HOOKED ON FLYFISHING
This article first appeared in 'The New Forest Country Magazine'
The older I get the more I seem interested in the pursuit of doing very little; or so I thought until asked to take a look at the popular past-time of fly fishing.
My image of the sport was one of simple pleasure; sitting near the waters edge, a rod falling gracefully over my right forearm whilst simultaneously pouring warm tea from a flask. Later I would eat my sandwiches and a substantial slice of chocolate cake about lunchtime; the timeless sound of the water trickling past while a hungry duck hung about waiting for the odd crumb.
So it came as a bit of a shock when my host Gordon rang to say he would pick me up around 4.30 am. Maybe I should take an overnight bag, perhaps we were off to Ireland or Scotland or somewhere hot and mysterious, where drinks are served chilled in a sizeable container rather than a mere flask.
From home to our destination took less than thirty minutes; ten of which we spent chatting to a weary milkman whilst purchasing a pint of milk for our tea.
“Now Simon”, Gordon looked at me seriously, “Did you bring your sunglasses like I suggested”. It was still dark, “Gordon it’s still dark,” I said. “Later when it’s light you’ll find them useful to see fish on the bottom.” The glassy surface of the water was still reflecting the moon and the dawn light now climbing into the sky.
We walked for almost a mile before stepping down onto a little gravel beach. Gordon dumped his bag on the shingle; either side of us the trees hung low over the water, but nothing moved. Gordon handed me a rod then opened a small tin teeming with flies, each one expertly and lovingly created by my instructor.
“A ‘Hairy Mary’,” he said pointing to a particularly exotic looking fly, “and this one we call a ‘Futabugger’.” I said nothing.
Gordon was silent; focused on something a few metres from the waters edge. “Look,” he said in a whisper, “see that.” Tiny fry were leaping out of the shallow water. “Something’s spooked them,” he said as he pulled the line off his reel, knelt down and with one careful back-cast, put his fly straight out in front of us, letting the fly sink. Nothing happened for several minutes, then lifting his rod smoothly, the reel began to scream as the line tore out, just in front of us a little bow wave appeared where the line entered the water.
Bit by bit the fish came closer, Gordon gradually taking charge, reeling him in until finally the tip of his rod drew back and the tired fish came quietly into the net; a beautiful creature, leaving me with a pang of sympathy mixed with elation, the excitement of our first catch.
By lunchtime I found I’d relaxed into natures pace, perhaps this was the lure of fly-fishing. I had a lot to learn, considerable experience to gain. Only through hands-on experience could this be understood; a good fly fisherman becomes so because he’s prepared to listen to advice, test his theories before adopting them as part of his fishing armoury; the thinking angler uses his power of observation and gained knowledge of trout or salmon and their food to guide him to the best methods for each location, it’s like planning a campaign of war.
“Why haven’t we got our feet wet Gordon,” I asked, hoping to try on his waders then stride cautiously into the watery depths. We’d been on the riverbank all morning and my image of a fly fisherman was of standing in a fast running stream amongst the weeds and the rocks. “It’s all about presentation of the fly,” he said. “The very best anglers have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of aquatic life; fish are habitual creatures; we have to stalk them, it’s about attracting the fish to the fly. Sometimes we can do this from the waters edge, but at times we need to lure them from their hiding places; that means moving into the water to find them.”
Sitting by the waters edge sipping tea is not the stuff of fly fishers, merely a figment of my lazy imagination. By evening I was exhausted, but fresh fish was on the menu, no time to waste, a couple of scrapes of butter a little seasoning, and a selection of crispy vegetables ended a relaxing but exciting day beside the river.
© Simon Lawrence