Thursday, February 09, 2006

Those Fish Will Be Difficult to Outwit

Try as I might, it is difficult to avoid writing about fishing forever. Wish I could – but it's just not possible.

Many people don't realise it, but fishing is the most popular “sport”, in terms of the number of participants, in the UK – perhaps in the world (if you listen to fishermen). Note that I must put sport in quotation marks. This simply denotes that not everyone (including me) would accept that fishing is a sport. Not everyone, of course, believes that ice-dancing is a sport either. There I'm inclined to agree with them.

Fishing seems to have its own vocabulary. Witness this angling “report”from the local newspaper: “Waggler has been pulling a few roach on the Cut-Off and Wissey perhaps, because a pole poking about over their heads unsettles the fish in clear conditions. Loose feed and fishing well across, just off the bottom seems to be working on the Cut, while Wissey roach are fond of hemp and tares, even at this time of year. Pegs around the A10 bridges seem to be where the fish are shoaled on both waters.”

Translation, please!

A closer examination of the language used in this report gives some insight into this strange world. In literature terms, there is a long tradition of anthromorphism (giving to animals the qualities which really belong to people). Often this is done with great skill and provides some useful insights into human behaviour which the author wishes to criticise or satirize. Examples: Orwell's Animal Farm; talking animals in the Narnia chronicles; and - how about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

In this riveting column, the reporter gives to the fish the ability to be unsettled by the sight of a fishing pole dangling over their heads. I suppose it's possible, but the more likely explanation is simpler. Dopey fishermen simply must have some justification for spending lots of money and endless time in pursuit of fish they cannot even eat (that's why in the UK it's called “course fishing”) – so they make endless efforts to imbue their quarry with human-like reflexes and behaviours in order to justify the waste of time, effort and money.

Of course there are many more useless, dangerous and expensive hobbies and, as a group, fishermen are not particularly nasty. But, the hyperbole remains mind-boggling.

Back to our newspaper report: Wissey (a small river) roach are fond (anthromorphism again) of hemp and tares. I have no idea what this is? I think I know what hemp is and tares - ? is -is in the Bible - isn't it one of the parables? This is getting rather confusing. Is the reporter saying that fish are a bit partial to mary-ju-wana and small seeds? There is something odd here!

Finally, pegs (I believe this is fishing-talk for the actual place where you stand to do the fishing – it could be more complicated that that – but I just don't know) around the A10 (a road – got this one nailed!) are featuring good fishing – if I've got this figured out correctly. My way would be clearer – but, I suppose, that if you are in the fishing fraternity you are supposed to know what this means.

Fishermen are not the most rational of our fellow creatures. Trying to convince them that there really isn't much talent required to outwit a creature whose brain consists of a small swelling at the end of its spinal cord, is apt to get you a good slap with a wet roach. Nevertheless, it's true. By almost any standard you may choose – fish are stupid! Pretending that great skill and cunning are required to catch them, however, is de rigueur if you are a paid up member of the fishing fraternity.

The actuality is more prosaic. Fishing is just a “good” excuse to get away from the wife; therefore, the more esoteric the fishermen can make their sport appear – the more likely they will be able to get away with it for generations to come!

Nice one lads! Mine's a pint of lager.

As an adjunct, Roy Webster reports in the Eastern Evening News on a new book by Dr Keith A. Jones, PhD called The Scientific Approach To Catching Fish. Dr Jones claims that fish can distinguish colours and that baits which contrast against the background work best. The good doctor also claims fish can detect bait movements better in warm water than in cold and the fish in popular spots tend to recognise and avoid unnatural bait presentations (whatever they are?). Roy's concluding comments may be most enlightening. He speculates, “. . . this book may be worth reading if only to confirm anglers' own views and their discoveries at the waterside”. Giving the game away there a bit, Roy. I'm wondering if Dr. Jones' degree is in para-psychology and was awarded by the University of Malawi?

He's certainly not daft. Fishermen will probably buy his book. Let's be fair – fish are an ancient race. They have been developing strategies for avoiding predators for millions of years. However, since man and his rods, reels and multi-coloured baits have only so lately (in evolutionary time almost no time at all!) arrived on the scene; it is preposterous to suggest that fish have developed strategies to outwit “Rodman” and his neolithic supporters! I may start a campaign to ban sport fishing in order that such clever creatures are not distressed by being hauled out of a river. Actually, I'm probably too late – the League Against Cruel Sports has probably got their first.

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