Old Man Angling – Aging Uncle Dancing

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Is there a difference between an old bloke fishing and a middle-aged uncle dancing at a wedding? The only difference, and I report this as sad fact is that the latter has a large audience and the former rather less or, in my recent experience, none.

When I was a nipper my dad took me fishing. His rather forlorn hope was that he too would be fishing, but, for the first half a dozen times at least, he spent very little time drowning worms and an inordinate amount of time extracting my line from trees, weed and weir pools, untangling ‘birds nests’ of line whenever I tried to cast out and removing hooks from me or my clothing.

When I got as far as tackled up and bait in a reasonable place the chances were that I would fall in, lose my bait, lose my float or, strike so hard my kit would once again end up in the trees. On the odd occasions when it all came together relatively smoothly and a fish took the bait I was, once again, in danger of losing kit, losing the fish and falling in.

Many years later my dad, then in his eighties came over from New Zealand and I took him and my even older father-in-law fishing. My hopes of fishing were equally forlorn as I spent my time baiting their hooks, untangling their tackle, landing their fish or removing hooks from their clothes, each other and me.

What went around came around again the other day.

I took me to the cool banks of a tranquil pool. It was deliberately close to a nature reserve so I could pass time admiring nature if the fish weren’t biting. While my better half came with, she spent the first few hours catching up with the sleep I had robbed her of to go fishing, mostly in the car while I struggled alone on the bank.

Unexpectedly fish were taking my bait and I was managing, by and large, to cast it where I thought it would do most good.

The first fish of the day was a fine, double figure common carp. It fought well, so well that it reminded me that, as we age we lose some muscle power. Three days later I still ache from the tournament.

Had the first take been from a smaller fish things might have gone differently, but as it was I ended up with a fine fat fish on the bank, aching shoulders from the fight and aching sides from laughing at myself.

Before the fish I had cast to several places where small fish nibbled at my bait. When I managed to get to what I considered to be prime locations I got bites from carp. This venue is float only, which in my dotage reminds me of my youth and so is my preferred method. So, when I got to the right place several times my float disappeared with extreme prejudice.

Naturally I contrived with every once to ‘miss’ the bite. Sometimes I literally ‘missed’ it by letting my eyes and mind wander, lured by butterflies and birds or just letting my lolly gagging mental processes free reign. Mostly I just time the ‘strike’ all wrong… striking too soon or far too late. The usual result was my hook and line quickly ending up beside me on the bank… although, thankfully, there was nowhere to get tangled so this was just a quick retrieve than a tangled mess.

Half an hour or so in, the wind dropped a little and my cast to the perfect spot actually hit the perfect spot. As the bait sank a fish took it and I struck and connected!

Thus began the sad uncle dancing. I found that winding the fish in was not straightforward as it ‘ran’ to weeds, to reeds and to open water. It wanted to escape. Not unreasonable and not unexpected, but requiring far more control and energy than I remembered. I strained and sweated looking around me for assistance. I called out but no one came running… I was alone in a cruel world.

I managed to get the fish closer to me when I realised I would need the landing net and dabbed a hand around behind me while concentrating on not lessening tension, yet only able to use one weakening arm to do so. Eventually I found the net, and realised I had not extended it and there was no way I could reach the water. There followed a ten-minute farce as I tried to keep the fish on the line while undoing a butterfly nut, extending the landing net and then re-tightening the nut.

Now it was the right length I could sink it into the water and try and steer the fish into it… but discovered that I had forgotten how and each time I pushed the net out further I somehow managed to allow the fish to swim further away. Moreover, all the while, as I readjusted, my rod butt found its way up my shirtsleeve, as I released it the landing net pole worked its way into the armhole of my gillet. At one point I managed to get the fish over the net but both rod and net pole were caught in my sleeves and I had to somehow shuffle them out without losing the fish. This mad twisting and turning had as little rhythm as an uncle dance but was, I am sure, as entertainingly inane.

Eventually, and completely by accident I managed to free up both arms and guide the fish over the net and then lift the fish from the water. My laughter ceased, but my grin broadened and I flushed with the success that, a decade ago would have been guarantied and far shorter in duration.

The moral of this story is, of course, if you have an ageing relative of an angling persuasion take him or her to the bankside, wind them up and stand back and enjoy the entertainment!