December 2006 - Angling
Dusk has settled and a half moon is shining over the splashes
near Glyndebourne in East Sussex after a perfect day of
driven pheasant. The stillness of the early evening is broken
by the honking of an approaching skein of Canada geese.
A flash from the barrel and a bird drops.
Not every angler is drawn to shooting. For me the attraction
is largely social, but there is a magical stillness, waiting
by water for flighting birds that shares the peace of the
riverbank.Until the bang.
It was a good bird and the next day I set about plucking
and dressing it. Choosing our well trussed supermarket meat,
we don’t have to think about the innards or the head.
Stretching out the wings, running your fingers through the
fine inner layer of down you see and feel the real bird
in all its glory.
But there’s no catch and release in shooting. This
goose was cooked, and very tasty it was too. It’s
after a satisfying meal on a long winter evening that I
like to look back on my best fishing moments during the
previous season. I had a few contenders this year although
none that could be described as superlatives in the “biggest”
or “most” categories.
By far the prettiest fish I caught was a beautiful silver
hen salmon of about 12 lbs, a fine Dee springer. It’s
not many years since riparian owners on the Dee were fearing
that their spring run had been lost. Today, little by little,
it’s coming back and, to ensure the recovery continues,
every fish that’s caught is returned.
This was my only spring salmon and perhaps that was why
it was memorable. But I don’t think so. Like most
of the memorable fish, I recall it because I knew that my
fishing – casting presentation, depth and fly - had
come together in a way that seemed right in a part of the
river where fish were concentrating as they moved upstream.
Some anglers are perfectionists from the moment they arrive
at the water with their reels oiled and serviced, their
lines slicked, leaders newly strung, every knot faultless,
and the fly so well groomed and bristled you could take
it to church on Sundays. Their first cast is inch-perfect,
depositing the fly with all the grace of a prima ballerina
in Swan Lake.
I aspire to be that angler and I’m learning all the
time. But even when I achieve what might pass for the textbook
approach I can rarely sustain it. Consistency is difficult.
Even the best anglers can get caught out by a gust of wind
and anyone can have a blank day when there are few fish
The perfectionists, however, will attend to every detail.
If a wind knot appears they fix it. If a fly begins to unravel,
they change it. Anyone can do this but it takes time to
develop a fastidious approach. It takes even longer to read
a stretch of water.
Sometimes it’s just about observation; sitting a
while and noticing a fish showing where you haven’t
seen one before. All the guides can tell you where the best
lies are. But every beat of a big river will have other
Some lies hold fish at certain water heights, then empty
when the river flow changes. Others may have appeared after
a recent flood and heavy scouring of the gravel. Ghillies,
who live with a stretch of water, year in, year out will
describe their beat like a well thumbed book, a surprise
on every page, the plot changing with the years.
Drew Short, a Yorkshire-based fishing friend and one of
the best readers of a river I know, will never rush to grab
the hot spot when a beat is allocated for the day. His style
is to hang back, let everyone else choose, then take what’s
left. I have seen him catch fish where few would bother
to cast a fly.
The other week he hooked a trout that was coming in nicely
when it was taken by a pike of about 8lbs. He played both
together until he brought them to the net. “I think
the pike saw the net and decided to let go,” he said.
The trout looked none the worse for its ordeal and swam
off when returned to the water.
Nothing so unusual happened to me this year but I did have
a memorable fight from a Horse Eye Jack that took a hundred
yards of backing from the reel, not once but two or three
times while fishing off Venezuela.
Beyond these individual experiences, the best news of year
for game anglers had to be the Irish Government’s
decision to end drift net fishing at sea for wild Atlantic
salmon. The nets had expected to take some 68,000 salmon
in 2007. Not long ago they were taking upwards of 150,000
salmon a year. Such has been the decline. Still, that’s
68,000 salmon that can return now to their spawning grounds
in Ireland and south west Europe.
Stocks will take time to recover and the Irish Government
will need to police the ban if it is to make it stick. In
the meantime jobs must be found for those whose work has
been displaced. What is working for the salmon, however,
should be only the start. Other fish stocks could be restored
in the same way. Traditional commercial net fishing must
give way gradually to more sophisticated fish farming if
worldwide fish stocks are to stand any chance of recovery.
See also: Irish
v Icelandic fishing