Fishing Lines: Best time to cast me a line

MOST OF the mail I receive from readers makes me wonder whether I am writing for Fortean Times rather than a great British newspaper. Recent correspondence has included photographs of a dog holding a salmon in its mouth; another with a reader standing proudly by the Jaws model in Universal Studios; yet another of a tench with two tails. And they're only the photographs. Then there are the letters.

I don't mind the ones that tell of fishing adventures in exotic places. (Many of these, in fact, come from non-anglers.) I enjoy the ones where people berate me for talking a load of tosh. (At least it shows someone out there is reading my golden words.) It's flattering when readers ask me technical angling questions. (I usually don't know the answer, but it's easy to phone up the appropriate expert, then pass the opinion off as my own.)

But there are also the other letters. I am sent deeply complicated lunar charts showing the best time for sea-trout fishing in west-flowing rivers.

One reader detailed all the mentions of fish and fishing in the Bible; an eight-man match group in Somerset sent in a sponsorship request with the promise that their team would be called Taunton Independent Match, or somesuch (get a life, lads).

Then there are the veggies who insist I should eat lettuce rather than fish, and that by writing this column I am depleting our natural resources; the man from Nigeria who was a keen fisherman and wondered if I could put him up for a few months while he came to England to continue his studies. PS: Could you send pounds 1,000 for my air ticket?

There are several columns in these and similar correspondence. But they are all readers, so I reply politely to every one, even the total fruitcakes who write in capital letters and coloured pens.

Thank goodness for a sensible letter like that from Douglas Maclean of Edinburgh, who has written to various angling luminaries as well as myself, trying to solve some of the mysteries of fishing and life.

His questions were deceptively simple:

l What is the best time to go fishing?

l The best place?

l The best bait or fly?

l The best fish?

It seemed a serious project, so instead of delivering a series of off- the-cuff, glib answers, I thought carefully. And this is what I wrote...

"The best time to go fishing is when you need to. I have fished in perfect conditions and places, and my heart hasn't been in it. At other times, when the top of your head is about to blow off, the only remedy is to find water and angle in it. Whether it flows like the Spey or trundles like the Grand Union Canal doesn't matter a jot. Nor does it matter if you are casting a fly on coral shallows for bonefish; trolling for marlin on a boat that costs more than you will earn in the next 20 years, dangling a maggot after gudgeon in the village pond or shivering on an east coast beach in January. The main thing, the whole thing really, is being there."

I'm not sure this is what he wanted. In fact, I suspect my reply will be about as much use as a chocolate hand-warmer. But I really don't have a favourite fish or place or fly. I used to think the best time to go fishing was at least an hour before dawn broke, working on some cockeyed theory that the fish weren't quite so alert first thing in the morning. Now I think the best time is probably any time after a decent breakfast.

The other morning I chatted to the milkman as he delivered his early pintas. "Gets harder to get up this early, doesn't it?" I remarked. "I used to do it all the time when I went fishing."

"But you didn't have to do it," he said.

Ah, but I did. And I still do.

Next week's column, technology permitting, should come to you from Florida. A week's pure fishing. The siren call, you see. Just days of black bass fishing... and no lunatic letters.#