Freeze keeps anglers in a cold sweat

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Looking through some old fishing diaries, I discovered that in January 35 years ago, I fished for 62 hours and caught... nothing. I know it's true because in those days I was a diligent archivist and every detail was meticulously recorded: weather, hours fished, exact location, bait or fly used, number and type of fish caught, their total weight and even the individual weights of everything over 4oz.

For some reason, it appears I was compelled to fill at least half a page on every trip, even if it was sneaking off school to the little pond behind the Pineapple pub. With good trips it was easy to ramble on for at least two pages, but that fateful January it was obvious that even 15 lines was ambitious. I recorded things like: "Bicycle chain only came off twice," and "Eleven boats came along the river today." But there wasn't a single fish.

Not much has changed. I'd like to think I'm a bit better than those days when I only had one rod and it got used for everything. But catching fish in January hasn't got any easier. I've made two trips so far, and so far - zilch. This is often the very worst month for anglers. The lakes around here are so frozen that local hooligans have become wildly frustrated by their failure to break through despite heaving rocks, bricks and huge branches on to the ice. It's the teenage equivalent of an unbreakable toy.

Head for running water when still waters are iced over, the books say. But even rivers like the Kennet aren't much fun when it's below freezing and the wind's come all the way from the Arctic to see you. Fish are cold- blooded. That means their temperature drops as the water gets colder. This makes them torpid. They don't use as much energy so they don't need as much food. So you don't catch them.

Sea fish are less affected by sudden cold snaps because it takes a bit more than a chilly night to change the sea temperature. This is a good time to catch whiting and cod. But while the fish may not feel the cold much, fishermen do. Only the certifiable go beach-fishing in such weather, especially at night, when cod and whiting seem to feed better. Piers are even more exposed and going out in a boat adds the dubious pleasure of being seasick. Bloody January.

A couple of UK fishery owners have talked about all-weather lakes which are totally enclosed, a bit like an American football stadium where you can take the roof off when things brighten up. It hasn't happened yet, but in the Far East there are several such fisheries.

But as any keen angler knows, you cannot sit inside and make floats, tie flies or read fishing magazines for very long before the siren call of water has you saying: "Well, it looks like the weather's broken," when all that has actually happened is that it's stopped snowing.

Non-anglers may find this odd. But it is a universal disease. A couple of years ago, I went to Finland to angle through the ice. I joined hundreds of Finns trying to catch fish so small that they wouldn't have touched the sides of a one-inch hole. As far as sport was concerned, I've had more excitement cutting my toenails. "Why?" I asked one university professor. "We have six months of this weather. Without fishing, I would go mad," he said.

I refrained from answering. After all, I was fishing through the ice too. And I'd travelled 1,600 miles to do it.