Fishing Lines: Why I got the hump back in Wales

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The Independent Online

It just proves you're in the prime of senility, said one less-than-sympathetic fishing friend. Bit cruel, that. But he was probably right. Who in their right mind would promise to catch a brace of trout each for 19 people on a flooded Welsh river in March?

I'm sure you've guessed the answer. But there are extenuating circumstances, m'lud. It was, after all, my birthday weekend (albeit two weeks before the day when I get my free bus pass). I should have been celebrating and making merry, instead of flogging the River Irfon in the vain hope that something with spots would be dumb enough to gulp down my fly.

So many non-fishing friends were making the journey to Builth Wells for the merriment that I boasted: "I'll catch you all a trout to order." In normal circumstances on the fish-rich Caer Beris Manor waters, this wouldn't have been so outlandish. The hotel has nearly a mile of the Irfon and several miles of the Wye. Peter Smith, the owner, is a keen angler and knows all the hot spots. What I hadn't realised was how many people had been promised trout. What I hadn't calculated was two days of torrential rain, turning a pretty river into a raging torrent the colour of Cadbury's, carrying whole trees and dead sheep.

It's an interesting river, the Irfon. Salmon spawn there. So does the rare twaite shad. If you're really lucky, come May (shad also being called mayfish), you might even catch its even rarer cousin, the allis shad.

Not for food, I hasten to add. Shad look like herring, but seem to have about five times as many bones. Ogden Nash even wrote a poem about its boniness, with the last line being something like: "But its roe is boneless, utterly".

Still, I wasn't going to catch any shad. Too early. Nor, alas, was I going to catch trout, grayling or anything with fins in a river that looked more like the Limpopo than a crystal-clear Welsh stream. Unfortunately, non-anglers don't understand this.

The previous night, my friends had seen some pictures, some of which we won't go into, but others that showed a grinning me holding large fish. You could just imagine them deciding whether to cook the trout with a lime and caper sauce or with apricot salsa. Unfortunately, both recipes require a fish.

Having got to bed a little before dawn, the prospect of fishing in torrential rain was not top of my agenda when my wife, Riva, woke me. "You've got some orders to fill," she chuckled, and went back to sleep. I reckon she was just bitter because her marvellous present, a complete Highland dress outfit with the Elliott tartan, was too big for me. (I had lost weight in anticipation of old girlfriends being on the guest list. Just my luck, none turned up.)

It was one of those days when any sane person admires nature's wrath. Even the filmmaker and writer Andy Nicholson, who will fish in a rain butt, turned down the invitation to join me.

So I caught nothing. Not a chance, really. Blamed it on the previous night's carousing, of course, but that's my rep shot with all my non-angling mates. And soon I'll be 60. Guess it's all downhill from now on.

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