It was barely ten o’clock at night. The sun hadn’t long peeled itself off the big sky. My car’s engine was still hot. The midnight picnic untouched. And already a sea trout lay twitching on the bank.
A fish. A two and a half pound gem of a salty-gilled, sand eel-munching salmo trutta-trutta, was gasping his last. His only future consisted of hot butter and lemon wedges.
My sea trout tackle was on its first outing of the year. My brand new shiny and black tandem fly still shone with the chromium gleam it sported only hours earlier when Robin took it out of the drawer in Farlows, tackle shop, stuck it on the counter and gently separated me from my hard-earned cash.
A fish was on the bank. My sea trout season had begun. But, my heart now sunk like a doomed Mafia gangster wearing concrete waders. It sank because, this fine fish came in on my first cast. MY FIRST CAST!
Oh, God this is terrible. I might as well start hack-sawing through my rods now. Set fire to my lines. Shred my nets. And pour hot ashes on my Barnet. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.
I hate to catch a fish on my first cast. Hate it. Years of experience and a good solid Scottish upbringing, liberally smothered in layer upon layer of old fashioned superstition, has taught me that too much good luck is a bad thing.
Believe me, first cast, first outing of the season, you do not want to catch a fish. Not if you ever want to catch a fish again for the rest of the season.
I told Patrick, the water keeper for this stretch of sea trout pool on the lower Itchen that I had caught a sea trout, and that I was worried. Very worried. ‘It was my first cast’ I explained plaintively. He looked at me like I was in need of expensive psychotherapy.
‘You’re complaining because you caught a fish?’ He asked with the sort of tone that only a man who doesn’t fish, or have a Scottish mother, could adopt. When I explained the grim significance of catching a fish on your first cast. He shook his head with disbelief. ‘I’ll never understand fishermen’ he said. ‘Even when you have good luck, you’re not happy’.
Patrick might not get it. But any serious angler will. Won’t you? Catching a fish first cast is the big sloppy kiss of death. Isn’t it? Well, just in case you need cast iron proof, I can now report, that the rest of this glorious night was spent with two other mates who fished hard and long. Every nook, cranny and corner of this sea trout pool was thrashed to within an inch of its life mercilessly. Until the sun was up, the birds were relaxing on their mid morning beak break most milkmen were practically finished their day’s graft.
Three grown men of ample angling experience threw all manner of silver and black hand crafted flies around for five hours or more, and no one, NO ONE, even had a tug. Not a nibble. A pluck. Or a snatch. Nothing. Nada. Niente.
The kiss of death. That’s what this sort of good luck brings. Only bad can come from something so good.
So, the first cast of my first sea trout trip of the new season ended in a fish, but one which fortells disaster. I have now jinxed myself. And for one night I also jinxed all my mates. It’s a curse. Somehow I have to undo it.
No one wants to catch a fish first cast. Fishing is like sex. Most of the fun is the anticipation. The preamble. The foreplay. To go straight from cold to climax, in thirty seconds flat is not much good. You need to be teased. To be tantalised. To feel a roller coaster-ride of promise and disappointment before being finally dealt a delicious dose of sweet sensation. A capture. A conquest. A victory achieved after a glorious battle of the senses. Not wham. Bam. Thank you very much, I’ll just stick that on the barbie.
I hate such good luck. As my mates patted my back and said how amazing it was I’d caught a fish so soon. Their hearts filled with expectation. ‘If fumble fingers Fisher can catch a fish so quick and so easy, then we’re bound to bag up, big time’. They secretly thought.
Oh, but they were so wrong. I knew the big, black, wobbly bum of Lady Luck was disappearing into the distance as she waved good bye to me for a long, long time to come.
This very afternoon I’m going trout fishing on Bewl reservoir. Is it even worth me taking my rods? Wouldn’t it just be better if I wore sackcloth for the day instead? Pity my poor mate, Paul who’s meeting me at the reservoir for a thrash at the evening rise. Little does he know the misery he’s letting himself in for.
Or maybe my cursed luck won’t spill over on to him. Maybe the opposite will happen. My bad luck could be his good luck. Maybe big old foul-breathed Lady Luck will have a laugh at my expense. Maybe she’ll let Paul catch a limit bag of fish, while I struggle to get not so much as a tweak. Maybe she’ll use this afternoon as an exercise in my eternal humiliation? Oh God, I’m not looking forward to it.
I’ve seen sea captains kiss coins and flick them into the ocean at the start of a fishing session to bring good luck and scare off the bad stuff. I’ve heard tales of gypsies hexing the water. I’ve seen Maoris say a prayer to Maui, the sacred God of fishermen.
What can I possibly do to unlock the curse I currently feel imprisoned by? On the bank, I offered to let the fish go. It’s a superstition I picked up in New Zealand where the Maoris release the first-caught as a sign of respect. Paying their dues. Buying their good luck. It crossed my mind as a worthwhile gesture. But Tony, my fishing mate talked me out of this particular philanthropic piscatorial gesture. ‘Have it for breakfast. It’ll make a great meal for you and Helen.’
I could see the sense in what he was saying. I could smell the hot butter…. So, I banged it on the bonce. Now, I’m buggered.
I’ve just consulted my Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions to see if there’s any clues how to undo such unwanted bad luck. And I have to say, my first sweep of research isn’t very hopeful. All it quotes is an article from the Weekly Scotsman Christmas Edition of 1898 which simply states:
‘The first draw of the pump brought up a fine young salmon, which was considered so unlucky, the crew determined not to shoot their nets again that night and accordingly put round their boat.’