Caught by the River

Excuses, Excuses

Danny Adock | 6th November 2011

By Danny Adcock.

I have a feeling that man has been making excuses for coming home empty-handed for tens of thousands of years. In an age where ‘just being there’ seems to have become the mantra for the type of angler who appreciates, amongst others, Bernard Venables and Chris Yates, and who approaches his fishing with a more traditional outlook, why is it we still need a reason to explain a fishless foray to the waterside? Perhaps it’s a throwback, one of those strange anachronisms, to an age when if we came home empty-handed we may well have been going hungry; when instead of a conciliatory shrug of the shoulders, and post-mortem over a pint or two, there were accusing looks from spouses and children facing another meal of berries and roots.

Perhaps there’s an element of machismo to it. Typical Neanderthal-like man, can’t bear to admit he’s been defeated by anything, let alone a dumb old fish. In his book, Trout Bum, John Gierach talks of the ‘myth of the smart trout.’ He may have a point. Compare the size of a trout’s brain and that of our own; in theory we should be able to outsmart a fish every time. Our brain is several thousand times larger, and has a million complex complications whizzing across neural synapses every second, while I calculate that fish probably have a maximum of three things going through their minds at any one time: food, danger, sex. Having said that when you consider the result of all those millions of complications in the average, male, angler’s brain: food, beer, sex, it suddenly doesn’t seem such an uneven contest. Perhaps that too is the reason the female of the species often make such good anglers.

There’s an undercurrent running through ‘normal’ society that anglers are either mad, stupid or both; I think it was the comedian Steven Wright who said there’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot. Many people find it hard to understand exactly what it is that drags us, time and time again, to the waterside. I must say I tend to disagree with the assertion that we’re all certifiable, but then again I suppose I would. However to illustrate my point I remember a conversation I had with a colleague a couple of years ago. I’d just returned from a week fishing on the Hampshire Avon, and she couldn’t understand why I would want to spend a week on the banks of one the most beautiful rivers in the country; surrounded by otters, kingfishers, and a myriad of other wildlife on the edge of the New Forest; almost completely – apart from the pub over the road – cut off from the rigours of modern society, and with no one but myself to answer to. In the next breath she described to another colleague how she’d spent her Sunday. It had consisted mainly, from what I could gather, of spending three hours watching the Eastenders omnibus edition even though, unbelievably, she admitted that she’d actually watched every episode during the week anyway! And the woman had the cheek to suggest that I was the mad one! I’m of the opinion that watching Eastenders actually destroys brain cells; never mind alcohol, or tobacco, mindless drivel like that should carry a government health warning.

I enjoy being at the waterside more than anything, and genuinely get a huge amount of pleasure from ‘just being there.’ And yet I still feel the need to explain why I didn’t actually catch any fish even to brain-dead Eastender-devotees. That doesn’t happen on every occasion I hasten to add, just, well, occasionally. So – probably like anglers of all persuasions up and down the country – I’ve developed a mental library of excuses with which I can explain to non-fishers why, on any given occasion, I didn’t actually catch any fish. To that end I’ve developed, almost sub-consciously, an array of excuses that mean I’m rarely, if ever, stuck for something rational sounding if I ever face that most meaningless of questions: ‘Oh you’ve been fishing? Catch anything?’

If I thought it would do any good I’d quite happily tell them about the evening I was crossing a stream when a big dog otter broke the surface not six feet from me, turned to throw me an indignant glance for disturbing his fishing and then swam towards me and actually underneath the bridge I was standing on; about the dawn on a local estate lake when the roe deer emerged, like actors in a ghost story, through the folds of mist that had gathered like a curtain between the lake and the trees behind me, to stop and stare almost over my shoulder, seemingly willing my float to disappear almost as much as me. Instead of these things, or the countless other special moments I’ve had when fishing, I usually give them something from one of my four main categories of excuses: weather related, bait related, tackle related, or miscellaneous. I don’t have the space or the inclination to go into any detail here, but suffice to say there are sub-categories, and subdivisions almost ad-infinitum. An example from the weather-related category I have used on more than one occasion is the wind. There can be too much of it, not enough of it, or it can be from the wrong direction. I’ve used all three. Not enough wind – when I was fly-fishing a still-water for trout; too much wind – when I was fly-fishing a still-water for trout; wind from the wrong direction – when I was fly-fishing a still-water for trout. A classic from the miscellaneous category was the time myself and a group of friends went for a quiet drink the evening before an early start on June sixteenth one season. I can vaguely remember the doorbell going the next morning, but the rest of the day’s a blur. I forgot to take anything to eat or drink, and by eight I was asleep on the back seat of my friend’s car. I didn’t catch anything that day, but it’s an excuse that, on its day, can be a winner.

Having read this article back I’ve come to the conclusion that I may come across as some sort of appallingly bad angler with a drink problem and the tendency to tell compulsive lies; some of my friends might even agree with that assessment. Why we fish is inherently, deeply, part of who we are; it’s entwined in our DNA. Why I feel the need to make excuses to people is something that reflects poorly on our TV-obsessed culture. Come this Sunday though, I can assure you I won’t be stuck in front of the television.