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Ronan's report

Sunday September 18th 2011

Last week Al Pyke and I fished for pike on a massive Scottish loch. We had a great day in beautiful surroundings and (from my point of view) in great company. The weather was warm and breezy. We were both casting well and enjoying the workout from flinging a 9wt around. We managed a couple of little fish, but the bigger ones were either elsewhere or sulking. We picked the wrong place and/or the wrong time. Fishing these big waters with heavy gear is a great contrast to my usual trout rods and rivers, and I love standing on a wave-slapped shore looking at the hills on the distant far bank, and wondering where the fish might be.

There are so many variables and challenges in fly fishing that, for most of us, most of the time we have to be content with partial victory: A nice cast say, a good guess on where the fish are, choosing the right fly, or maybe just picking a good day on a beautiful water. It's very rare for us to manage the alignment of all these things at once.

The whole point of any sport is that it should be a challenge. We can aim for perfection. Some people can attain it for short periods. But no one is ever 100% perfect 100% of the time, if they were it would instantly cease to be sport.

The rules and regulations, the morals and mores, of all sports are all geared to maintaining this edge. Perfection should be theoretically possible, just in reach if you commit sufficiently, some of the time.

David Beckham was a sublime taker of free kicks, and put his world cup penalty over the bar. Usain Bolt can outrun anyone over 100m, but he still twitched too early on the blocks the other week (and caused a ridiculous over-reaction in the media). That's the joy of watching sport: a combination of being awed by the skills of the participants, with the knife edge tension in the knowledge that someone's going to get something wrong eventually.

Recognising this, our imperfection, is a good thing. It grounds us with humility in the natural world, the way things are. The minute we start believing in our own infallibility you can bet things will start to go wrong: ecosystems get trashed, rights get trampled, and wrongs are justified as means to an end.

To take part in any sport, within the rules, is to acknowledge our human condition. We have a unique ability to conceptualise a perfect performance and strive to push beyond it: at the same time we (to paraphrase JFK) choose to do things because they are hard. We are not perfect, things can and will go wrong.

The need to win (or catch fish) at any cost, bending rules or being inconsiderate of others undermines all this. It seems to be an easy trap to fall into: from the use of drugs in athletics or cycling, through diving in football, poaching or using illegal methods in fishing, or simply crowding someone out of the best pool on the river. We've all probably come across it. Winning through cheating is a facsimile of perfection; like wax fruit, it may look like the real thing but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Similarly, when success comes too easily or too regularly it's probably time to have a change or move on. How many times do you need to catch that limit of stocked rainbow trout? How many times do you need to hammer that same pool on the river, catching the same trout?

Why not try a new fishery, a new stretch, a new river, a different method, or a new species? Agreed there is comfort and reassurance in returning to an old haunt, but it's good to be looking for new challenges too.

Cast further. Mend better. Tie neater.

In The Complete Angler Walton said, ÒAngling may be said to be so like the mathematics that it can never be fully learnt.Ó

Arthur Ransome wrote, ÒFishing is not like billiards, in which it is possible to attain a disgusting perfectionÓ

Ransome was obviously a better billiards player than me, but I know what he means.


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