AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY
MAYDAY. Mayday. Mayday Grab your socks. Grab your pole. Put the hammer on. Get the finger out. The mayfly is up. The mayfly is up. The clarion call is borne on the wind through the four provinces by bragged children, church bell, carrier pigeon, telegram, mobile phone, drum beat and fax machine.
Few can resist the challenge. Babies are left wig the bath water, memos unmemoed, wheels of industry unturned, pints unswallowed, songs unsung, sleeping beauties deserted without as much as a briar roses or a peck on the gob.
The cause of all the hullaba loo is a little neuropterous insect called the mayfly (Ephemera vulgata).
With delicate wings of lace and a sculptured body, the may fly rises from its watery bed in rivers throughout Ireland as a natural phenomenon that triggers an unholy trinity and battle of wits between fly, fish and fisherman.
The madness of the March hare and Ia folie of the April fool are in the ha'penny place to the merry dance of the mayfly.
Even the wary fish veterans of many campaigns, the bane of seasoned fishermen, ones that got away and who should know better lose their guile at the flirtatious flutter of the mayfly wing.
Men, women and children of a sensible disposition are led astray and seen crouching on May mornings in long grass on shore lines and pouncing with cupped hands at fresh air.
Commerce thrives a dozen mayfly in a cardboard shoe box can command up to £2 a throw depending on the market. Youngsters barely out of the nappy with a sharp eye and a fast action can become budding entrepreneurs. Fortunes in pocket money are gained and lost depending on the forces of nature.
The second week in May, customarily with a good bit of heat, is normally enough to bring the hatch to the surface. Then they come in droves, the mother of invasions, all the promised armadas, all their birthdays coming together. Up they rise, chucking off their old skin, to the surface poised and ready for a favourable breeze that will take them in to the air.
Free fresh air, party time for the little creatures. They hover up and down in the sun listening to whatever music is on their little fly mans bopping away. Their sole purpose in lie is to find a mate, return to the water, lay seeds for another generation and die and maybe have fun in the process.
They don't bother about mortgages, inflation, peace processes or the aesthetic differences between a Big Mac and a kebab. They hang about anywhere, shooting the breeze, putting on the Ritz, antennae on overdrive for a mate.
Fish go ape
Meanwhile, fish go ape. Dinner bells are ringing across the trout nation. Come and get'em. They rise and take any mayfly waiting for an airlift or those returning to the water to lay eggs. Alas, one or two fish find that there is no such thing as a free lunch in this life and one or two lunches have strings attached.
Two mayfly on a single hook are enough. A small length of nylon connected to a 6-8 ft length of silk floss or a blow line on a long fishing rod is a most successful and age old form of fishing.
Fishermen drift by over depths and shallows of water dappling the mayfly on the surface, with concentration and silent determination. The curl of a lip or a ripple is the most warning you will get. The may fly is sucked down. Wait for it. One, two, three, strike and the confrontation begins.
With monikers like "Duffers Season" and "Mugs Fortnight", the advent of the mayfly have caused much waxing lyrical an a good share of cynicism. Some purists with rod and line see the whole business as mayfly for the masses, not "real fishing". It's a Roman holiday on water, the world of fishing is turned on its head. Beginner's luck is rampant.
Fishy tales to tell
This is true fishing democracy where anyone with a small amount of fishing tackle can rent a boat (two to three people sharing would bring the cost to about £10 a head), with a good chance of putting supper on the plate that evening and a fishy tale to tell the grandchildren.
Whether a fish or a suntan is caught, a day on the water is a worthwhile experience.
Some people regard fishing as sport. Some see it as a primitive hunting instinct. Some abuse it as a self promotion exercise. Animal rights activists may say it is cruel to kill and eat a fish. Others see the fish as a staff of life. There are no straight answers.
The mayfly will be back next year and the trout in turn will go mad for them. Fish eat may fly, man will eat fish and life will go on with or without arguments. The air on warm May afternoons will be buzzing with activity over hawthorn blossoms and hedgerows by the water side when tiny wings beat out a lifetime in a day.
This charming passage in nature will occur on our waters as long as pollution and other reckless forces are kept in check.
After a day's fishing, it's back to the pub for pints and micro philosophies. Great day. Great life.