Fishing: Paranoia sets in as fish dry up

Annalisa Barbieri on fishing

GLORY. LAST week I fished the dry fly for the first time this year. Needless to say I got over-excited, so excited that I had to be told to calm down on the river bank because I was shaking so much (with the excitement) that I could not tie my fly on properly. It was still mayfly season on the Coln in Gloucestershire and this is where I was, courtesy of Mr Bill Cotton, whose bit of river I was fishing.

We were also accompanied by my friend Charlotte, one of Mr Cotton's daughters who - and I can scarcely believe this - had never fished before despite her father having this top bit of river. Mr C was secretly very pleased that, at last, his daughter was in wellies with rod in hand - and not just any old rod either, he had loaned her his Sage. Whilst I was faffing about, taking deep breaths and releasing my sinkant and floatant from the depths of my fishing vest pockets, where they had seen out the winter, Charlotte played her first fish in. (For several hours she pretended she had hooked him herself, only breaking around tea time when she confessed that it had, indeed, been her father's fish, although she did go on to hook and land her very own first fish.)

Despite being told that Grey Wulffs are very popular flies for this river, I insisted on choosing my own patterns: first a Detached Mayfly, then a Green Drakey thing. Despite this being mayfly season (those of you who read my column two weeks ago will know this means that the fish eat like pigs and are relatively easy to catch), few fish were rising. I fished on, presenting my dry fly quite beautifully with my beloved 9ft Shakespeare travel rod. But I did not even raise a fish. My fishing buddy Pete, meanwhile, cast to a rising fish that was in an almost impossible spot to reach, yet, on the first cast, Pete hooked him. At this point, a deep paranoia started to set in, and a certain jealousy. I know I am quite good - splendid in fact - at fishing the dry fly, yet I was having no results. "Bob caught 18 fish here last week," Mr C helpfully told me. I started to think about how many fish I had actually caught this year and whether I was really any good at all.

At about 1.30pm, mindful that Mrs C had promised us a picnic at 2pm, I decided to stop fishing and watch the others. I netted a few brownies for Pete, obsessively wetting and cooling my hand before touching them and then cradling them back in the water until they were ready to swim off. Sadly, one was too deeply hooked to be released and had to be killed. He is now in the freezer.

At one point, and being a bit of a show-off, Pete decided to cast to a bit of water in front of a rock. "I'll bet there's a fish there," said Pete. Sure enough there was, it took and I asked to play him in. This is where it all went a bit wrong, in the exchange of rods the trout dived into some weed mid-river and got stuck. Luckily, Mr C stepped in, divesting himself of shoes, socks and trousers to wade out and free the poor chap and see him on his way.

Then the picnic arrived, as did the first appearance of storm clouds. The latter initially eclipsed, however, by the more attractive presence of potato salad, sausages, Pimms, water melon and an exceedingly good and meaty home-made pork pie. As luck would have it, everything was safely eaten by the time the rain started falling. This also explained why the fish hadn't been very active (only four had been caught before lunch, not a huge number at this time of year) - barometric changes can stop them feeding. The rain fell heavily for the next two hours. At about tea time we saw a B52 bomber heading for Kosovo out of nearby Fairford. It was a sobering moment.

Fishing resumed at 6pm. I nicked some Grey Wulffs and another pattern whose name no one knew (we called them "pretty mayflies"), alternated between the two and, over the next two hours, hooked and landed six gloriously beautiful brown trout. They were all between one and a half and two pounds. I nearly stopped at the five mark, because I was getting repetitive casting injuries and my right hand was frozen into a claw-like rod holding position. But I fished on nonetheless, playing my fish in firmly and swiftly, essential if you are to return them, which I did, safely and lovingly before calling it a day at 8pm with a cheese and tomato sandwich.

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