IF YOU have angled for any time at all, you’ll know all about lost fish. You know the ones – they spit the hook at the net, or tear off unstoppably through lilies, or snap the line like cotton.
Some of them don’t matter. The little ones, or the ones that were not the intended species for the day, can be shrugged off with a nonchalance that says ‘there will be other days, and bigger fish’.
But some of them really do matter. Those losses, the monsters or the ones that might have tipped the scales in our favour at the weigh-in, they can really hurt. They can leave you standing, rod in hand, staring at the horizon with a feeling so hollow it’s almost impossible to comprehend.
The sense of loss can last for years. I remember a carp I hooked at Petersfield Heath, in 1984. I was a young carp addict with camouflaged sun lounger and matching rods, and the fish took me to the bottom of the spool on my Mitchell 300. And then it was gone.
I only have to close my eyes and I’m back there, and even though I tell myself it was just a turbo-charged, foul-hooked 10-pounder, in my heart I know differently. Thirty years later, that hollowness lives on.
And then there was a pike – the pike – of Highclere Castle Lake. It would have been my first 30-pounder, and had the temerity to surface close to the net and announce the fact before spitting the trace from its maw.
That was a few years ago, too – the same year, in fact, that Katie Price and Peter Andre married in the grounds of the castle. I recall the former far more clearly than the latter, and know which I consider to be the bigger tragedy.
Once, at the CLA Game Fair, I listened to a talk by a famous TV angler. He closed his presentation with an impassioned plea for us to have fun and see it all in perspective. ‘None of you will be lying on your deathbed thinking about the fish you didn’t catch’, he said.
There was a pause. Amid hushed, reverential silence, a wag then responded with ‘well I b***** well will’. The place erupted.
It wasn’t me, but I agreed with him. It’s not the fish I caught which haunt my dreams. It’s the ones that got away.
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