Dom Joly: Sorry, dad, this bearded wonder is virtually hooked on fishing now

With all this new gear, surely it's time that we found the Loch Ness Monster
Click to follow
The Independent Online

My dad told me never to trust a man with a beard or anyone who likes fishing. I always took this to be sound advice and have tried to live my life by these simple, yet effective rules. If I ever spotted a bearded man on the street, I’d find myself crossing to the other side to avoid him. The sight of a bearded man carrying a fishing rod would make me come out in a sweat. Weirdly, the rule was hazy on bearded women. I think that I’d have no problem in trusting a bearded fisherwoman but, as yet, the situation hasn’t arisen so I can’t be sure.

What has arisen, however, is my very own mid-life crisis beard. It started as a lazy, no-shaving week after Christmas, but has since become a semi-permanent facial feature. Nobody in the family has mentioned it. In that glorious British way everybody is just hoping that it will go away and that they won’t have to deal with it.

“At least he’s not started fishing,” they’d mutter to each other, chuckling in a conspiratorial way. And then it happened… I’m on a half-term break in the Lake District (not my half-term, I left school quite a long time ago, it’s my kids... Omigod, I’ve got kids, how did that happen? Grow comforting beard, grow). One minute we were driving about admiring the scenery and the next we were on a small, unstable boat in the middle of a lake, sitting waiting to hook unsuspecting trout on to our rods. It turned out that I wasn’t too bad at the “sport.” This was probably due to some covert practice I’d had on Extreme Bass Hunter – a video game that I own that comes with a “rodstick” so that you can actually pretend to cast your imaginary line into the television. Readers of this might think that by owning and playing this particular game I might have been expressing some latent desire to fish for quite a while. This is untrue. I was sent the game by a magazine to review. I only had a couple of games, or maybe a hundred, on it and that’s all. The difference with fishing video games to the real thing is that, in the video game, you can see under the water. You don’t need to be an expert to realise that this is something of an advantage. In the video game you can almost drop the lure into an unsuspecting virtual fish’s mouth. In the grim, real world you’re like a midget standing on top of a huge table, blindfold and trying to get your slippers out from underneath it using only a bent hook and some string. Then I found the fishing shop. How dumb have I been? The world of fishing has moved on in leaps and bounds since the simple days of midget slipper catching. Now there are fish finders – complicated pieces of radar kit that enable you to see where groups of fish are lurking as well as being able to spot enemy submarines. If that’s not enough for you, then you can buy sophisticated underwater cameras that hang off the boat and allow you to do exactly what you can do in the video games. It did briefly cross my mind that, with all this kind of sophisticated kit available to the most basic of fishermen, there really shouldn’t be too much debate left to have about the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. One sweep of the loch by an amateur fisherman and you’ve got your answer.

Instead you always get heavily bearded (there’s the clue) scientists coming over from Oregon with weird machinery to sweep the loch and get an image of a blurred fin. Sod that – just get a fish finder – if there’s anything bigger than a marlin we’re in business. But I digress. One of my big problems with fishing is the seemingly pointless exercise of first catching a fish only to release it. I think if you catch something you should either eat it or not be doing it in the first place.

There is a solution to this problem: should I start to ignore my dad’s advice and take up fishing, I can start entering casting competitions.

This is where you compete for things like who has the longest or most accurate cast. It’s like a mini-fishing Olympics where you don’t need actual fish. It wouldn’t work, though. After a while my fellow fisherpeople would start muttering about my aversion to catching actual fish and I’d be ostracised, left to wander the shores of the lake alone with only my beard for company. I need to call my dad for advice.

There are no winners off the beaten track

There are a lot of places advertising “offroading” up here in the Lake District. Is this a sport? I’m not sure. It seems to be more just … not driving on a road. Tricky call that one, letters please.