Holy terror for a sun worshipper

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The Independent Online
IF you want the secrets of catching fish when it's 90 in the shade, this is not the column to read. I'd be grateful for a few tips myself. The only useful piece of advice that I can impart about fishing in very hot weather is don't swim naked and sing Verdi arias if nuns have access to your private trout water.

I'm not talking from personal experience here. But the friend who related this story to me last week is not one to spin a line, and he only told me on the strict understanding that if I wrote about it, he was not to be identified. So I can't even tell you that he's an accountant who drives a Rover and lives in west London.

Anyway, this person whom I can't name (let's call him JD, to make the story easier) did a big favour for someone and in return was invited to fish his personal trout pool. JD was assured that he would have the lake to himself. Anyone seen on the water would be a trespasser, and should be challenged.

Access was through a locked gate, to which my friend was given the key. In the distance was a large country house, but otherwise there were no signs of civilisation. The lake, too, was unspoilt, lacking all those amenities associated with a modern trout water. (All too many feature levelled banks and casting platforms. If trees are allowed at all, they are pruned to an inch of their lives so they don't interfere with ham- fisted casters. Any incipient weed growth is treated as if it's a pike in a goldfish pond. And the trout have all the natural cunning of a bag of sand.)

This lake wasn't like that. JD, who doesn't get to fish much besides day-ticket waters, was entranced, particularly when a pair of kingfishers, hummingbirds with attitude, kept flitting across the lake as if they were on piecework.

But he didn't catch any fish. Trout clearly lived there. Occasionally there would be a lazy splash on the surface. Whatever the trout were eating, though, wasn't fur and feathers bound to a steel hook. That's the trouble with this weather. It's great for flowers and drying the washing quickly and saving money on foreign holidays, but it's hopeless for fishing.

Actually, that's inaccurate. It's great for some types of sea angling. It's good for trouting and coarse fishing - but only if you fish at first light or as the heat goes off the water, in the last hour before dusk. Trying to catch trout during the average anger's nine-to-five day is like trying to teach your dog irregular French verbs.

JD is an enthusiastic angler, but one easily distracted by failure. At 2 pm, with the sun beating down and even the splashers no longer splashing, he was hot and bored. In purist trout circles, it's considered unseemly even to loosen your tie, but JD figured that, with the lake to himself, he could act as he damn well liked. So he stripped off to his underpants and wellingtons, and fished a while. It was still too hot. He wasn't catching fish, or likely to do so. So he stripped right off, and went for a swim.

I haven't mentioned that JD is an amateur thespian of some note, and keen on musicals. (Another clue, perhaps.) There's something about a cold lake on a hot day that makes you feel good; so good, you want to sing. As he drifted on his ample back, he switched from Noel Coward to Gilbert and Sullivan, and on to Rigoletto. As he serenaded his toes, he noticed movement beyond them. Horror! Walking towards the lake, across a field, was a quartet of nuns.

Hide in the reeds like Moses? Brazen it out? Swim for shore and leg it? JD chose the latter, grabbing his clothes and tackle, and heading for a large clump of rhododendrons where he pretended to be an unusual specimen of Purple Splendour. The nuns took a leisurely stroll round the lake, apparently too deep in holy thoughts to notice anything, and headed back towards the large house.

When the lake's owner arrived at about 6 pm to see how JD had fared, he was asked about the nuns. "Should I have accosted them?" JD asked, without admitting that he was in no state to address a topless waitress, let alone members of a religious order.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you about them," said the owner. "They bought the house from me, but I let them walk around this end of the property because they find the lake very relaxing. To tell you the truth, I reckon they even swim here sometimes, from footprints I've seen in the mud."

JD says that if he gets another invitation to fish there, he will use a Missionary fly. And keep his clothes on, whatever the weather.