Fishing Lines: Family men pay a high price for harmony

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AS YOU read this, my friend Vic is hurrying his battered Cortina down the M5, inspired by the prospect of huge shoals just waiting to be caught in south Devon. In a few days' time, I'm hoping he'll return laden with sea trout and mullet, and happy to reward the person who tipped him off.

On the other hand, he will probably not even see a fish, let alone catch one, and he'll curse me roundly for a fruitless 400-mile drive, proving again the accuracy of Walton's Laws. One day I'll write a series of articles on all 10, but for the moment we're just concerned with No 7: 'Piscator wille be assured of espyeing plenteous fishe of grate immensityes, as longe as he carrie nothings thate canne catche them.'

Anglers with families learn very quickly that there are two ways to pack a holiday car. The first is to pile in all your tackle, put the suitcase on a roof-rack and tell the children that there is no room for toys, buckets and spades. This is the correct approach if you intend to spend a fortnight fishing and leave your wife to entertain the children (without the car, because you need that to get to the water). However, it is not recommended for peaceful co-existence, and even the excuse that you are supplying the family with fresh food wears a little thin after the 10th meal of mackerel.

The alternative is to pretend that you don't have any tackle; that you would much rather spend your valuable holidays being buried in sand, seeing endless National Trust gardens or touring the bouncy castles of Cornwall. It's easy to spot anglers who have opted for this less fractious course. They spend their time looking over bridges, peering into harbours and asking other fishermen how they are getting on.

For the sake of marital harmony, I recently chose Option Two for an extended weekend in Devon. But wouldn't you know it? The children wanted to catch crabs. So we had to buy a couple of handlines (me grumbling at the price), and headed for a picturesque village on the Dart estuary.

'I'll bet you're happy cos you're fishing, Dad,' said Fleur. If she had been older than five her innocent remark might have prompted a less than gentle retort. Catching shore crabs with bits of bacon as bait is not my idea of an angling challenge. But what's this? A swirl under the surface that certainly wasn't a crab.

Watching carefully, I saw the tell-tale shape of a large grey mullet. Looking out I noticed more mullet cruising the surface. But there were also silvery fish leaping from the water. As the tide rose over a concrete path blocking the river entrance, there were small sea-trout splashing everywhere on their journey upriver. There were probably a few salmon too. Fly tackle, or even a kiddies' rod with a tub of maggots, would surely have caught them. I could even have tempted a few mullet (though they are among the hardest fish to catch). But what did I have? A crab-line and three strips of bacon. Even the dumbest sea- trout wasn't going to be fooled by that, even if I could have got the line from the kids.

We didn't go back there, I couldn't stand the sight of all these fish and no way to catch them. And if I went back with a rod now, it would merely confirm Walton's Law No 8. But that's another story.