers often assume that the greatest skill in fishing is being able to catch fish. But it requires a far greater talent to concoct plausible excuses for why you have failed. I have been able to blame a pig that ate all my bait, a tree hit by lightning that fell into the river right in front of me and being caught in the middle of a foxhunt. Once I tried to catch trout from a lake that, unbeknown to me, had been seriously polluted only 30 minutes earlier. Fish were dying in front of me.

The serious angler prepares his excuses well in advance. For me, this has been a serious consideration because this week I'm off for my 50th- birthday treat: three days of salmon fishing on a prime stretch of the Tay near Perth. It's the sort of place where total duffers fill their creels. All my friends have been saying: "You lucky dog!" and demanding a chunk of salmon.

It's no good telling non-anglers that fishing's great attraction is its sheer uncertainty. They assume I shall be up to my waders in salmon, never mind the fact that it was snowing in Aberfeldy last time I checked. Fortunately an impeccable excuse appeared this week.

The North West Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St John's, Nova Scotia, has revealed spring salmon numbers have declined sharply because of global warming. "Sea temperatures in the northern part of their habitat have been getting colder but in the south, they have been getting warmer. So the area the salmon can inhabit is collapsing on itself," said Dave Reddin, a scientist. To protect the fish, the Atlantic Salmon Trust is urging anglers to return any salmon caught.

Can't argue with science, can you? At least, that was going to be my line until yesterday. Then Caz Graham of BBC Radio Scotland spoilt it all. She wanted me to appear on her morning programme to talk about a Tay angler, who hadn't caught anything until something wet whacked him on his head. It was a 9lb salmon that had actually leapt into the boat. "I'm told this is quite common," Caz said.

Well, that's put paid to my global warming excuse. How could I claim that global forces accounted for my lack of fish when the damn things are jumping into the boat?