Fishing Lines: Coarse or course? There's only one winner

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The Independent Online
THE SUPERB American writer John Gierach has an admirable philosophy for dealing with life. He advises: "The solution to any problem - work, money, love, whatever - is to go fishing, and the worse the problem, the longer the trip should be." Trouble is, this is a perfect recipe for leaving you penniless, homeless and friendless (unless you count other anglers, which generally means you're in a worse state than even you thought).

Attributing a Zen-like magic to the pursuit of fish is not just slightly dodgy, it can be downright dangerous. In wilder moments, I claim that angling is my escape valve, though I tend to put this into more flowery terms. If I'm brutally honest, fishing has often been my personal albatross, an affliction that has cost me everything from fame and fortune to the best-looking girl at Harlow College. Without the distraction of rod, water and fish, I could have been, perhaps, Moscow correspondent, or a commentator on Russian affairs. At very least, I would have passed Russian O level.

Such musings have been inspired, if that's the right word, by the fact that Wednesday is the official start to the coarse fishing season. Though the days when I always fished on 16 June, come what may, have long gone, the date is still recorded in my diary each year - if only for old times' sake. I will slow as I drive past the local gravel pits on the way to work, envying those on the banks, but I won't slope off any more. No longer do I live by the premise that it's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Bit sad, that. But there was a time...

It was another 16 June. Venue: Boveney, a quiet stretch of the Thames between Maidenhead and Windsor. I had already spent all night trying to catch tench on a nearby lake. At dawn, I moved to the Thames, my first love, for a few hours before going home, getting a bit of sleep and heading off to school for the Russian exam. At least, that was the plan.

That day, 16 June is traditionally the sort when the weather makes the lead in daily newspapers. You know the thing: torrential rain, storm-force winds, hailstones the size of horses. But this time the sun shone, the bees buzzed and the fish fed. My friend Jim and I were at peace with the world.

It was Jim who disturbed this idyll. "I thought you had Russian this afternoon," he said casually. I glanced at my watch. Bloody hell! Where had the time gone? More to the point, the exam started in five minutes. This was not the time to enter a philosophical discussion on the nature of time warps in relation to water. I grabbed my tackle, tied the rods to my bike and pedalled frantically off to school. Wouldn't you know it? That demonic chain, which had been sweetness itself all week, chose this moment to reassert its evil nature, coming off three times. It was an eight-mile ride anyway. Encumbered with tackle, it took me 50 minutes.

And so I skidded into Slough Grammar, 45 minutes late, clad in an old trilby, a fish-smelling parka and waders. The rods had become detached from the string holding them to the crossbar, so the bike now resembled a hedgehog with wheels. I dumped it in the playground, left my nets and tackle alongside, and clumped into the exam room. My hands covered in chain grease, the odour of fish mixing with honest sweat, I muttered: "Sorry I'm a bit late, sir," to the aghast master, and grabbed the exam paper.

The story became a school legend. Suitably embellished, I'm sure the Russian master dined out on it for years. As well as my breathless arrival, and the sniggers of the rest of the examinees, he no doubt remembered the state of my woefully short paper, which looked as if it had been used by a forensic department practising fingerprinting.

John Gierach's advice would not have served me well in handling the inevitable ramifications. Or maybe what he advises is precisely what I should have done. Certainly, imagining the sound of one fin flapping would have made my encounter with the headmaster a little more comfortable.