For years I have wondered at the sanity of my good friend Conrad as he stands out on a beach, or on rocks, in all winds and weathers, trying to catch fish. He’s quite good at it, he wins competitions and stuff, but isn’t it easier just to go to Sainsbury’s and buy the fish you want?
Although he once described an angler’s idea of hell as going fishing with someone that doesn’t ‘get it’, Conrad agreed to let me go fishing with him yesterday, to try to give me an idea of why he enjoys it so much, (him and many thousands of like-minded souls, did you know that the various types of fishing in the UK combine to make it the most popular participant sport, even more popular than football).
Fully equipped for the day with new wellies and a flask of coffee I arrived at Burnham-on-Sea and made my way across the beach to where Conrad was already busy doing what fishermen do. It dawned on me fairly quickly that beaches aren’t just about sand, there’s also mud, lots of mud, the sort of mud that your feet get sucked into and you think you’re going to die……or maybe that’s just me, I have quite a phobia of mud, ever since a walk in the local woods when I lost my footing and slipped backwards, at high speed, down a twenty-foot steep slope, all the time whimpering “hellllpppppppp” in a pathetic tone.
Conrad told me lots of technical type stuff as he prepared a hook with some bait…. hook probably isn’t the right word actually, this shows how much notice I took of the technical stuff…it might be a rig? I did notice what type of bait he was using, there was some stinky squid, some herring and some freshly dug, wriggly worms….I kept my distance from all of it.
With two lines already cast, the rods sitting in a special rod holding tripod thingy, Conrad cast a third line…..I think this was showing off, I’m sure he doesn’t normally fish with three rods at once. Then we waited…..and waited….and waited…..we noticed a man further up the beach reel in a fish, a ray of some sort…..Conrad’s bottom lip looked in danger of sticking out, I felt a sulk approaching…..he wondered outloud whether it was my fault, was I bringing him bad luck, was I a Jonah. Suddenly he jumped to his feet, he’d noticed one of the rods twitching, a few minutes later he was holding a dogfish and looking much happier, the first catch of the day.
The next few hours passed quickly, we moved further back up the beach several times as the tide came in, until we were finally off the treacherous mud and on much safer feeling ground. Conrad continued to monitor the rods and periodically reel them in so that he could change the bait, apparently it loses its smell after a while and becomes less attractive to passing fish. Now that we were further back up the beach he had to wade out into the water each time to cast, right up to his middle at times and pretending to almost fall over for added dramatic effect.
He caught another three fish, two rays…… I think they were called thornbacks, they certainly had something sharp and thorny looking all over their backs……and a conger eel. A total catch of 20lbs 13oz.
In between catches I had a lesson in casting, not into the sea, just onto the beach; my first attempt briefly looked as if I might kill one of us, the lead weight/rig/whatever it’s called only just clearing our heads and landing right in front of us….but I did get better….not very good, but better……we both agreed that more practice is needed before I ever attempt to actually cast out into the sea.
Towards the end of the afternoon I wandered up the beach to take a photo of Burnham-on-Sea’s famous lighthouse….
….as soon as my back was turned Conrad scurried over to one of the other anglers on the beach, there were four or five….don’t go thinking he was just being sociable, oh no, this was all about his competitive streak and wanting to know what anybody else had caught during the day, and yes, there was a certain degree of gloating once we’d walked back to our own spot on the beach and he told me that nobody else had caught as much as him.
So, did I ‘get it’?
Kind of. I really enjoyed my day out, it’s always good to do something new isn’t it? I ‘get’ the excitement when there’s a bite and you’re waiting to find out what it is you’ve caught. I didn’t like the mud, far too scary….I didn’t like the worms, but could, possibly, in time, deal with the herring, (provided I was wearing gloves). I can’t begin to imagine enjoying being out there on a cold, dark, winter’s night….I am quite sure that mud would eat me if I couldn’t see where it was. Most of all I got a really good feeling of being ‘away from it all’, on a day when the country seemed to be falling apart at the seams I was on a beach, with only an intermittant signal on my phone, no Wi-Fi connection, no TV, no radio – and that was something I really did ‘get’.
Conrad, thank you for taking me fishing, can I come again sometime? (maybe to somewhere with less mud).