Fishing: The harsh lessons of a no-bite day

Annalisa Barbieri on fishing

THIS IS a story that ends with no fish, I warn you now. At the end of that sad fishing day, my fishing partner said: "You can't write about catching nothing." I disagree. Sometimes days that end with an empty bag are just as instructive as bulging bag days, although they can make you quite depressed.

We started at Hanningfield reservoir but, because it was a horrid day with a grey sky spitting rain, I decided not to get into a boat even though I could see four fishermen well into fish. I fancied something easier, and I wanted to fish from the bank (which you can also do from Hanningfield if you so wish), so we headed for Chigboro Fisheries in Maldon, Essex. We started on Home Water - one of four lakes - where a day ticket costs pounds 15. I began with a Viva, and cast with intent. Nothing. I reckoned on the fish being quite far down because it was so cold, although this was rather academic as I had a floating line on anyway - hence there was a finite depth I could get my fly down to - and I could not be figged to change it.

This is where I fail quite dismally and wonder if I am a proper fisherman at all as I see others constantly changing rod/line/fly etc., but I'm all rather slow motion. Especially when it's cold and I am particularly lethargic, just like the fish. Nevertheless, I fished my Viva with a great concentration, hoping for some slight vibration to reach my index finger. But nothing. I tried various line-retreating methods: loch-style, slow twitch figure of eight, quick twitch FoE, twitch and wait, and various bastardisations of these. Absolutely nothing happened. I changed to a Gold Head Pheasant Tail nymph, after having raided the picnic box in a desperate bid to keep my pecker up because by this point I was quite depressed. Not catching anything brings out all sorts of insecurities.

By lunch time I had had 17 coffee breaks, all of them involving confectionery. So I felt quite sick and even more lethargic. The only thing keeping me from jumping in was that - as far as I could see - no one else had caught anything either, certainly not my fishing partner who can usually catch fish when others can't. I borrowed his rod, which was set up with a sinking line and droppers, then tried fishing with a Booby, which was great fun. I can see why Boobys are banned on certain waters, they are very tempting as they wiggle their way through the water with their big seductive foam eyes. But these fish weren't interested in tarty lures. Boobys, as the name suggests, are not the subtlest of baits.

Not catching fish isn't the end of the world, but not even having a bite, or a glorious miss that gives you thought-fodder for hours after, is just dismal. After a couple of hours of zero success rate I must confess I got damn bored. It's different when the weather is kind but a no-bite day, coupled with crap weather, is just too miserable for me. The highlight of the day was seeing this monster black and white fish moving slowly through the water and scaring the living daylights out of me. I'm convinced it was a carp, my companion said it was a diseased fish with fungi. Whatever, it was enough to make me break down my rod and head for home. Fishless.

Once home, I e-mailed two fishermen friends with far more experience than I and asked them why it is that sometimes fish just don't bite (the bastards). Philip Parkinson of Sportfish (a former fisheries scientist) said he thought it was usually "the onset of a change in the weather. There is no doubt that fish respond to impending weather changes (changes in barometric pressure). Some fish are more fickle in their reaction to changes in barometric pressure than others and I suspect that natural fish are more affected than recently stocked trout." His when-all-else- fails tip? "Go and do something else for the day." I like him. Ally Gowans, who recently caught and put back a 33lb salmon (the bastard) was even more pragmatic. "If anybody else is catching find out what they are doing and do the same, if nobody is catching find out what they are doing and do something different. If you are on your own keep changing tactics until you get the hits. Then store the experience for the future."

So, what I should have done was taken my floating line off after an hour and put on, at the very least, an intermediate one, instead of being a lazy old girl. Also, as I've always thought but Mr Parkinson confirmed, it's important to remember that, if it's not happening on the fish front, it's much better to pack up and do something else rather than get apoplectic, which is not at all the type of behaviour one should associate with fishing.

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