Last night I went as usual down to the river, not guiding, just me on my tod. I had to park the car and walk a few hundred yards to my long-term swim, and a couple of very county dog walkers came my way. They were followed by a smart young lady on a horse, and then the farmer’s wife, collecting dried rushes for a flower arrangement in the adjoining church. Every one of my meetings was pleasant enough, but marked by reserve. I put it down to Covid still, but then I looked at myself critically. Old thermal boots. Tatty, stained over-trousers. A jacket, Orvis it is true, but hideously old and showing its tough life. A sloppy, ill-fitting beanie that would have been overly large for a small elephant. In short, I must have looked like a creature from the swamp, a body dug up and breathed back into some sort of life.
It’s true that I try to be smarter when guiding, and even more jazzed up if I’m fishing the Test, for example, but left to myself it seems my old 1970s specimen hunter self kicks in and I become a relic from a former age. Back then, “relaxed” attire was a mark of seriousness, scruffiness a badge of honour. I remember meeting many of the old heroes – Rod Hutchinson, Ray Webb, Jack Hilton amongst many – and they would have passed for scarecrows in a pea field. Last night, I scratched my chin and realised I hadn’t shaved in a day or two, and that my uncut hair was shaggy as an unsheared sheep, and that famous salmon angler, Michael Evans, came to mind. I remember a radio show I did with him when he said he always fished in jacket and tie. Doing it any other way, he said, showed disrespect to the fish. Blimey. Those barbel must feel super-disrespected I thought!
But worse, I wondered, is the old style “speci hunter” really a dinosaur, a relic from the last century? A classic example like Tony Miles has already, and sadly, gone, and the rest of us are in our sixties and more. Our own time on the bank has to be measured in years rather than decades. The modern angler, carp or trout, is generally a far smarter version, and more fundamentally, they tend to specialise rather than pursue anything that swims… providing it is big.
My memory took me to days spent with Bob Church, bless him. How I loved him for valuing a tench as highly as a trout, a chub as highly as a salmon. But are there many of his ilk left, I have to wonder? I guess the age of the specimen groups and the old big fish conferences is all but at an end. I’d love to hear otherwise, and my hope lies in kids like James Buckley, a keeper on the Test, yes, but a lad desperate to come piking with me in a few days time.
Mind you, James always looks the country gent. Remind me to shave and perhaps dig out clothes that are both washed, and even better, actually fit!