On and off, with some long dry intervals, I have fished since 1975, and really know what I'm doing, so there is no excuse for being as poor an angler as I am in fact.
I hardly ever fish in company, my oldest son excepted, and very rarely record my catches. But sometimes the details of the day soak through into a letter or an email.
Somewhere in England, 8th March 2014
Like other compelling activities that are driven by undeniable forces, the interest is embarrassingly simple, which is why we frequently find ourselves driven to mystical and irrationalist explanations that load such delights with a significance that they can't bear (the case of music should be a ghastly warning; listen to the Radio 3 hosts if you doubt this point).
The truth is that the experience of catching a fish, especially a large fish, is just exciting. It seems to engage a larger part of our capacity for psychological attention, than, for example, filling in an income tax form. Often, when we do one thing we want to be somewhere else; but with fishing this isn't the case, we have landed where we want to be, are in equilibrium and very active but not leaning in any particular direction. The event of a catch does disturb this, but the state of calm returns, though with a feeling of still more complete engagement, partly resulting, I think, from the alleviation of the fear of loss.
Not leviathan, but a fair fish
Doubtless, this feeling that all is right with our world is an illusion, at least in part, but the strength and integrity of the experience is such that it lives long after the day has passed and draws you back to the water again and again.
A little further down the river
I'm fairly sure that this isn't an idiosyncratic view, and though the angling literature is not that rich in attempts to describe the matter in detail there are numerous hints and occasional descriptions that are unusually honest and open, like this from one of Britain's most successful pike anglers, Mick Brown, describing his feelings after landing an outstanding catch:
There was no doubt in my mind that this was a thirty [pound fish] but I was in no hurry to weigh her. I was at peace with the world and overflowing with a mixture of relief and contentment. It is at times like this that I enjoy the solitude. Piking is a very personal thing for me. I am not really all that interested in what other people are doing or catching. I live in a world of my own and find that the fantasy is often shattered when others are around. (Mick Brown, Pike Fishing: The Practice and the Passion (Crowood: Ramsbury, 1993), 164)
If there is anything more to angling than this I should be surprised, and a little disappointed. Indeed, if it proved to be some important step towards social, spiritual, or intellectual enlightment, I think I'd stay at home instead.