Off The Hook

Following the success of The Fishing Widow’s Guide, I produced a sequel – The Fishing Widow’s Almanac – which was more of the same, but giving advice on how to cope with living in an angling household, on a month by month basis. Shortly after I’d completed it, though, my 28-year marriage to the Chief Angler collapsed. I had more important things to deal with, like getting a job, and the book was bunged in a drawer and forgotten about. I have to tell you that the reason for the decline in our relationship had nothing whatsoever to do with my ex-husband’s obsession with throwing things in and dragging other things out of water, fresh or saline, but was entirely the result of his devotion to liquid of another kind, but that's all non-water under the bridge now.

Since I’ve been working for Mpress, I’ve received a number of requests for copies of the Guide, now out of print, and one email in particular made me smile. It was from a chap whose mother had bought a copy for each of his ex-wives (two) as a pre-nuptial warning, so that they would know what they were letting themselves in for. Clearly, the theory turned out to be vastly different to the practical, as he wanted to know where he could source a copy for potential wife number three. I’m guessing he wanted her to read it before she signed anything. Twice bitten, thrice shy. Still, third time lucky, they say; perhaps this one’s got a sense of humour, a vital quality in a fishing widow, in my opinion.

Anyway, I’ve now released the book from its prison, tarted it up, added chapters regarding the loss of my fishing virginity, renamed it ‘Off the Hook’, and Mpress are going to publish it in the spring, together with a reprint of ‘The Fishing Widow’s Guide.’

Off the Hook shows, in hindsight, how much fun an angling household can be. While living in the midst of clamour and inconvenience, the amount of entertainment that the anglers provide, mostly inadvertently, shouldn't be overlooked. It’s hard work, too, but when I look back, I can see that the pros definitely outweighed the cons. It was fun, mostly, but even today, after 30-odd years of being around anglers, I’m still mystified by the idiosyncrasies and downright baffling thought processes of those involved in all aspects of the sport.

My angling sons have now grown up and left home and the Chief Angler and I have divorced, but I am still enjoying being around the fishing scene. I even made a tentative move toward fishing on my own account, and the loss of my angling virginity is revealed at intervals throughout the book, the climax appearing in the epilogue.

I have tried to isolate the humour that shows itself inevitably, when the bewilderment generated by the odd behaviour of anglers becomes too much to rationalise. What else can you do, but smile indulgently at it all?

I already have a list of those who want signed copies – including Chris Tarrant, who very kindly sent me a snippet to include in the October section – I hope you’ll be on the list, too.

Extracts from Off the Hook:

Recently, I had confirmed to me what I've always suspected, that one of the qualifications required to be a successful carp angler is to be ever-so-slightly mentally unbalanced. Going through my million or so photos while searching for one to illustrate an article, I came across a few that portray this disturbance in all its glory.

I showed them to a couple of fellow fishing widows who happened to be visiting and was surprised to learn that they, too, were in possession of similar shots and occasionally, were given cause for concern about their anglers' state of mind.  They had been too embarrassed or ashamed to show these pictures to anyone and had hidden them at the backs of drawers but they were very grateful, they said, that I had come out. Their relief at knowing that they were not the only ones with dodgy family members knew no bounds.

The carp dance; more evidence for the slightly mentally unbalanced theoryThe carp dance; more evidence for the slightly mentally unbalanced theory

During what seemed like a group therapy session, I was told of a carp angler who makes a habit of driving 50 miles or more in dire weather conditions, just to check out a 'new' lake, not to actually fish it mind, but to assess the size and dietary preferences of the carp within it. He takes careful note of the surrounding trees and assorted shrubbery, chats up resident anglers, then mentally chooses a swim that he fancies fishing after he has had time to calculate the number and flavours of boilies required for a couple of days' fishing, and the type of rig appropriate to the venue.

Once all this had been ascertained, apparently, he revisits the water on alternate days, suffering a 100-mile return trip, and throws bait into the chosen swim; no fishing involved at this stage. This is a common strategy and not at all unusual behaviour, according to the anglers who do it. We thought it was weird. Like window-shopping, in a way, we couldn't see the point of that either.

During the consumption of several cups of coffee, we discussed the angling phenomenon further; I made a large pot in the end, heavy on the caffeine. We speculated on the likely reasons that our menfolk habitually bivvy up beside a lake in fog, snow, hurricane or blinding rain, allow their bodies to get soaking wet, first degree wind-burn or frost-bitten and still profess enjoyment.

Maybe it's to get away from us, we thought, but only briefly. No! It couldn't possibly be that. Clearly, this is an inherited genetic disorder, carried from the male side.

from: My Accidental Carp
…minutes after he had left, the right-hand rod screamed off with me screaming behind it, but he was well on his way to the other side of the lake and couldn’t hear me. I hesitated briefly before picking up the rod and striking, convinced that the absentee would have heard the bleeper and come haring back to the rescue. Did he heck as like! There was no alternative but to reel in, all the time yelling, in vain, for him to come and help me.

Then I realised things were getting serious, stopped yelling - I was shaking and couldn't breathe for a start - and decided to concentrate, not having a clue really, what to do. I talked myself calm. Years ago, faced with panicky situations, I developed this technique, and it still works. Maybe it would be just as effective if applied to the carp. I decided to give it a try. It couldn't do any harm and I was prepared to grovel and beg if necessary, just to get the carp to cooperate.

The fish was zig-zagging across the lake and I knew that I had to keep it in the clear bits. There was a considerable amount of weed around and I had no idea where possible snags might be. This fish action, I was later informed, is called kiting - sounds like a martial art to me. I began my monologue.

“Come on, sweetheart. Just to the left a little bit, there's a good boy. You're doing so well. Don't be frightened. I'm not a proper angler. It's only me. I'll prob'ly never do this again and I won't hurt you.” Then, as it made a lunge for the weed, “No! No!  Not that way. Now you're being silly. Stop it! Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean it. You're a beautiful fishy, soooo clever and I'm sorry if this is stinging a bit. You've got to come to Mummy, I have to get that nasty hook out for you.”  Good job my mate was on the other side of the lake, now I come to think of it.

Suddenly the reel locked solid and it was hard to keep hold so I let some line out.
“Oh, okay. Not ready yet? You have a little swim, then,” and gently reeled in again. This happened several times and I'm amazed that I had the presence of mind to do what I did. I must have somehow absorbed fishing knowledge from decades of watching others and acted upon it instinctively.

Fifteen minutes later, I could see the fish and between muttering endearments and words of reassurance to my capture, began yelling again. Clearly, the rod-owner was still deep in conversation. What on earth was I going to do, now?  I couldn't leave the poor thing swimming round in circles and he'd kill me if I lost it. Somehow or other I had to try to net it.

Rosie Barham - Carp FishingNow, what would a real carper do? Lay the net in the water adjacent to the fish, then guide it to a convenient angle and slide the net underneath it. That sounded okay in my head. In practice, though, it's not that simple. The fish had a mind of its own and didn't fancy the net at all, despite me telling him that it was 'only a net, you silly boy. I'm sure you've seen a net before. Come on, baby. Let me have you.'  Three attempts later and I had him but couldn't lift the net out of the water. More yelling.

Eventually, my cries for help were heeded and a breathless angler came rushing along the path toward me.
“Erm...” I began apologetically. “Erm... I've got this fishy in the net and I can't lift it out.”
He muttered something about ‘bloody women,’ hauled the net from the lake, carried it over to an unhooking mat, and uncovered it. He went very quiet for a moment or two.
“Oh my God,” he said. “What have you done?”
I was getting really worried. What had I done?  Had I hurt it? Killed it?  What?
“You've only gone and caught the biggest fish in the lake, you cow! I dunno, leave you alone for five minutes, and you stitch me up.”
I began to feel guilty until I realised that he was excited as I was.
“How the hell did you manage to get that in?” he said. “Last time that fish was caught it took three anglers and a boat to land it. Stay there and look after the fish. Don't move or touch anything. I'll be back with Gary and a camera.”  He set off at a power-walk, while I disobeyed and had a deep and meaningful conversation with my beautiful mirror. I told him how gorgeous he was and that I was going to take the hook out of his mouth and I'd be as gentle as I could.

Minutes later the real angler returned followed by the rest of the syndicate members, all armed with cameras. They'd all arrived to congratulate and I was impressed with their enthusiasm and friendliness. To a man, they told me how wonderful I was and not one of them sniffed disdainfully because a mere novice, and a female to boot, had caught the fish they'd all been after for months. They are a seriously lovely bevy of blokes.

I have photos of me now. There are few in existence because a prerequisite to having your picture taken in the circle I mix with is that you must be holding a fish, otherwise, what's the point?

Rosie Barham

Rosie Barham
What a fantastic carp! Good-looking and a great listener, what more could any woman want?


This article previously appeared in Carp And Coarse Angler magazine and is reproduced with permission of Mpress