It is strange weather here this weekend - bright sunshine and a very strong east wind, like coastal weather. Were it not for the wind, I would have noticed more of the Mayflies which have started their annual hatch and are fluttering around looking for something to cling onto, so that they can go through an inexplicable ritual of shedding one skin for another, leaving their old black one behind like a flimsy ghost. It must be difficult to get a grip in these conditions.
They remind me that the fishing season has started and I must begin my inexplicable annual ritual of going into a Post Office and buying a rod licence, then not bothering to use it for the entire season. It's the idea I like - probably more than the activity itself. I have all the kit for fly-fishing, including two different length rods to allow for trees, etc. but I have only ever used it once, and then it was on a boat in the Lake District with a horrible hang-over, having drunk like a fish the night before.
I blame Isaac Walton. I cannot remember when I first read that book - 'The Compleat Angler' - because I have had many copies of it which I have given away to friends. I can't stop myself - every time I see a copy in a second-hand bookshop, I have to buy it.
I am sure you know it, but if you do not, I will tell you that it was written in the mid 17th century and is basically a conversation between an angler and a hunter on the relative merits of each other's chosen sport, and includes handy hints on fishing as well as recipes on the best way to cook the fish - including carp, which is prepared by stitching various herbs and butter into the gut cavity before baking. Needless to say, angling comes out on top.
What makes this book so compelling and peaceful is that it was written right in the middle of the only Civil War that England has ever experienced - Isaac Walton managed to fish his way through the tumult and chaos of civil strife, often right in the heart of the action. There must have been times when he heard the distant boom of cannon fire as he cast his line into the placid waters.
When Walton wrote The Compleat Angler, fishing was just fishing, but since then it has split itself into two distinct disciplines - fly-fishing and the aptly named coarse-fishing.
We all start out as children chucking a line into the water with a bent pin for a hook and a piece of feather for a float, hanging from the end of a length of bamboo pole. That is basically what coarse fishermen still do today, except that they cannot even be bothered to stare at the float any more, so have electronic sensors attached to their lines which give out irritating 'beeping' sounds every time a fish swims anywhere near their dyed-red maggot, and the peace of the river bank is destroyed by these gizmos.
Essentially, these electronic devices are to wake the fisherman up, because - as far as I can tell - coarse fishing entails setting up about £2000 worth of equipment on the bank, drinking about 7 tins of cheap lager, eating a Spam sandwich, then falling asleep. I imagine it also entails getting away from the wife and screaming children too - in fact, this may be the sole point of the exercise.
The fly-fisher must be awake at all times, however, and will often go home with 'tennis elbow' from the repetitive stress caused by the constant casting of the tapered line, which must be deftly swung backward and forward over his head if any distance is to be achieved.
Compared to the coarse fisherman, the fly-fisher can spend a ludicrously large amount of money on his kit, considering that no electronic devices are ever used. A Hardy rod can be upwards of £8000, then there are felt-soled waders, patent lines, fly-tying equipment (for the real nutter), £300 Polaroid sunglasses, hats, vests, etc. etc. The market certainly exploits this little obsession, and I do not think that anyone knows how many books on the subject have been written since Walton wrote the definitive one about 360 years ago.
In reality, of course, your average brown trout will have a go at a piece of bright red wool hanging off a bent pin which is attached to a length of string tied to a bamboo pole held by a seven year old girl - but don't tell anyone, for God's sake. You could destroy a whole industry overnight.
So - like many other sporting activities in the British Isles - fishing is divided into two distinct social classes, though it has to be said that the Countryside Alliance is doing it's best to break the barriers down by organising fly-fishing trips for Moslem girls and children from deprived backgrounds, etc.
It is the young blood that they want to inject into the sport of fly-fishing, when incidents involving sleeping coarse-fishermen being tipped head-first into the river by passing Hunt Saboteurs are becoming more common each summer.
Us fly-fishers are too fast for the antis!