Fishing Lines: Time off and bad behaviour

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The Independent Online
A FRIEND, who had better remain nameless, came to me last week with a problem that every angler dreads. Having told his office and family that he was calling on clients, he sloped off for a quiet day's fishing. It's a manoeuvre he has got away with several times in the past. I've often been his alibi, should wife or boss check on his movements. 'Sorry, but you've just missed him. No, he didn't say where he was going next . . . '

But this time it misfired. He spent the day on an idyllic lake famed for its huge but difficultto-catch carp. Only on this occasion, they weren't. He hooked out not just one of the lake's 20-pounders, but three of them, including a 35lb specimen that is reckoned to be the largest in the water.

Trouble is, he can't tell anyone, because he was supposed to be at work - and it's driving him crazy. He wants the acclaim of landing the lake's fabled monster, but he daren't reveal his success, by any standards a remarkable one, to the angling press. Of course, there's a rough justice in being unable to grab the glory for catching a fish that you should not have been fishing for in the first place. But it highlights the difficulty of skiving off to go fishing.

In my very first job, as a junior reporter, I had taken an unscheduled afternoon off to take advantage of the fact that the Thames barbel were feeding well. All was wonderful, until I glanced up to see the editor in the distance, walking towards me. It could have been the end of my career - except that he was holding hands with our attractive blonde reporter. It was a relationship they had conducted secretly until that moment.

I crouched over my rod and stared at my float. He passed by and pretended not to notice me. Next day in the office, nothing was said. If he reprimanded me for sitting on the riverbank when I should have been collecting the names of mourners at a funeral, I would have revealed his clandestine romance. But examples of such serendipity are rare. The road to deception is strewn with problems. If you enjoy sea or game fishing, it's natural to keep your catch after a successful day. But how do you explain returning home with a 10lb cod or a brace of trout, when you are supposed to have spent the day in a board meeting? You can only use the 'someone at the office went fishing and caught so much that they gave me a couple' excuse once.

The aftermath of fishing is difficult to conceal. It's not just the fish: you can wash slime off your hands, prise tell-tale groundbait from under your nails and chuck those leftover maggots into the river. But the sun shining on the water will tan your face and hands in a way that eight hours in front of a PC will never do, while there is an indefinable smell - a mixture of wild thyme, ripe blackberries and healthy air - that nobody who is supposed to have spent the day in an air-conditioned office can easily explain away.

All this presupposes that no disaster befalls you during the day. Simple things like a spillage of maggots in the boot are easy to sort out. But how do you explain away falling in the river, a car covered in mud or a parking ticket from Rutland Water when you get home?

Even if I've covered my tracks perfectly, with a cast-iron excuse to cover my absence from the office all day, my wife always seems to know I've been fishing. 'You come back looking far too contented to have spent the day at work,' she accuses. But it is hard to explain the siren call of water to a non-angler.

Preparation is the key for a covert day's angling. It's easy to pretend incipient illness to work-mates. You drink water in the pub at lunchtime, ignore the comely new barmaid and leave half your lunch. But deceiving a mistrustful wife, especially a home-based one, is another matter. Bait, boats and day-tickets need to be paid for in cash and in advance. Many an angler has been undone by a careless cheque stub or credit card slip. Beware of receipts that arrive days later, and never pose for photos of your catch. Even a half-empty petrol tank can be difficult to explain away, especially if your wife suspects you've been conducting an extramarital affair.

Some wives would be happier to find the answer was another woman, rather than a fish. So if your unscheduled day-out looks certain to be discovered, you may actually be better off marking your shirt with a trace of garish lipstick, or dabbing a few spots of cheap perfume on your trousers, rather than returning with trout scales under your fingernails.