PsychoGeography#41: Angling swings like a pendulum do

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I'm never going to catch a fish, never ever. By the time I get round to going fishing the rest of humanity will have succeeded in denuding all the world's oceans and rivers of anything remotely piscatorial. If only I had some principled objection to fishing, an abiding conviction that connected whatever nerve ends there are in the nippers' mouths directly to my own cerebellum, then I could look upon my failure to fish as a brave moral stance. But I don't. I not only like fish - flakes of steaming cod as delicate as sculpted marble, slivers of salmon like the pink frills of piscine lingerie - but I like the idea of fishing too.

I'm never going to catch a fish, never ever. By the time I get round to going fishing the rest of humanity will have succeeded in denuding all the world's oceans and rivers of anything remotely piscatorial. If only I had some principled objection to fishing, an abiding conviction that connected whatever nerve ends there are in the nippers' mouths directly to my own cerebellum, then I could look upon my failure to fish as a brave moral stance. But I don't. I not only like fish - flakes of steaming cod as delicate as sculpted marble, slivers of salmon like the pink frills of piscine lingerie - but I like the idea of fishing too.

Ever since, as a child, I read T H White's masterful The Sword in the Stone, and marvelled at his realisation of what it might be like to be a fish (you'll recall the scene; Merlin turns his young tutee, Arthur, into a dace and they sport in the castle moat), I've wanted to catch a fish and so schizophrenically incorporate its four-dimensional, fisheye world view. However, my life hasn't exactly kitted me out with rod and line. Unless you count the mournful sight of mournful men sitting on collapsible stools by the Grand Union Canal and staring at the occasional empty lager can bobbing past, my childhood was devoid of fishing role models. The nearest I ever got to the sublime experience of hooking one was feeling the tentative tug of a crab on a scrap of Wall's bacon tied to a length of string.

Yet I understand the appeal only too well, for whether you're a coarse plonker, static and ataraxic, or a fly fucker, wirily casting your nylon jism to the stream, fishing is - like any kind of hunting - a way of being at once in a place and part of it. We may sneer at the man - complete with concertinaed plastic box, Tupperware cases writhing with maggots, 15ft rod, landing net and the aforementioned stool - who sits by the park pond all day in the hope of wresting a muddy minnow from its demi-fathom, but I accept that he has transcended mere recreation, just as much as the Hemingwayesque type who goes after tarpon off the Florida Keys.

My friend James, has, predictably, done exactly that. "Magnificent creatures," he eulogised over a lunch of smoked mackerel in Stockwell, "when you feel that hit you know you're alive, it's like there's a sports car on the end of the line - sheer, naked, electric power." He continued to expatiate while waving a slice of Hovis about: "An arc of silver beauty this big," his arms extended to full brag, "they leap out of the water when they're hooked and dive to break the line."

"And good eating?" I enquired.

"Oh no, completely inedible."

"So what do you do when you've landed one?"

"Get the hook out and get it back in the water as quickly as possible." Hmm, coarse indeed.

James also extolled the beauties of bone fishing in the Everglades. "Your bone fish is like a salmon on speed," he smacked his lips as if he were eating this delectable tidbit. "You cast over them and they go after the fly like the clappers. Best thing is, you're in really shallow, clear water so you can see everything. It's not like any other kind of fly fishing, where essentially you're casting into the murk. No, most of the buzz of ordinary fly fishing comes when you look up from the opaque river and into the clear sky - it's a moment of almost hallucinogenic clarity! Of course, you can see a bit more if you wear Polaroid sunglasses - but not the fish themselves, they're perfectly camouflaged." Speed, hallucinogens, dark glasses; I was beginning to get the idea that fishing delivered for James in a way unfamiliar to most anglers.

Or perhaps not. There has to be some explanation for the way in which almost any remotely fluvial piece of water in this overcrowded isle has been snaffled up and exploited by this landowner or that consortium. The solitary walker - of which I, tautologically, am one - finds his progress through the country checked time and again by "PRIVATE FISHING" signs; and the notion that these rod-and-liners are, in fact, tripping off their boxes, at least makes their obsessive-compulsive behaviour easier to understand if not forgive. I like to think of them as being exactly like the young Arthur in T H White's novel, magically transmogrified from their workaday selves - as butchers, bakers and property developers - into the very being of their quarry. This also helps to explain why the preservation of fishing rights is quite so fraught: no adipose banker, hallucinating himself into the mind of a freshwater salmon, wants to be disturbed by an out of work gas fitter who thinks he's an eel. E

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