first thoughts

I have been fortunate over the past few months to receive some first class tuition in the art of fly-fishing: this from a work colleague of whom you may know as ‘Seatroutfisher’. I have to admit straight away that I should have begun fishing years ago but, believing that its never too late to start, one conversation led to another, tackle was lent, purchases were made and on a warm and (relatively) still July night I found myself up to the waist in a Welsh river, offering a home-made fly into a known lie, with the firm belief that the next cast would hook a ten-pounder….

Yes I know, you’ve all (I hope) read Hugh Falkus and learnt the theory of how to tackle-up, stalk, hook and land your lifetime fish, but for each of you that sets out on spring and summer nights with this ambition, what the adventure actually means can be very different. Now that I have entered this twilight world I am aware that it means very particular things to me.

I grew up with Falkus’ voice: he narrated “Survival” for Anglia TV, and the Jacques Cousteau programs, both of which I watched avidly on our big black and white television. His voice was so distinctive, as well as being both amiable and authoritative at the same time, that as soon as I was leant a copy of “Sea Trout Fishing”, I found I could hear him as I read. Here, in this book, seemed an earlier world far removed from my daily life, a world which made the most of how an individual could interact with the environment on a personal scale: not to damage it or change it, nor to compete in it with others for the sake of prizes, merely to experience a little bit of nature. And hopefully land that big one….

So here I was, in borrowed waders, attempting to cast like I had been taught and, indeed, like I could do reasonably well when standing practising along an empty stretch of road as we waited for the dark. Here in the river, I’m grateful that my friend cannot see the mess I frequently get into. Yet, when all the components come together – gently drawing in the correct amount of line “…slowly, figure-of-eights…”), correct position of the rod tip, the one-movement lift and flick back (“…don’t let your wrist break …”), the ‘feel’ of the line loading the rod (“…watch out for trees behind…”) and the presentation (“…smoothly, don’t jerk it forward; keep the rod up…”), followed by the soft ‘plop’ as your fly goes where you wanted – oh yes, this is where I wanted to be.

However in truth, what I needed to feel was the ‘take’ – when a fish took the fly and turned on it. I had read the theory and listened to the words describing what to expect and how to react but they’re just words until you feel the tug.

And I got one. No doubt. I knew what snagging on the bottom felt like and I knew for sure the pull of a bush but this was the genuine take. Off it went - a pull, two jumps out of the water and – slack line. Oh, must have been five whole seconds of action.

At the time I was so happy that a fish had had the decency to take my fly (my special one with the little glow-in-the-dark light) and reward my casting skill with a pull on the line that the subsequent loss didn’t sink in until much later. I even saw the thing (only a one- or two-pounder) as it flashed in the gloom. Never mind, it gave me enthusiasm for more. Hell, if my casting improved over the rest of the night who knows what torpedo-sized beast would soon fall to my rod.

But of course, no such beast took my fly. Things that stick in the mind: it rained heavily for a bit and I was in shirt-sleeves but didn’t care; a pair of otters came out to play with the fish that were jumping regularly all around me (the otters let me know where they were by ‘peeping’ in front and behind me wherever we went for the next few hours - one of them even decided to launch itself into the water a couple of feet from where I was standing and proceeded to work the very bank for which I had paid a ticket fee, the cheek of it); my friend landed a nice fish so I got to hear the wet thump of his priest in action; one of the heels of his new wading boots vanished (“…they can go back…”); on my very last cast of the night, I lost my fly to a bush, which was apparently protected by a bottomless pit (“…you don’t want to go any further in there…”) - I tied on a new one as it was just thinking about getting light but on casting it, the rod ‘twanged’, which I have learnt is rod-speak in the dark for ‘almighty tangle’, so we called it a night.

On the way home, my friend asked “Did you enjoy yourself?”

Oh yes.