John Daly: 'Hooked on outwitting a slippery prey'
Up and down the country this week a multitude of hearts and fingers are thrumming and twitching to the rhythm of a climatic spring melody drifting alluringly across the waters and the wild.
In a thousand garden sheds, garages and lock-ups, feverish hands are reaching for rods, reels and fly boxes as the clarion call of a new angling season gathers serious momentum.
Over the past few weeks, fisher folk of every lure and persuasion have been dusting down hooks, lines, sinkers and floats as the annual occupation of the riverbank once again marks the commencement of combat with nature's wiliest foe.
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Whether you be a 10-year-old dangling a piece of string into a muddy garden pool or a Wall Street broker forking over €5,000 to cast a line upon royal water, all anglers answer to a similar universal characteristic: an escape from the hurly burly of everyday life to match wills against an unseen opponent brimming with enough guile and cunning to outfox even the most seasoned piscatorial hunter.
On the bank of a river or lake there are no fail-safe rules for success, only the world's greatest optimists in search of the slipperiest holy grail.
The recently deceased Peter O'Reilly, one of the sport's most respected mentors and whose book 'Flyfishing in Ireland' is generally acknowledged as the Bible of the sport, was well acquainted with this yearly bout of spring madness.
Well I remember his genial company one April day on a muddy bank of the Blackwater River some years ago, as he encapsulated the addictive kick that keeps generations of us enthralled.
"Everything is quiet and peaceful, the angler wrapped in his own thoughts, probably admiring how well the last cast landed when, like an electric shock, the rod in his hand shudders and at the end of the line is a protesting, angry trout."
Observation of the wind, water and natural geography are "like the grace notes in a melody", he added, "these are the things that make for diversity and challenge the hunting instincts."
A passionate conservationist, he never forgot what was really important about life under open skies: "Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. Whatever he does to the web of life he does to himself - every part is sacred."
RIGHT from the time we first stand knee-high in the rush of a fast-flowing current drifting a cast across the misty horizon, a fisherman learns very early on this is no mere combat with a foe who calls the deep his home, but a solitary odyssey where comfort and ease will usually come second place to patience and frustration. And yet, despite the disappointments, the water draws us back time and again, in search of that ephemeral gratification.
Could it be, as Isaac Walton mused in 1653, that: "Angling may be said to be so like the mathematics, that it can never be fully learnt." Amen to that, brother.
Through stinging hailstones, blazing sun and wicked midge bites, we stand patiently, rod in hand, always content in surroundings that are never less than bewitching.
Reaching in the fly box to select a Silver Badger, Hairy Mary, Watson's Fancy or Silver Wilkinson, we become members of a tribe proclaiming that life is in the running, not the winning, and joy is found in the moments between the electric jolts of those magical bites.
Even the times when we return from the river empty handed - there are many, believe me - we happily accept the simple sharing of time and space with trout and salmon is where the real trophies are won.
On the riverbank the scars of life are less apparent, the smiles more readily found, as we thrash the water in our communal optimism, miles beyond that real world far away in the silent distance.