I knew there was a reason why I had to sit through all those hours of lectures on pastoral counselling at theological college: it was to ready me for this moment, the moment when I (as gently as possible) dispell an illusion that a number of more recent converts to the "gentle art" might have been labouring under.
Here's the thing: forget what the great angling writers tell you in their gushing essays of euphoric prose, forget the fridge magnet stuff that proclaims that "a bad day's fishing is better than a good day at work", sometimes, dear reader, fishing just isn't much fun. Sometimes fishing's capacity to delight is matched only by its ability to disappoint.
Take this morning, for instance.
Up with the lark, off to the canal, and before I'd even reached the towpath things had started to unravel. I inexplicably drove past the turning to the canal. I've fished it half a dozen times previously, but found Nicky Campbell making George Osborne squirm on the radio so diverting that I missed the road, requiring a detour I could ill afford on what was always going to be a short session.
Eventually I arrived, and set about my "plan A", so named because I had no "plan B". Plan A involved starting off by fishing one bridge which has always been beneavolant to me in the past, then walking about a mile to the next bridge, catching several perch at each bridge, and then wandering back to the car park casting wherever I fancied with the unhurried ease of a man who's already caught his fair share of perch.
I started under the first bridge, using a lovely new "bottletop" spinner made for me by an American friend, Don, who runs a custom rod building company called "Rattlesnake Rods" in the US. The lure looked great in the water, spun nicely, gave off a nice flash- everything was right about it, only today the perch didn't want it. I persevered with it because it looked so right, but after fishing both bridges I'd had not a single take or follow.
Disconsolately I tried the less feature-filled stretches as I worked back towards the first bridge, which was to be my last hope. I changed lure (probably half an hour later than I should have done), and put on one of my "banker" Rublex Ondex lures, which I promptly snagged in some tree roots. I set up again, by now thoroughly fed up, walked round a bend and saw a magnificent heron standing on the far bank. I dropped to my knees, got my camera out, framed the shot, prepared to take the picture that would have made the morning's misery worth it, and just as I prepared to "shoot" the heron took off!
I trudged back to the first bridge, and half-heartedly cast another ondex under the bridge, and there it was - the tug of a small perch, I swung the fish in, removed the hooks, released the fish, and realised that catching it had made me not happier, but even more miserable! It was as if catching the fish had made things worse because I now felt slightly less justified in feeling so fed up!
I didn't bother fishing after that- sometimes you just know that it's not your day, and so I returned home to fill the rest of my day off with jobs and chores.
But here's the strangest bit: despite the fact that I hadn''t really enjoyed today at all, I can't wait till my next trip .... funny old game, isn't it?