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Ronan's report

Sunday January 23rd 2011

There have been lots of great posts in the Most Memorable Fish You Never Caught thread over on the board.

I'm impressed by the measured way lots of people rationalise away their losses as "learning experiences" and I was personally given quite a jolt by MarcÕs comment that he wasnÕt bothered at all by losing fish.

I've met Marc and I know he's completely passionate about his fishing, so how come he can face losing fish with seemingly zen-like calmness and equanimity?

Let me be clear, for me it depends on the fish I'm losing. Small fish dropping off, a decent fish in the middle of a good day's fishing: these don't bother me at all. They probably don't bother you either. But some fish. Some fish hooked and lost. These sear themselves into my consciousness and I'm convinced that after I'm gone, if someone does an autopsy, they'll be able to point to a series of scars somewhere in my brain or on my heart and say «this man lost some big fish in his time«.

It was worse when I was younger, late teens into twenties, when I thought I had something to prove. I lost a big carp once when all I wanted in the world was to catch a 20lb-er. I'd spend hundreds of hours after them. Eventually I hooked a big fish that I couldn't stop. An accelerating bow-wave left the shallows and speared across the pool. My fixed spool reel had a crap drag so I was relying on back-winding; I physically couldn't stop the handle turning backwards. I can still see the bow-wave building in heiht as it shunted into a big lily bed on the other side. Game over.

I was pole-axed. I just stood there with the rod poker-straight and the line miserably flapping in the evening breeze. I don't think I moved for five minutes. I remember feeling a real sense of loss, and if someone had quoted Isaac Walton's self-satisfied lines about how "No man can lose what he never had" I'd probably have wrapped a carp rod around his neck. It's patently ridiculous I know, but back then catching a 20lb carp was a badge of honour amongst carp anglers, it meant you knew what you were doing. And I'd just watched that acceptance and validation crash into a weed bed forty yards away.

I'm pleased to say I've (mostly) grown out of that sort of thing. But I still add a few scars now and again. Maybe theyÕre not as deep as the old ones but they're there. Now, mostly the sense of loss is more about things unfinished. Like reading a great book and discovering that someone's ripped out the final page. Not seeing the fish you've lost is the quintessence of this. You'll never know what it was and if it was hooked in the right end of its digestive system. You can't marvel over how it got so big, and wonder about its long life. And no, you can't feel good about the way you fished Ð you didn't get the result you wanted.

For me, the hurt from losing a fish is the evil identical twin to the unalloyed pleasure and joy of actually catching a fish. If losing didn't hurt so much, then catching wouldn't matter either. And catching does matter to me. Very much.


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