Fishmail: Let's get metaphysical

April 19th, 2003

You know it's springtime when people start quoting T. S. Eliot.

God knows I can forgive people the odd clich here and there; indeed, I would barely ever have got into print without the help of a platitude or two, but even I cannot really bring myself to start this column with Eliot's observation that April is the cruellest month. You knew that already, for one thing, and in any case nearly every newspaper columnist in the world has pointed this out in recent years. Carry on in this vein and before I know it, I will be starting September's column with a remark or two about the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and that could only be a bad thing. So let's just get on and talk about April, and try to leave poets out of this.

It's actually August.

At least, this is what the trout think. There can be no other explanation for the fact that this week, every trout in England was sitting in 100 feet of water for most of the day, rising only for 20 minutes in the evening to exclusively eat something small and ultimately unidentified. It had admittedly been a day not ideally suited to trout fishing strong easterly winds, bright sunshine, not one of Chaucer's famous April showers anywhere in sight (and yes, I know I said we were leaving poets out of this) and for one reason or another, I was not exactly on top of my game. After my recent revelations that I thought I knew what I was doing all of a sudden, I can now exclusively reveal that actually, I only know this in certain very specific contexts, such as being ankle-deep in hungry, reckless trout that are eating everything that swims past their nose. At all other times, it seems, I'm still as clueless as ever.

In my defence I should say that I was somewhat distracted on Thursday. Thanks to the rather wonderful people at , I finally got hold of the reel I needed for the new rod, and I spent far more time than was really necessary gloating over its anodised black exterior and patting myself on the back for getting it more quickly and cheaply from the States than was possible from any UK seller. I'd tied some pretty damn sexy new flies, and spent too long fishing them at the wrong depth and in the wrong place just to see how they looked. With my new-found hubris installed, I had somehow imagined that the fish would be queueing up anyway; I mean, it's April, yes? It's warm and sunny. Insects are hatching in shallow water. The fish are starving after a long nymphless winter. I have the fishing equivalent of a Ferrari in my hands. And well, how dare they just ignore me like that?

Let's have another poetic clich, just for the hell of it. A little learning is a dangerous thing, something that April is revealing to me with alarming regularity. At the cusp of incompetence and expertise, all sorts of annoying things start happening and it is easy to slip back into bad habits without really noticing. So convinced does one become that one's backcast is completely sorted now that the reappearance of tailing loops has a sort of mystical, dreamlike quality. Those can't really be mine, can they? And by the time the horrible truth emerges in the form of a Gordian knot of co-polymer, it is far too late to do anything except go tearfully back to the manual and start all over again.

I was forcefully reminded of this on Friday, when I stepped out to Greenwich to play poker again with Oliver and his friends. I've done a bit of boning up on this poker business since my last experience there, and I was pretty confident that I wouldn't make the same mistakes this time; I'd play watchfully but confidently, I'd fold the bad hands and above all I wouldn't get drawn into any absurdness in the form of the game known as Anaconda. And, of course, I went home in my underpants again. I suppose I could be forgiven for thinking that a man who had recently been gifted a royal flush, four queens and three consecutive full houses might have run out of luck, and that he actually had a miserlt two pair instead of yet another full house; and I played accordingly, ignoring most of the important signals and blindly trundling down avenues that were, in truth, marked with 100-foot neon signs saying DANGER! DEEP WATER AHEAD. I stumbled into it, of course, and they all took my money happily (and above all affably) before trying to lend it back to me so that I could lose it all over again.

I wasn't quite dumb enough to take it; I had, by that time, come to terms with the fact that poker is an expensive way to discover flaws in one's bluffing technique. But I am, alas, dumb enough to go fishing again this week; in the finest, most clich-ridden throwing-good-money-after-bad sense, I will be once again trying to bluff the trout at Grafham into believing that the shapeless ball of seal's fur on the end of my line is, in fact, a delicious chironomid morsel that can only do it good. Put it down to spring fever; and watch this space next week for something that will be almost entirely poet-free.

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. Henry David Thoreau.

Sean Geer ( is a freelance journalist and author. He specialises in ritual humiliation by fish on four continents - most recently in Ireland, where he became the first angler in history to not land a mayfly-caught trout on Lough Corrib in the middle of the mayfly season. A retired seahorse conservationist and self-taught zen origamist, he is currently writing a novel about sex, death and the meaning of fish.

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