Episode One – In the beginning
I don’t know what it was that made me start fly fishing at the age of 38 1/4. It wasn’t something that had arrived completely as a whim. Fly fishing was one of those activities that I had made a mental note to try at some stage of my life a long time ago. I had just moved to the Peak District, into a house where we slept at night to the gentle sounds of a river. Everyday I crossed the lane to walk my dogs beside the river. I’d often watch the fish rising, the dimple at the surface, the echoes of the ring fading out to the banks. I’d stand on the bridge and watch the shadowy, ripple of a fish-shape, drab and grey against the river stones. Everyday I’d see the rusting yellow sign nailed to a tree that said: ‘Private Fishing – Fly Fishing Only’, and then the number of the local fishing club. ‘One day I’ll phone that.’ I’d say to myself, but never quite got around to it, mainly because I’d assumed it would be so expensive.
The day did come though when I decided it was time to act. 38 1/4 it was going to be. Oliver Kite started around that age I believe, and he’s had flies named after him for goodness sake. If it was good enough for Oliver, it was going to be good enough for me. Let not my middle name be prevarication.
“You’re going to what?” said the gf incredulously. “I am going to take up fly fishing.” I said again. “It’s something I have always wanted to do.”
The gf rolled her eyes, and Jemima, her nine year old daughter, barely looked up from her drawing book.
“Are you going to wear those long wellies?” she asked innocently.
“Waders,” I corrected, just a touch patronisingly, as one in possession of the jargon is so often inclined to do. “Why?”
“Oh no reason.” Said Jemima, carrying on with her drawing without missing a beat, but I couldn’t help but notice she and her Mother exchanging glances.
“Well? Go on – what’s funny?” I demanded of them both. “Go on?”
There are two things I would say about getting together a starter kit for fly fishing. One, it can be much cheaper to get set up than you might ever have imagined. Two, you can do it too cheaply. I did it too cheaply. I bought a second hand rod that had all the responsiveness of a tortoise on sleeping pills, a reel where the moving parts seemed strangers to each other, and a fly line that would have been more suited to having copper wire running through it and attached to a plug. Total cost – around fifty quid. I should have spent twice as much.
I arrived at the river on that first afternoon having read up on how to cast the evening before. I was to coil off enough line in front of me onto the water, then lift the rod smoothly to the ten to the hour position. The line would begin to hiss off the water as it broke the surface tension. Then I would accelerate sharply through to the five past position. As the line straightened in the air behind me, I would bring back the rod sharply to the ten to the hour position as though tapping in a nail. The line would loop back out in front of me and land gracefully on the water. Wouldn’t it? Well no it wouldn’t actually. It stubbornly refused to do anything other than flop all around me in a lifeless heap.
There were two main reasons for this. One I was on a river. Lesson one: rivers move, stillwaters are – er – still. So the line wasn’t on the river in front of me for long as it drifted off in a great big bow downstream. Make note: learn to cast on still water, much easier. Lesson two: I am left handed, and this plays havoc with the ten to and five past the clock-face! Make note: If left handed, for ten to and five past, read five to and ten past respectively. Oh OK – three main reasons then, the third being I couldn’t cast for toffee.
Still, where technique fails enthusiasm can often make up the shortfall. For the next hour or so I flopped out hopeless cast after hopeless cast to land limply on the water. I finally found myself sitting on a rock in the middle of the fast-flowing stream, throwing a pheasant tail nymph ahead of me again and again. The last time it had come back to me, I caught it as it passed and to my utter astonishment, a little brown trout had obligingly attached itself
to the hook.
I couldn’t believe it. It must have been all of six inches long, and I was amazed at the colours – they had seemed so drab under the water when viewed from the bridge. But this had black and red spots and such a sheen, one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen. And I had pulled it from nowhere in the river. I could barely contain my excitement, sitting on that rock and grinning like a child, holding that little fish. I took out my mobile phone and called the gf:
“I’ve caught one!” I said, “I’ve actually caught one!”
“Oh good-o,” she replied dryly. “Shall I get the grill ready?”
I looked down at my six inch trout, and it looked back at me. Then with a cold flip it was off the hook and gone, back to the river, back to its invisible world.
“Nah,” I said, “I’m gonna let him go. He was a cunning foe, but I out-witted him in the end. Besides, it’s catch and release – club rules, you know….”
You can visit author Andrew Griffiths at his website – www.startflytying.com