February 2005 -
fox capable of displaying human emotions might have been
a little bit put out last Saturday to find that the hunting
ban had succeeded only in shifting the focus of its mortal
peril from hound to shotgun.
Apart from a few changes
necessary for compliance with the new law it was business
as usual for hunts across the UK. Horses, riders, hounds
and anti-blood sports protestors continued to follow their
seasonal rituals with a few modifications that still allow
foxes to be flushed out and shot within the law.
This leads me to the selfish
conclusion that anglers should be safe from interference
for a little while longer. Meanwhile most riders and hounds
must get used to the phenomenon of foxless hunting and here
there seems a clear parallel to be drawn with a coping strategy
among anglers we might call “rodless fishing”.
Rodless fishing, like foxless
hunting, is difficult to appreciate in its physical manifestation.
This is because, to be effective, it has to be more of a
state of mind. In this state the hunter/fisher is prepared
to smother the hunting instinct under a blanket of indifference
that in fishing, at least, is bred from a numbing familiarity
In its simplest form, to
avoid the prospect of a blank day by the river, the classic
approach is to stroll up to a piece of water, gaze at it
for a time, then shrug your shoulders at its lifeless appearance
and walk away.
Some may argue the “rodless”
description in this context is a misnomer because, on most
occasions, the rod will be at hand just as foxes will continue
to be seen (and shot) in the nascent sport of foxless hunting.
There can be no doubt that
the pure form of rodlessness is a more painful experience
involving water brimming with promise. I dare not count
the times I have turned up rodless by the side of a river
- a rushing torrent in the Himalayas where I might have
found the Mahseer, a river in Patagonia, where the sea trout
grow to the size of salmon, or a tiny stream in New Zealand
where every pool had its resident rainbow trout. These empty
experiences form a bulky compendium of missed opportunities.
I have therefore added
a complicating refinement: the rod. A collapsible fishing
rod found its way in to my last Christmas stocking and in
its first outing last month it was taken on a business trip
to Soria in Spain. I popped down to the River Douro, running
through the town and known for its trout. But the water
looked dreary and the river was frozen in parts. The idea
of casting a nymph seemed futile so the rod stayed in its
Back home I decided to have
a go at Pike fishing. I have tried this unsuccessfully in
the past. Instead of wandering down to the local canal I
called Charlie Bettell one of the UK’s top Pike fishermen.
His web site (www.esox.co.uk)
is full of useful information about pike fishing and so
is the man himself.
But the prognosis was not
good. He was fishing on his local water in Norfolk and the
fish weren’t taking. “The water does not seem
to be getting oxygenated enough to stir up much interest.
This is the warmest winter we have had for years. The most
favourable time for catching fish is prior to spawning and
it may be that they don’t spawn this year”.
Contacting anglers on their
mobile phones is another tactic of rodless fishing. If nothing
is happening you may as well stay at home. There was a time
when the mobile phone was anathema to fishing. The first
time I saw an angler take a cell phone – one of those
first generation plastic house-bricks - from a tackle bag
was like a scene from a Bateman cartoon as anglers dropped
their rods in shock and gillies sat open-mouthed on the
Now, what was once seen
as sacrilege has become the norm. One old fishing friend
George Westropp, a retired partner at Deloitte Touche, argues
that the mobile phone has liberated anglers. “It means
that I can handle some important business while at the side
of a river and no-one has to know where I am. I can have
the best of both worlds,” he says.
Today everyone has
a mobile phone. Gillies who once signalled their catches
from boat to boat using handkerchiefs in a crude river telegraph
can text each other instead. Not that there is much to say.
My best Tay fishing this coming April will most likely be
spent chatting on the bank resorting only now and then to
rod and line. Spare the rod and spoil the fishing? I don’t