Just another manic Tuesday

Fishing Lines

ONCE upon a time, this Tuesday was the most important day of my life. It was so important that I missed school, exams, interviews and work. I lost jobs, girlfriends, even (a twinge of guilt here) missed my sister's wedding. The reason was simply the date, 16 June. It was the start of the fishing season.

Coarse angling - for fish you can't eat such as roach, perch and carp - once had a closed season before the Environment Agency and commercial fish farmers tampered with it. The idea was that fish would spawn undisturbed between March and June. It also meant anglers had three idle months to stoke up their excitement at the whoppers they would catch.

At school the first part of June dragged so slowly I was convinced someone had tampered with the clocks. I cleaned every bit of tackle, even oiled my bike. In the week leading up to 16 June, I cycled daily to my chosen spot. As recommended in the fishing books, I threw in as much mashed bread as I could steal from home without being noticed.

The preceding day was an awful one. The biggest worry was: would someone have snaffled that prime spot by getting there earlier than me? To make sure, I cycled there straight after school. (In later years, the only difference was that I made the trip by car.) Generally, I was on the bankside by 8pm. Thank God, nobody there.

The magic time was midnight, but with all that anticipation, it was impossible not to cast in before that. When you are a child, the heavy hand of authority is terrifying, so I developed this cunning ruse: I turned my watch forwards 15 minutes. If caught, I could say: "No, my watch says it's gone midnight." Brilliant, or what?

But - and here's the pay-off - I never caught anything. That golden first day, the magical 16 June, was always useless. Looking back through my ill-spelt records, it's apparent I would have been far better staying in bed, and starting that year's fishing diary in July. The highlights were incidents like: "Fell in up to my waist." "Dropped torch into water." "Bitten 37 times by mosquitoes."

Even years on, I remember well the last one. It took place at Moor Lane (renamed by us Mosquito Lake), a marvellously emotive lake where giant fish splashed all night. Trouble was, it was the breeding ground for huge colonies of the giant English mosquito, famed for its ability to bite you through your socks. The following year, I took along two packets of joss-sticks in a bid to keep them away. All that happened was that I had a headache for days.

By midday on 16 June, I was usually wrecked. A night without sleep, the warm sun on your neck ... and so it was that my friend Jim woke me up saying, "Haven't you got Russian O level this afternoon?" He was right. I grabbed my tackle, jumped on my bike and cycled straight to school, arriving only 25 minutes late. As I dashed inthe scratching of pens stopped. I'm told that years later, the story of how one pupil arrived in a Parka smelling of fish, and left his tackle next to the invigilator's desk, was still doing the rounds in the masters' common-room.

But the god of fishing is a kindly god. It was another 15 June, and I was working as a junior reporter on a local paper. Taking the day off sick, I chose a tiny pond where nobody ever came. Except this particular day. I glanced up and saw, in the distance, the deputy editor. Horror. It was the sack for sure.

Except he was walking hand in hand with one of our senior reporters (a woman, for the suspicious among you). I pulled my coat round me, my hat down and stared at my float. The two strolled past. I know he saw me. He knows I saw him. And neither of us ever said a word about it.

I'll be working this Tuesday. A family, deadlines, commitments have all tied chains round my feet. The close season has been beaten and abused. In many areas, it doesn't exist. Other disciplines - trout and salmon fishing, sea fishing, big-game fishing - all make siren demands. But I still write in my diary: Start of the Fishing Season, for old times' sake.

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