[Above: Mark Hix fly-casting for salmon on the River Blackwater, east County Cork, Ireland, September 2014]
1 | Fishing Is Incredibly Addictive
When I was a kid, I was really into golf. I used to caddie for my dad all the time, so he bought me a set of shortened clubs and I got addicted. But gradually fishing started to take over and by the time I was 16, that was that. I grew up in West Bay in Dorset, right by the seaside, so if you saw the sea bubbling — which indicated there were shoals of fish around — you just grabbed your rod and went down to the beach or the pier. My grandmother used to grill or pan-fry mackerel when they were really fresh, and she would pickle the rest. Now, I probably go fishing two or three times a month and I can’t even imagine how many hours I’ve spent doing it, though I’d still say it’s not enough.
2 | Not To Mention Exhilarating
Take it from me: nothing beats fishing for getting the adrenaline going. I still remember a 40kg sailfish I caught in Costa Rica, 12 or so years ago. It was caught on a fly, which is very light tackle for a heavy fish, and it took a good 45 minutes to reel in. I was knackered afterwards. There’s definitely a bit of that primal drive of man versus beast, though as most angling is for sport, you release it afterwards. Or sometimes it gets away from you, which is frustrating. Either way, the fish gets to live to fight another day and there’s still a thrill in making the connection.
3 | You Get To Buy Kit. Lots And Lots Of Kit
Shopping for fishing tackle is like being in a sweet shop. I’ve probably got thousands and thousands of pounds worth, but most keen fishermen do. I have around 20 or 30 rods, and maybe 100 different types of flies: there are all different types depending on the time of year, the species of fish, the levels of sunlight etc. You can even make your own flies, but thankfully I haven’t got that addiction — yet — so I go to places like Farlows in London’s Pall Mall, Robjent’s in Stockbridge or The Tackle Box, the local gear shop in Lyme Regis, where I have a boat. I also tend to keep one set of kit in London and another one exactly the same in Dorset, so that I don’t have to transport it about. Basically, you can never have enough.
4 | Angling Can Be A Real Adventure
You can combine a holiday with a bit of angling anywhere in the world. If there’s water, there’s probably fish — and no, I’m not talking about the pool. I always pack travel rods and small amounts of kit in my suitcase, as you never know. A few months ago, for example, I took a salmon-fishing trip to Iceland. The warm weather caused snow from the surrounding mountains to melt, so the river levels rose, meaning we only caught three salmon between the six of us. But who’s counting? However, while you can be a fair-weather fisherman, if you’re dead serious, you need to brave the storms, which means you need more kit, and more visits to the “sweetie shop”, just in case.
[Above: "Here's one I smoked earlier: fishin is a great excuse for an al fresco feed"]
5 | There Are Different Types Of Fishing To Try
There are more varieties of angling than I could possibly list here: fishing with lures and plugs, fly, course, float, freshwater. You can fish on the side of a river, or in a river, at sea, even in a canal if you’re a real optimist. The type of fishing you do is usually dictated by the season, but I enjoy them all. Size doesn’t necessarily matter either, because you use different weights of rod depending on the size of what you’re catching. A small fish can be as rewarding as a huge one if the chase has been exciting enough.
6 | You Can Eat For Free
One of the great benefits of fishing is that you won’t have to pay for your dinner, assuming you don’t count what you will have forked out after spending so long in the tackle shop. The sensation of eating your catch is indescribable. In Dorset, we often eat mackerel, which are particularly plentiful, but I also have four lobster and crab pots out there. I’ll pull them in at the end of a trip and they might contain as many as six lobsters or 20 or more spider crabs. It’s not rod-and-line fishing, but it still counts. I’ll often have some mates round and cook them on the grill or in a wood-fired oven, or sometimes I’ll make them into a crab or lobster curry. You should also remember that some species need to be returned to the water, so make sure you know what you’ve got. To learn more about conservation in fishing, check bluemarinefoundation.com or watch the excellent documentary The End Of The Line (2009). And don’t worry if you come home with nothing, you can still go and have a steak (more of which later).
[Above: After a gust of wind took his line, embedding a purple shrimp fly in his cheek, Mark takes the sensible decision to get plastered]
7 | It’s Like Meditation
I like fishing in a group, but I also like doing it alone (especially if you’re not having much luck — so your shame’s not too public). It can be calming and takes you away from the day job. Obviously, if you’re catching, you have to concentrate, but if you’re not, you can often find your imagination drifting off in creative directions. You’ll also try to get inside the mind — or rather the stomach — of the fish. You may well know they’re there, but not what they’re feeding on at that particular moment. A sea bass, for example, munches on anything from a sprat to a sand eel to a small or large mackerel, so you might need to try all different flies or lures or even live bait. I fished in the New Forest recently, and caught three big trout in 15 minutes, just because I randomly put on one green fly they seemed to like.
8 | Even If You Don’t Catch Anything, It’s Still Great Fun
My most recent salmon-fishing trip was in September to County Cork on the Munster Blackwater river. Five of us visited Ballyvolane House, owned by Justin and Jenny Green, and were told on arrival by our two ghillies (a Scottish term that roughly means “fishing attendant”) that because the water was low — the opposite problem to the one I had in Iceland — the salmon couldn’t run the river to the spawning destination and were holed up in the saltwater estuary. Essentially, there were no fish. Luckily, one of my companions was armed with a cool-box full of his very fine meats (he’s a butcher) that included porterhouse steaks and a big old rib of beef, racks of lamb and guanciale. I had also brought a couple of sides of smoked salmon and — to wash it all down — we loaded a couple of cases with red. After lunch, we all felt reinvigorated, and during a two-hour session in the early evening, I had a brief but exciting encounter with a salmon that chased my purple shrimp fly across the surface, before disappearing down the river. It was encouraging at least.
[Above: "It's a good idea to have a back-up plan for dinner because sometimes, for whatever reason, you might not be lucky enough to catch any fish - and no one wants to go hungry."]
9 | You Never Know What You’re Going To Catch
Even though the odds were still slim, we set out for a second day on the Blackwater with our hopes renewed. There we were, happily trying out various casting techniques with single - and double- handed rods, when a sudden gust of wind took my line as I lifted off the water. Somehow, almost in slow motion, the little purple shrimp fly at the end — the same one that attracted the salmon the day before — embedded itself straight into my right cheek. One of the ghillies was going to attempt to remove it with his de-gorging pliers but, on closer inspection, shook his head and said, “No, lad, it’s well in.” Later, at the doctor’s surgery, after he’d borrowed a pair of pliers from the mechanic across the road, and with a fair bit of snipping and tugging, it was finally out. Now I know how the salmon feel. But don’t let that put you off: after all it isn’t what — or who — you catch, it’s what you get up to on the journey. ballyvolanehouse.ie