I am therefore blaming age for realising that I am spending more time in front of the box, and now that there is so much fishing available to view, I have become a bit of an armchair angler. Some of the programmes are excellent too, and bring back plenty of memories of fishing that I have done, and still do, but there is some fishing depicted that I simply do not consider worth the risk, however big the fish are, and however plentiful they may be. Perhaps that is a sign that youthful enthusiasm has departed and life is more important. For example, only about 12 years ago Kay and I fished for tarpon in Costa Rica where three things happened that put our lives at risk, one of them before we even started fishing and one after we had finished with the first part of the holiday and were leaving the tarpon to chase billfish.
The first event was something that could happen in many parts of the world but is pretty unlikely when trotting the Avon for barbel. We were involved in an earthquake. We were having dinner in the restaurant on the top floor of the highest hotel in San Jose when it started. The hotel started to shake and for a second or so I thought that the top floor was going to revolve like the Post Office Tower in London, as the view from the restaurant looked right across the city. Not having ever experienced such a thing before, an earthquake never entered my mind. As we were eating early due to an early start the following morning, to catch a little plane to our tarpon camp, there were only two other people having dinner. They were two American guys who threw themselves to the floor. I’ve no idea what for. I wandered off to the kitchen to try and find a way out as the lift wasn’t working, but all the staff had gone, and by that time the shaking of the building was not so violent. Kay carried on drinking her soup.
Seventeen floors below was the street, which was full of humanity, as everyone had left whatever they were doing and emptied the buildings. We would never have made it!
The staff returned. They gave Kay a rose and called her a very brave lady. My stomach had turned over, as with the violence of the shaking, I honestly believed the hotel would collapse and we would die. I couldn’t finish my soup, and certainly didn’t want a main course. Kay did, and thoroughly enjoyed her meal, while I contemplated life and death. Where we were in San Jose, the quake measured 5.6 on the Richter Scale, if that means anything to you worldly anglers out there. It was frightening enough for me!
I appreciate that many people live in areas where earthquakes are common, and dangerous, but as the odds are against ever being in one again, I don’t think that I would be put off from visiting Costa Rica because of that, but the second event…
The tarpon fishing was carried out in flat-bottomed punts called jon boats. They were just like a Thames punt, but of aluminium. They were transported from a river, through the surf and out to sea by a 70ft. mother-ship, and then launched down rollers into the ocean, with the guide and anglers aboard. Apart from being on the Atlantic Ocean, a few miles offshore, in a punt with very little freeboard, it was straightforward enough, without too much to fear, except when it was time to return to base. If the sea was not too rough and the surf therefore not too big, the guide would run the boat into the river mouth on a big wave. We did this several times and then we had a change of guide, as ours was not available on this particular day. A younger man of less experience we guess, as he missed the flat of the wave and had us clinging on for our lives as the punt was just under the crest of the wave, sideways on, and almost vertical. We were lucky to stay in the boat and make the river. There are always a few guides at the mouth of the river when boats are coming in, in case of a problem, and what they screamed at our chap I have no idea, but although in Spanish, it sounded pretty vocal to us. A couple of days later he had another man and his wife in the water! The other guides charged out through the surf in their jon boats and found the man fairly quickly, but it was a quarter hour before they found the lady. Luckily we all wear lifejackets when running the surf, but that is no guarantee of survival in a shark-infested sea, with some of the sharks exceeding several hundred pounds. The male angler went out once more, but the lady would not, and now, a few years on, neither would Kay or I.
I said there were three things…
We were in the five-seat plane, taxi-ing for take-off, when the pilot stopped suddenly and asked the passenger in the front seat to get out and look beneath the plane. The front wheel was losing air. If we had taken off and tried to land on a front wheel with a flat tyre, we would probably have flipped over, and may not have survived, especially as we eventually landed in 50mph cross winds. This did not stop us flying again, and we have flown in small aircraft many times since. Neither would terrorists, nor reports of the occasional plane crash, stop us flying, but the bit in the middle of that trip, even though the tarpon fishing was marvellous – far too dangerous!
I started this piece with an idea of writing of my reaction to some of the ‘professional anglers’ on the telly, and as usual my mind has wandered off a bit, so I had better get back ‘on line’. (Pun intended.)
When I see the television personalities fishing in broad daylight, with buzzers continually telling the world that they have a bite, I fail to see the point. I can appreciate a carp angler who may have been up all night, and wants to snatch an hour or two’s sleep in the quieter period, but anglers who are only fishing during the day?
I watch some of these people with these alarms that are never switched off. Every time they pick up the rod, every time they adjust the line, or an indicator, and so on, bleep, bleep, bloody bleep. I could happily throw them and their buzzers in the drink. I have had to listen to such anglers on the occasions I have night fished. All night they are messing about with the damn tackle, keeping everyone from having a peaceful session. God! It is simple enough to switch the thing off while making adjustments, or make the adjustments while a rod ring is resting atop the buzzer, simply dropping the line in the slot when it is sorted. I think that anglers who are showing their prowess to children and lesser anglers, should be like children were expected to be when I was one, "Seen and not heard".
I’m always amazed when I watch the antics of some of them with their tackle, especially when using multipliers. Many multipliers now have a level-wind mechanism, even quite large models capable of carrying a good quantity of line, and maybe many of the ‘professionals’ have always used those, and so when they get carted off to do a programme where bigger fish, and heavier tackle, are necessary, it shows. I watch a few who do not seem to realise that when retrieving line on a large or big-game multiplying reel, it must be levelled on the reel by hand to avoid bunching up on one part of the spool, usually the middle. A reel should be fully loaded if the fish are large enough and fast enough to empty the reel of all the line. Even when it is not fully loaded, and sometimes even then it can happen, it is essential to wind the line level, or the bunching of line on a fully loaded spool will cause the line to jam against the reel frame, possibly with dangerous consequences.
One or two guides I know, who are often dealing with amateur anglers, have their reels below full to allow for the fact that many of their clients will bunch line on the spool. When I am out with them, we often ask if we can remove the end gear and trail the line while under way to a mark. We let it out until we reach the levelled stuff, and then rewind. When guides have come in late with clients they don’t have time always to do this.
Another surprise to me, which ties in slightly to the former in the way anglers handle their reels, is how many of them completely rely on the clutch mechanism when playing fish, whether it be fixed-spool or multiplier. I have watched a couple of anglers who wound even when the clutch was slipping. I cannot say this about centre-pin anglers who coarse fish, but some fly-fishing reels, and the older single-action big-game reels, had clutches or a braking system. If you think I am going to talk about braking a spool with your thumb on a big-game reel when a marlin is emptying it, no fool is going to try that, but I have used thumb pressure to add to a SLOW-RUNNING big fish, rather than mess about with a clutch while in the process of playing it. In any case, on a big-game reel there are known pre-set adjustments that can be made while fighting a fish, but fiddling about with a clutch on lighter gear, while a good fish is being played, without knowing exactly what is the extra pressure, or lesser pressure, is foolish in my opinion, when a sensitive finger or thumb can do whatever is necessary. Or in some cases where fish are not that fast, back-winding is a perfectly satisfactory method of playing fish.
I could go on for ages about my views of the angling on the box, but perhaps I have already overstayed my welcome.