Fishing lines: Why the June bug doesn't bite any more

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The Independent Online

How the world has changed! Tomorrow I shall head down to London to run a training course on how to improve the internal newsletter of the European Dana Alliance of the Brain.

Back on the train, hello to the family, a quick bite to eat, then it's time to finish off the last few pages of Classic Angling and write my fishing columns for the Reading Evening Post and All at Sea magazine. The nearest I will come to angling - apart from the vicarious pleasure of the evening's writing - is if we have fish for tea.

But there was a time when 16 June was hallowed ground. Nothing went in my diary except the fact that it was the start of the coarse- fishing season. And nothing (work, exams, debilitating disease, World War Three) would have stopped me wetting a line.

Sure, I have more responsibilities now. But that doesn't mean I can't clear a few hours. It's not because I fish more with the fly these days (I'm still a worm dangler at heart). It's not that I have a long way to travel - if there weren't two houses in the way, I could cast into the Ouse (the fishing's rubbish, but that's never worried me).

And it's not because I've become an old geezer who spends his time bemoaning the demise of the good old days. They were OK, but they weren't really that good.

The problem is that the magic's gone away. Once upon a time, there was a clear break between 14 March and 16 June. You couldn't fish, simple as that. It was supposed to be something to do with spawning time. Catching roach, perch and tench then was somehow a bit sneaky, like kicking an arthritic dog.

Nowadays, you can fish almost every still water right through the year, and most canals. If the addicts have their way, rivers will also be open all hours. So far, the traditionalists are holding firm. But the issue will resurface.

So what, you might say. The idea that fish think, "Ah, it's 12 May: time for some serious fondling", is ridiculous. Factors like water temperature mean they can spawn as late as August.

Much of the pressure for year-round fishing comes from commercial waters and tackle shops, yet someone once said to me: "If it wasn't for the close season, my house would fall down." Meaning he could complete all the tasks that his wife had been nagging him about in the enforced break.

But it's more than that. Today's youngsters will never know the excitement and anticipation of waiting by the waterside at 11.59pm and willing yourself to wait those 60 seconds. It doesn't seem so long ago that a large proportion of the British population was afflicted by a nasty illness that only struck for one day in mid-June (the June Bug). If you drove past any water, it was crammed with anglers.

The fishing was never as good as you dreamt it would be. But that's the whole point of dreams, isn't it?