You can never have too many rods… but it’s knowing how to use them that counts
One of the disadvantages of being a writer and working from home is what a friend of mine calls the ‘Could you just…’ syndrome – as in ‘as you’re at home all day could you just take in a parcel for me?’ or ‘if I leave you the money could you just pop round and pay the window cleaner for me when he’s finished?’ It’s often hard to refuse these requests but the effect they can have on your work can be very significant indeed. People seldom understand that ‘working from home’ means just that – ‘you’re working!’
I therefore wasn’t surprised when Bob Stanley, the secretary of the fishing club, asked me if I wouldn’t mind just meeting two potential new members. All I had to do was walk one of the easier beats with them, explain the rules and, at the same time, assess whether or not they would make suitable members.
I was asked not because I had any particular fishing skills or insight into the qualities needed to join the club, but simply because I was available, lived not too far away and, so far as he knew, spent my days idly wondering what to do next with all that free time we writers are supposed to have! Even so, I could hardly refuse given how much time he and other members of the committee devote to the club so agreed to meet them both at the car park.
It didn’t bode well when I noticed that one of the prospective new members had arrived before me and parked his very expensive four wheel drive in the spot normally reserved for the club captain – a crime for which, had we been a golf club, he’d have no doubt been hung drawn and quartered. Having pointed out his error he didn’t seem inclined to move his car so, knowing that the captain wouldn’t be fishing that day, I let the matter drop. Instead I introduced myself and asked them both a bit about their fishing abilities. It seemed they had both been flyfishing for a few years but neither had any particular experience of fishing rivers. Having established that, I asked them to show me the kit they were proposing to use.
The first man, a small stocky chap called Ron, had arrived in a modest family hatchback and proudly opened the boot to show me his ten foot, six weight rod which I knew would be absolutely useless on a narrow river lined with trees. ‘Not sure that’s going to work too well on a small river,’ I advised him. ‘You’d best borrow one of mine for now.’ With that I lent him a six foot three weight fitted with a perfectly matched reel and line.
The second potential member was called Charles and he showed me a range of rods so extensive that most tackle shops would have considered it sufficient stock for the whole season!
I looked them over and pointed to one which would certainly suffice and with that we set off across the fields to the river. As we went, I explained some of the rules which, apart from the obvious, were simply intended to ensure that members exercised courtesy and goodwill to others on the riverbank so that everyone got the chance to enjoy their fishing.
Once on the bank they set up their rods and sorted out their kit. Inevitably Charles slipped into some very expensive ‘top of the range’ waders whilst Ron made do with a pair of wellies which had obviously seen better days and were probably used more for gardening than for fishing. In terms of equipment, they each had an overly large net which, whilst ideal for lakes, was surely going to prove unnecessarily cumbersome on a river where none of the fish would tip the scales at much more than a pound. Ron wore a fishing vest with all manner of tools attached by means of zingers whilst Charles had an expensive backpack, complete with flask attachment, a bottle opener and goodness knows what else.
I decided not to fish as it would be easier to assess them by standing back to watch them in action. I therefore suggested that Ron start where we were at the beginning of the beat as there was a pool there which usually held a fish or two. I then took Charles a little way upstream so they wouldn’t get in each other’s way.
In my book, there’s nothing worse than fishing with someone looking over your shoulder so, having shown Charles to his spot, I went on ahead to check the river thereby giving them both a chance to settle in. We had a work party planned for the following weekend and the secretary had asked me to see what needed doing in anticipation of that. In fact, apart from some strimming of paths and such like it all looked to be fine so I wandered back to see how our prospective new members were getting along. As I did so, I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
I found Charles thrashing about with his rod, using it like some sort of whip with which he was trying to swat flies. The line then got tangled in a tree and as he yanked it down hard the inevitable happened and the rod tip snapped off. For a moment I thought he was intending to fish on without it until I suggested he went back and selected another rod from the collection in the boot of his car.
‘Don’t choose anything too long,’ I advised. ‘As you’ve already found, the trees are a real pain on a small river like this.’
I walked back with him as far as where Ron was fishing and the difference was amazing. I found him sitting on a bench, calmly smoking a cigarette with his rod – or rather my rod – lying idle on the ground beside him.
‘Everything OK?’ I asked.
‘Yeah great,’ said Ron. ‘There’s a fish rising over there and I’m just trying to work out what he’s taking.’
I pointed to a small olive which I could see and suggested that was probably the answer.
He nodded then showed me that he’d already tied on something similar which he hoped might work.
Having finished his cigarette, he picked up his rod and eased his way to the river. He then made a reasonable cast but watched as his fly was totally ignored.
I smiled in commiseration knowing how often that could happen.
He then tried a few more casts before returning to his bench to change the fly.
‘Now what?’ I asked.
‘I’ll rest it for a few moments then try again. But I’ll get the bugger in the end, you see if I don’t.’
With that Charles reappeared with his replacement rod and I decided that my time would be better spent with him. He and I therefore returned to the place where he’d been fishing before and I explained about casting on small rivers. ‘Distance isn’t the issue,’ I said. ‘You can’t cast round bends and if you cast too far on the glides you’ll risk spooking all the fish between you and where the fly lands.’
There was a look on his face which suggested that this was some sort of revelation although I doubted whether any of my advice sank in. His next cast followed the previous one so that his fly got snagged in the branches of the same tree as before.
I could see this was going to be hard work so suggested he tried a side cast or found a spot where his back cast wouldn’t be impeded. He did the latter and opened up his fly box to find a replacement. I glanced over his shoulder and can only say that I’ve never seen so many totally useless flies. I then looked at his tackle bag which included various instruments of torture and devices for just about everything you’d need for catching anything from small wild brownies to a salmon.
Having given him some basic tips, I left him to it and went to see how Ron was getting on with his elusive fish. I found him exactly as I had before, sitting on the same bench and gazing at the river.
‘Any luck?’ I asked.
He shook his head. ‘I’ve tried everything I can think of and still he refuses to play,’ moaned Ron.
I glanced at the patch on his fishing vest to which there were just three flies attached, suggesting that ‘everything he could think of’ didn’t amount to very much. ‘Time to move on,’ I suggested. ‘I always say try a few casts and if that doesn’t work, give him best.’
Ron seemed to agree so gathered up his things and followed me. ‘Not easy this river fishing lark, is it?’ he said.
‘Actually, I always say the same about stillwater fishing,’ I admitted.
‘Really,’ he said. ‘That’s much easier if you ask me. You just have to develop an instinct for where the fish will be and what they’re taking.’
‘Rivers are the same,’ I assured him. ‘Except you soon get to learn where the fish will be lying. All you need is patience and stealth.’ With that I spotted a fish busily nymphing in mid stream but I knew it wouldn’t be an easy one to reach given the wide margin of reeds which lined the bank at that point. Nonetheless, Ron seemed inclined to give it a go.
‘On this beat you can use a weighted nymph,’ I informed him. ‘As he’s lying quite deep you’ll need to get it down to where he can see it.’
He looked at me as though not sure what I was saying.
‘Just cast well upstream and let the nymph drift with the current. By the time it reaches him it should be at the perfect depth.’
He followed my advice and made what was actually another half decent cast. By rights he ought to have connected with the fish but instead it darted away as soon as the nymph got anywhere near it.
‘Hard luck,’ I said. ‘I think that’s what we call an educated fish – one which has seen so many artificial flies that it’s not easily tempted.’ I then left him to carry on fishing whilst I went back to the bench at the beginning of the beat to call the club secretary in order to report.
‘How’s it going?’ asked Bob.
I explained that neither of them had fished rivers before but that one of them seemed to have the right approach.
‘What about the other one?’ he asked.
I wasn’t quite sure what to say about Charles. ‘He seems a nice guy but clearly has a lot to learn. If you do offer him membership he’ll probably be the best equipped member in the club.’
The secretary seemed to know what I was saying. ‘Ha! All the gear and no idea,’ he said echoing my own thoughts. ‘Have either of them actually caught anything?’
‘Not so you’d notice,’ I replied. ‘Though the fish do seem very unsettled so we shouldn’t hold that against them. What do you want me to do?’
‘Just make a few encouraging noises to the one you think might be Ok but you might as well put the other one out of his misery. Tell him to reapply when he’s got a bit more river fishing experience under his belt.’
It seemed a good plan so I started back along the river. Ron had still not caught his fish but looked to be getting the hang of things so I gave him the good news and said he could stay on and fish for the rest of the morning as a guest of the club. I left him looking very pleased with himself and went off to find Charles, knowing that was going to be a much more difficult conversation.
I found Charles looking very dejected. He was sitting on a tree stump but, to my surprise, there was a half decent fish at his feet. Given the level of skill I’d seen earlier I couldn’t help but wonder how he managed it.
‘Managed what?’ he asked.
‘Well, to catch that fish for a start.’
He looked down at the fish in question. ‘Not exactly a monster is it?’ he said. ‘The other two were even smaller so I threw them both back.’