I was never any good at fishing. The only time I ever caught anything was when fishing for mackerel with feathers from a boat, which is [I gather] the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel [surely a pointless exercise: if you wanted to catch or kill them you could just let the water out of the barrel].
My knowledge of angling comes, therefore, almost entirely from two sources. The first is observation: from the comfort of a boat, I’ve seen anglers along riverbanks, huddled under umbrellas in the rain, miles from any amenities. They don’t seem to be having a lot of fun, but that is no doubt because they “affect a holy melancholy”, as explained in my second source.
Izaak Walton begins his The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation, being a Discourse of Rivers, Fishponds, Fish, and Fishing [a 1904 edition available here] with a friendly argument between Piscator, Venator and Auceps, each lauding his own pastime. They cite learned authorities, refer to scripture and quote poets at length before refreshing themselves at the Thatched House.
Then Venator, having become an apprentice angler, learns “How to Fish for, and to Dress, the Chavender or Chub” and many another fish, pausing to hear Maudlin, the milkmaid, sing her song and her mother sing a response. After a supper of barley-wine and trout, Piscator, Venator and two more anglers, Peter and Coridon, sing more songs, including The Angler’s Song, which includes this stanza:
Of recreation there is none
So free as fishing is alone;
All other pastimes do no less
Than mind and body both possess;
My hand alone my work can do,
So I can fish and study too.
Towards the end of the book’s first part [the second being written by Charles Cotton], Piscator recites a poem attributed to Sir Harry Wotton, this being the last stanza:
Welcome, pure thoughts, welcome, ye silent groves,
These guests, these courts, my soul most dearly loves;
Now the wing’d people of the sky shall sing
My cheerful anthems to the gladsome spring;
A prayer-book, now, shall be my looking-glass,
In which I shall adore sweet virtue’s face,
Here dwell no hateful looks, no palace cares,
No broken vows dwell here, nor pale-faced fears; Then here I’ll sit, and sigh my hot love’s folly,
And learn t’affect a holy melancholy;
And if contentment be a stranger, then
I’ll ne’er look for it, but in heaven, again.
They don’t write ’em like that any more.
I had assumed that this blend of contentment and holy melancholy characterised the anglers of today. But when, having visited the excellent website of the Limerick and District Anglers Association, I moved instead to their FaceTweet page, I found that the modern angler’s lot is not a happy one. The angler has to contend with the iniquities of the Electricity Supply Board [which owns fishing rights on the Shannon], Inland Fisheries Ireland [whose role on the Shannon I know not] and, now, kayakers.
In discussion of another post on the subject, the Association said:
Therefore canoeists who enter this section of river without permission are trespassing.
That interested me, and I thought I should look further into navigation rights on the Shannon. [Update 10 June 2015] I have posted my interim conclusions here.
There is a second point. The Old River Shannon Research Group repeated the kayaking topic on its FaceTweet page with this comment:
This is a commercial company trying to turn the Castleconnell beats into something like Lahinch has become with surfers. See their website here. This type of “development” requires Appropriate Assessment.
I am most reluctant to disagree with the learned Dr William O’Connor on anything, as he knows far more than I do about environmental matters, but his comment raised a second topic of interest and I thought I might look into that too. Again, I’ll post separately on that.