There is, it turns out, something out there more interesting than fishing.
I still have absolutely no idea what it is, but nothing else can really explain the fact that for one reason or another, I have barely disturbed the surface of Great Britain's waterways in the last couple of months. Admittedly, I had a rather odd start to the season - a couple of blinding sessions at Grafham, followed by the kind of drubbing on Lough Corrib that is in danger of becoming tradition. I returned from Ireland in mid-May somewhat less bruised than last year - it would, after all, have been impossible to be more bruised - and I sat down to have a good think about things. By the time I'd finished thinking, it was mid-July.
So I managed to miss two months of what has been a pretty good season by most accounts, while managing to draw exactly no conclusions about what fishing means to me. The sad fact is that for whatever reason, I just didn't want to go; and so I didn't, choosing to spend my time doing the things that vaguely normal people do during the summer months. True, I had the odd dabble here and there; a couple of fluked bass at dawn on a beautiful day in Cornwall and a good day on the tiny Wylye, catching well-conditioned browns that were, for once, reasonably co-operative. But in general, I've been missing that insane pull to the waterside, that magical gravity that has been dragging me to riverbanks and lakesides for over thirty years.
So it was with mixed feelings that I read of Mike Connor's departure from these pages on the board yesterday. One the one hand, he will be a sorely missed member of the happy Sexyloops community; he has shared his astonishing breadth and depth of expertise with us (not to mention some poetry) in the last year or so, especially as far as saltwater flyfishing is concerned, and I for one am saddened to hear that he will not be with us. On the other hand, I know just how he feels. Once the spark disappears, it is hard indeed to rekindle it; but worse, much worse, is the sense that one doesn't actually want to rekindle it. After a lifetime of fishing, it is painful to contemplate the fact that one might never want to do it again.
There are, I suspect, any number of reasons why one's passions might suddenly evaporate into the kind of lethargic indifference I for one have been feeling this season. I find it hard to believe that it is possible to go fishing too often - there have been plenty of years when I have fished a hundred days or more and never felt the urge diminish for even a second. Not even the most belittling experiences have really put me off - indeed, they often serve to make me more determined, if anything. Six days of bleakness on Corrib in May, for example, were lifted by my boat partner Tony's capture of perhaps the most beautiful fish I have even seen - well over five pounds of wild, fit, healthy brown trout caught on a day that bore more resemblance to a January morning in Iceland than a spring day in Ireland. I may never catch a fish quite like it, at least not in that place, but I certainly want to have a try.
I'm pleased to report that for whatever unknown reason, my drive to fish is returning. This week, Tom and I were comprehensively outmanouevred by several hundred bass that were feeding hard in front of us, in very shallow water. We (or rather Tom) caught two tiny fish (and we're talking really small here - I've seen bigger fish in the tank at my dentist), while their bigger cousins ignored everything we threw at them - clousers, Crazy Charlies, any number of fish imitations, even one of Mike's sandeels. It was exactly the sort of experience that might have driven me back into my shell, and yet I have spent the last 48 hours thinking about getting back there. I'm even going back to Corrib next week, just to prove to myself that its fish really don't like me at all and that actually, I don't really care very much - there is almost no more beautiful or more enjoyable place to fish in the British Isles, and that will do for me.
So as one Sexyloops regular departs, another returns. I probably still won't have much to tell you about catching fish that you couldn't work out for yourselves, but I will at least be doing something that I want to write about - and that, for me, is a blessed relief. You may all disagree, of course, in which case I'll be delighted to hear suggestions from you about where I should stick my rods at the email address below. In the meantime, I can only hope that Mike's spark returns sooner rather than later. We'll all be better off for it.