Sunk by depths of despair

fishing lines
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The Independent Online
MANY anglers claim a mystical rapport exists between fishermen and fish. In its most extreme form, this manifests itself in deep conversations between men and mackerel. It's a strange, sad sight to see someone you have previously credited with a modicum of intelligence holding one-sided chats with a trout. Even a non-fisherman can see this is a pointless exercise, as trout are notoriously shy and will never speak to strangers.

Others profess to possess an arcane sixth sense that enables them to identify those times when fish bite best. My regular pike ghillie, Richard Furlong, insists he is on such familiar terms with Norfolk Broads fish that he can tell within a few minutes when their underwater canteen opens. Though I have written a hefty piece about Furlong in the Field this month, giving further credence to his wild ramblings, I'm highly sceptical about the principle, and even more so about those who claim such empathy. But is it so unlikely? Let me tell you the story of what happened last week when I went trout fishing.

This time of year is often best of all for a real whopper. In the summer, the lunkers just need to swim along with their mouths open to get all the grub they want, but come the autumn, beetles, insects and baby fish have all but disappeared, so big fish have to hunt for their food. This is also a pleasant time because all the really dumb trout have long since been caught. Hauling out fish with the in-born caution of a lemming is scarcely sport. Come September, and you really earn your fish.

So there I was, floating out this fly line across a lake, hoping for a few trout but not expecting very much. The weather was horrible. There's nothing like a few hours of torrential rain to test manufacturers' claims about a garment's water-repelling properties. Mine did not. At times like this, of course, the fish go under bridges to keep dry. But there was not a bridge in sight. I had to tough it out. Furthermore, it was impossible to spot any fish rising because they were in competition with a million trout-like rises caused by the raindrops.

It would have been easier to go back to the car and give up but I had come fishing and I was damn well going to fish. Foolish? Absolutely. But something made me stay. I had a feeling that it would be worthwhile.

Around 1pm, the rain eased up and the sun put in a guest appearance. It became quite warm, and my soaked clothing started to dry. Suddenly, it was pleasant to fish. The trouble was, nothing was taking my fly. I tried imitations of flies, nymphs and tiny fish. I tried things that don't look like a fly at all, but which claim to stimulate the most jaded trout into a feeding frenzy. Nothing worked.

It went on like that all afternoon. A couple of fish splashed and I casted near them, changing flies in the vague hope that one bundle of feathers might prove more tempting than the last. But by 6.30pm, the light was starting to fade and I had to leave. I had promised to be home for one of those twee school occasions where everyone sips sherry, makes polite conversation and you think afterwards "What a waste of an evening".

I went to pack up - but something made me stop. I rummaged in my fly boxes and found a small home-made creation that I had never tried. I went back to the lake, casted clean and well. I retrieved the fly in slow, teasing jerks.

Nothing happened. I had another cast. And another. I fished on until it was too dark to see. But I didn't catch anything or even see a fish.

So I went home.