The optimism of the fisherman

Lucy sees first-hand the perenial optimism of the fisherman

Zam has disappeared with his rod and a Tupperware box full of sand eels in search, yet again, of the elusive sea bass. He did the same thing at 6.30am and 6.30pm yesterday. It’s now midday.

The most remarkable thing about this to me is that we can’t see out of the window. The estuary on which our holiday cottage sits provides a view of endless fasci-nation as the tide comes in and out, but, at this precise moment, it’s invisible, covered by low cloud and pelting rain being driven sideways by the breath-catching wind.

When we arrived a couple of days ago, we met the man from next door. He introduced himself as we hunted for the key to our house and said he realised this was a little odd when we’d only just met, but would we like some mackerel? I greeted this generous offer uncertainly. I could guess how it would go down with Zam, who was unloading the car: ‘I don’t think we want someone else’s mackerel,’ he’d say. And I was right.

That opening gambit has, of course, led to long and fulsome discussions about fish: mullet, mackerel, pollock and the Ace of Spades, the jewel in the crown, sea bass. Zam gathers inform-ation from every available source  anyone with a rod and returns from these conversations with renewed determination.

‘Apparently, you want to go out when the tide’s going out and they’ve come up the river and then you stand on that little spit there and that… well, that’s sea bass central.’
‘Apparently, what you want to do is get down there at the lowest tide and fish off the point when they’ve come down the estuary and hang around in that deep bit that’s sea bass basin.’
‘Apparently, what you want to do is take the boat out at high tide and anchor it somewhere off that sandbank and float your rod out the back for a couple of hours. That central channel, that’s sea bass city.’
And so on and on. Each person we encounter has a new theory and Zam is keen to test them all.

Sand eels are essential (apparently), but are in very short supply on the beach this year, so Zam discovered a man on the internet who was prepared to sell him 30 eels for £6 on a Bank Holiday Monday. The eel provider fished them out of the fridge in his back garden for Zam while his wife commented that ‘most of the chaps who pick them up come with aerators’.

Zam, on the other hand, simply emptied Alfie’s loom bands out of our only Tupperware box, in which the eels are now looking the opposite of lively, although not actually dead. He stuffs some mackerel fillets (his own) in his pockets and heads out again.
I’m curious about the sand eels and find myself looking up ways to catch them on the beach, but the internet is surprisingly unhelpful for the rank amateur and I end up watching a four-minute video of a man raking sand without any success ( That’s it. There’s no commentary and one sand eel. It’s beyond dull and yet 20,000 people have watched it. I am constantly surprised by the fishing fraternity.

On his early-morning venture, Zam met a man who had driven more than an hour to the same rocky outlet in the driving wind and rain and who shared his knowledge of the area freely, plus bait tips. No need to bother with a sand eel what you need is a weedless lure. There’s no jealous guarding of fish secrets. Apparently.

Fishermen love theories and don’t mind in the slightest when someone else’s theory proves right. They like the combination of knowledge, nature and luck. Plus a dash of magic. I’ve never known Zam to look out of the window and think no chance. He always thinks there’s a chance. Always.

‘Dad’s going to spend the week fishing for bass, isn’t he?’ asks Olive. ‘And he won’t catch one will he?’ That, we both agree, is not what he thinks.

This article was first published in Country Life magazine on September 10 2014