FISHING All’s fair in angling game

Outdoor Living

All’s fair in the angling game

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

I care no more about the weather. It may blow, or pour incessantly from the heavens. Thunder and lightning, which recently plunged us back into the dark ages, may roll and flash. Frost might seal my boots to the floor, but I care not, for my mind is fully set on spring and the joys that it brings.
I have a favourite corner on the western shore of Mask, where every wind but one from the east is barred by a slope of hill with its alder and gorse, a sheltered, grassy glade where every scrap of sunshine warms the very air and brings new flowers while elsewhere they remain as buds. Before me the hill falls away to form a shallow bay. At the mouth of this bay regiments of trout parade up and down the drop-off to deep water.
It is here I shall be found after lunch and into dusk. At least, that is my goal. It is one of those places a man would live and never leave, and paint, perhaps, in the style of the great Romantics. I should like to paint.
B, a good friend and better angler, has gone to the Drowes in Donegal to catch a spring salmon. I imagine him up to his waist in freezing water with icicles on his nose, catching the slats that outnumber fresh fish by a hundred to one, while I toast my sandwich over a twiggy fire and pull a succession of trout to my sun-warmed seat.
The last time B went to Donegal he was outdone by the conditions. Day one saw the river in spate. Then a hard frost locked a lot of water onto the hills so the river dropped nicely, but then it was too cold for the fish to stir. And then it rained and brought another flood. We were able to offer condolence on his return to Mayo in the form of a fat trout, roasted with an onion.
Angling friends are in truth bitter foes. They take an interest in the fortunes of each other only in order to do better. When a fish is lost at the net they sympathise greatly and when one is caught and found to be marginally undersized they utter kindly words of encouragement. But inside the breast of the foe an orchestra breaks out, cymbals crash and trumpets sound while the unlucky angler stares into the waves in search of inspiration.
Take James as an example. He is late, not because he is busy, but because he knows I will be on time and am anxious for sport. He generously ties a fly to my line, carefully leaving a curl in the tippet. When I look at the fly I find it has a crushed wing, and this, combined with the curly leader, means it will float askew and that no self-respecting trout will even contemplate trying to consume it. When I do hook a fish he makes a pretence of helping to land it while secretly trying to bump it off the hook with the net, and when he succeeds he makes admiring comments: ‘That was the finest of trout’. Or ‘Four pounds, that one... at least’. Unable to keep the note of triumph from his voice, he casts across my line to make a tangle, puts my sandwich in the rain while searching my bag for a knife, puts my knife in his pocket in front of my eyes and would sit on my hat if I took it off for an instant, all to a silent overture of the grandest proportions.
I would fish alone, except that then I would never know the truth of his day. ‘What?’ he would exclaim, ‘No trout rising in Castle Bay? You should have come with me to the Rocky Shore, then even you would have caught fish.’
He knows fully I cannot ask to see his catch. The day that I do he will produce four four-pounders from his creel. Ignorance is the better option. Better still, I prefer to keep my foe in sight and, for the rare occasions when I actually outfish him, within gloating distance.  
So James and I will share my sunny glade while B completes his tour of Donegal. He will be back as soon as he has handed enough of his hard-earned cash to the proprietor of The Lodge. In contrast, the trout on Mask are Everyman’s – free for the taking. We have a sensible bag limit in place of four fish per angler per day. One would be enough until April. Then they will be fat again and fit to grace the table. Better, we shall eat them outside in the warm everning sun.

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