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A brief flirtation with furtive fishing

Outdoor Living

SERENITYA view over Castle Island, Lough Carra, where trout are hard to find. Pic: John Shelley

Country Sights and Sounds

John Shelley

With the lifting of travel restrictions pending, my mind is on the river, or what there currently is of it. Weeks of drought have hit the water table hard and have starved my favourite stream near to death. It barely trickles from pool to pool and the reduced flow has allowed reeds and water plants to take over.
This year all my fishing has been on Lough Carra, which lies just a short walk from home. Dear, sweet Carra, with her bright water and truculent trout. She gives up her secrets with reluctance, rewarding countless hours of patient angling with just another broken sigh. There are only so many fishless days an angler can endure. I’m getting desperate.
The time came that I had to make a Necessary Journey, along the road of which I should pass the small but deep Carnacon Lakes, where more trout used to live. It would be the perfect place to stop for lunch, and after lunch, why, wouldn’t it be fine to stretch my legs and, look, by what happy chance did my fly rod happen to be in the car?
I was only halfway through my sandwich when something splashed a few yards from the shore, just at the edge of the wind-riffle the far side of a flat calm. It was a fish, that was certain. But it couldn’t be a trout. Or could it?
There it was again. Seconds later another something moved, this one right out in the middle, far beyond casting range. And then, within moments, innumerable fishes were gorging on a spontaneous hatch of insects, leaping and splashing from bank to bank and presenting the kind of opportunity that comes but rarely.
It was too much. I couldn’t help myself. There seemed to be nobody around. Besides, I was within five kilometres of home – just about, as the crow flies…
What was the direction we were given? Fish if you must, but don’t drive to go fishing. Well I hadn’t driven to go fishing, I just happened to have my fishing rod with me while driving. I’d stopped for lunch – after all, isn’t it dangerous to drive on an empty stomach? And wouldn’t I be entitled to a short snooze after eating? Of course I would. And if I chose to take a little walk rather than a nap, surely that’s alright as well. In fact it might be considered essential, even if only to test my eyesight.
So there was I, parked neatly off the road and all kitted out to catch innumerable trout, and those trout feasting on flies as if they hadn’t eaten in a week. For some reason I felt like a criminal, and when a car drove past I pretended to be examining something in the hedgerow until it rounded the bend. Only when it was out of sight did I skip across the road and look over the gate to the water below, where trouts great and small continued to frolic.
I was halfway over the gate when two cyclists pulled up at a barely respectable social distance. They wouldn’t stop, surely. Indeed they would. They looked from me to my car and back, then gave a knowing nod as if to say ‘There’s a man who’s driven to go fishing; a lawbreaker, none the less’. Yet we agree that the Law, as Arbuthnot says, is ‘a bottomless pit; it is a cormorant… that devours everything’, including our freedom.
Never mind, I’d wait until they moved on. In the meantime, I watched while they took their rest, enjoying a snack and refreshing themselves with drinks. I wanted to hurry them along, to cram their sandwich into their mouths in one go, to pinch their nostrils and pour their drinks down their throats in order to hasten them along their way and myself to the lake while the trout were still feeding.
They took their time. Of course they would. After all, the day was warm and the country was in lockdown. There could be no reason to hurry.
Anxiety was building within me, and more so as they considered post-lunch the right time to check tyre pressures, adjust saddles and more or less strip down and rebuild their bikes.
They only left when the fish had tired of feasting and the lake was calm once more. At least my conscience was clear. The pressure is building though. Never mind, not long to go now.