November 2005 -
The Incomplete Angler
One thing I notice in most of my fishing
books, in common with articles I read in fishing magazines,
is a story of almost inevitable triumph against the odds
– man against nature where the man invariably wins
by steering some formidable specimen on to the bank.
Women are exempt from this observation
since they would rarely cast themselves in this light. But
men do. Even when the fish gets away it is down to some
unforeseeable calamity, some aberration or act of God. Rarely
do you read any admission of incompetence.
I can only conclude, therefore, that either
I must be a freak of nature or that some of these writers
have been selective in their story telling. Today I want
to redress the balance by selecting not the high spots but
the “outtakes” from my fishing expeditions.
It’s difficult to know where to
start. Falling in the river is so commonplace that I should
really wear a snorkel. Total immersion is rare but the regularity
of sopping wet jumpers, shirts, underwear and socks means
that I never venture out without a change of clothes.
The fish themselves introduce another
dimension of farcical potential. I must look no further
than my first salmon of the season on the River Dee. Everything
was a little new: first morning on the river, new reel,
new rod, brain suppressed by high state of excitement.
The 10-foot rod was casting well. There
are places where I would never fish with such light tackle
for salmon but I knew that the fish in this particular run
at this height of water would most likely be not much more
than, say 10 or 12 lbs. For peace of mind I was shouldering
a landing net for the first time.
The water was up to my thighs, the current
strong but manageable, and on the second or third cast I
was in to a fish. It was about nine pounds adding plenty
of bend to the rod that was coping well….before the
reel fell off.
With rod and line held taught in one hand
I reached down, only to see the landing net peel away from
my back and begin to drift downstream. Two wobbly strides
and a desperate lunge rescued the net. Retrieving the reel
with an already soggy arm was a tougher job and securing
it on the rod with one hand, more difficult still. The fish
meanwhile could not have been more considerate, waiting
patiently throughout until it was guided in to the net.
Titanic struggle, yes, but nothing to do with the fish.
The next day, again within a few casts,
I hooked a good fish that took the fly as it landed and
leaped all over the place at the end of a long cast among
some rocks. Finally it settled by a rock and held firm.
The big ones sometimes do this and have to be coaxed in
to life. Anyway I held it steady, textbook fashion, for
minutes before realising that the unforgiving force was
the rock around which my line had been wrapped by a fish
that had long gone.
At least there was no-one there to mock
unlike the afternoon, a few years back, that I had a brief
opportunity to fish on the Duke of Roxburghe’s Lower
Floors beat on the River Tweed. Beats don’t come much
classier than this one and the supervising ghillies were
dressed so smartly they made the anglers look like paupers.
The head ghillie examined my gear with such disapproval
I might have been holding a tiddler net and jam jar.
Determined to prove him wrong, I began
to hammer out the line when the rod end shattered in mid
cast - it must have been fractured in a car door - leaving
me stranded, shorn of all dignity, amid a jumble of plastic
spaghetti. This was not the first or last time I had caused
a ghillie to bury his head in his hands.
My trout fishing errors on a slightly
smaller scale are nevertheless sharpened by an extra dash
of stupidity that has retained a remarkable level of consistency
over the years. The most expensive mistake this year was
just a few weeks ago when boat fishing with my wife at Talyllyn
lake in Wales on a windy end-of-season day. She caught fish
while all I caught were two pristine fly lines, scrambled
around the propeller.
It may be that this year the errors have
been compounded by the number of times I have found myself
in unchartered waters, although that doesn’t explain
the fiasco on the Dee beat that I know well. No matter how
much I learn, I always seem to miss some important detail,
forever the incomplete angler.
Take this last example. Near the end of October I was invited
by Simon Cooper, who runs fishingbreaks.com,
to sample a new letting he has acquired at Wherwell Priory
on the River Test in Hampshire. Fresh from the Welsh disaster
I had just bought a new fly line. Attaching a braided join
for the nylon leader line, it seemed strong enough without
the need for gluing.
I was hitting the fish well, taking a
good number of trout and grayling on a dry fly and then
a nymph, until one took the fly, the leader and the braided
join that slipped from the end of the line. A few casts
later in the same spot, I hooked and landed the very same
fish, complete with the missing leader and fly. Clearly
a specimen new to science - a fish that is dafter than I