June 2008

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One of the first things I bought when I started fly fishing was a fishing vest. After several hours of careful deliberation over three separate visits to a local tackle shop I settled on a Ron Thomson jobbie at fifteen quid. That last line reveals more about my personality than I’m sometimes willing to admit. It also gives me a wry smile now, a few years down the line. I remember thinking something like “hmm… all the fly fishing heros I’ve seen seem to wear one of these vests, so I’d better get one. With lots of pockets. And a D-ring on the back for my net. Oooh yeah, I’ll need a net too, for all the nettable fish I’m going to be catching down the local trout sewer…Ho hum..”

My Ron Tommie was a lovely dull green colour, and seemed to be made from the kind of cotton left over after some factory in deepest China had finished making Y-fronts for Asda. Flimsy would be polite. The zips looked to be the same as those you find on really cheap purses for sale at Saturday markets all over the country. Great as a last minute mother’s day present, not so great for the brutal treatment of a manic young fisherthing, crawling through thick urban undergrowth to get to hidden bits of river. The first one went after a few weeks, but despite my unkind comments most of the others actually held out for a couple of years.

Upon arriving home with my Tommie-vest I proceeded to enthusiastically fill up as many of the pockets as possible. Plans were made for all eventualities, including famine, nuclear holocaust, rampaging mongeese and long fly-sucking tree branches. The only problem was that once I’d distributed all my flyboxes, floatant, tippet, permits and suchlike, there were still a couple of pockets which didn’t threaten to split open at any moment. Obviously I wasn’t carrying enough flies, so a further trip to the tackle shop was required. A couple of new fly boxes and a few dozen loch-style flies later and things were looking and feeling decidedly heavy (except for my wallet..). Heaviness of tackle is next to manliness of course, so I was all set.

A feature of the Ron-Tom I was particularly proud of was the patch of fluff stuck to one of the pocket flaps close to the left breast. Over the following two or three years this became the very hub of my fishing world, as more and more of my flies seemed to migrate from the neatly arranged boxes and into the party on the patch. Rather than carefully scan rows of carefully organised flies in plush fly boxes, I began to develop a slightly crooked neck from sticking my chin into my chest to examine proceedings on the patch. I really do have good intentions when it comes to fishing organisation, but things just seem to get out of hand.

The vest had a proud life, witnessing all of my fishing exploits up to the end of the 2006 season. She saw me catch a huge river trout, a huge river grayling, fall in (multiple times), blank (multiple times), fall in (some more) and hugged my shivering torso as I watched lovely summer sunsets (after falling in). I’ve thought about it a lot, and I can’t think of anything that would have been gained by spending an extra 50 or 100 quid on a flash-vest. Ok, perhaps a Simms, Orvis or suchlike would have lasted a decade instead of half that, but seriously, fly fishing doesn’t have to be expensive and blingy (some people may disagree).

The green wonder now lies at the bottom of my wardrobe, carefully folded and sucking up the lovely flavour of the surrounding pinewood. One day I will dig her back out again and go fishing. I’m hoping the relationship will still be workable, for I’ve since been unfaithful and moved on to modern rubbish. Perhaps the glory of the woody smell will have done the trick, like a nice bottle of perfume.

Indeed, a day came when it was time to move on. My gear carrying device has since been altered to a chest pack. Note I say altered, and not upgraded. I do now find a chest pack to be a superior all-round system, but I refuse to say that anything is an upgrade of my humble vest. Indeed, while the old vest did lend me a certain ‘elderly’ quality, I occasionally have to refer to the chest pack as a ‘man-bag’, in order to reassure myself of its suitability for a testosterone-packed individual such as me. This has not been helped by occasional unthoughtful comments from people who shall remain nameless.

I suppose any piece of fishing gear can become precious. Fishing for hours on end wearing the vest it becomes part of your fishing mindset, something that is just there. It was a strangely uncomfortable experience making the switch to a new pack, and I didn’t feel comfortable at all for a month or so. Of course all of this talk is pretty much total unadulterated bullshit, because in the end you go fishing for reasons other than pathetic sentimental memories of a fifteen quid piece of Y-front, but that’s what blogging is here for. The only exception to this cutting sentiment is the Hat, but that’s a whole other post.

Believe it or not this post started out as a review of the aforementioned chest pack. That post is now in the pipelines, so watch out over the next few days. It’s one of the older William Joseph chest packs, and it’s a beauty. The review will be in the reviews section soon(ish)…

Wish it was me…

It’s always nice to go fishing with a couple of pals. It’s even nicer if you’re having a mini-reunion on a favourite stretch of river with a wee band of lads who haven’t fished together for more than a year.

A week or two ago Emanuelle, the Italian DFM (Dry Fly Master), made the trip up to bonny Scotland from jolly Engerland to fish with Alistair and I on a glorious highland river. They made a weekend of it (apparently without anything large and dark in colour) but I could only join them for a day, so bolted up the road one morning, arriving at the permit shop around half nine and just in time for the the olives.

I love the feeling of excitement when you speak to a fishing pal on the phone who’s already on the river. They describe the current conditions, giving a tantalising glimpse of what’s happening, and so setting off an incredible burst of eagerness to finish buying lunch and the day ticket and to get on down to the water. Speed restrictions and road works, especially following such a conversation, never feel as frustrating as when they impede travel to the side of a river…

I pulled my car up as the DFM was stringing up some dodgy Sage belonging to Alistair. Our attention was immediately drawn to the river and the regular rising of several trout. The sky was piercing blue in the morning light. Dropping my gaze down to the mountain fringed horizon and on to the glistening river surface, the view was spectacular. The greedy slurp of a trout in a crinkly little creese just upstream rounded off one of the most soul warming scenes an angler in Scotland could hope to see.

The Italian Sage Swinger was first in the water, and quickly caught a couple of nice brownies on the dry. It must be said at this point that the smile on his face was truly something to behold. I just about caught sight of the end of it as it disappeared over the hill, presumably towards Rome or Milan. Fishing with pals sometimes gives you a chance to share in someone else’s unbridled joy. It sometime gives you the chance to feel the disturbing murmuring of murderous jealousy and rage as well, but on this occasion it was the certainly former.

I got up to the crease and started chucking out the usual fluff. Three nice trout obliged my offer in quick succession, and I began to feel that little surge of self-confidence that comes right before a fall. The fall was twofold: I slightly overbalanced from the ledge I was perched on and almost fell in, and then the next trout didn’t like my flies. I switched to a smaller fly, something with CDC in it (go smaller, smaller…!) and a few casts later it was sucked under and the best trout of the lot came to the net. Still nothing enormous, but the steady action was exactly what was needed after a fairly itty-bitty start to the season.

Around half eleven the hatch trickled off and the trout mooched on down to the pub on the bottom of the river. The stiffening easterly didn’t help matter either, and we began to contemplate a shift of location. This idea was soon firmed up as the (apparently lucid) gentleman salmon angler who had been watching us cast to rising fish decided to switch to his trout rod and wade in to the river about 15 meters above our Italian dry fly hero. We exchanged confused glances that quickly morphed into steely glares as the gentleman requested that we make up his sandwiches and rub sun tan lotion into his neck. (The last sentence may be a slight fudging of reality, but by this time it seemed the laws of normal reality and interpersonal cordiality had long broken down so don’t blame me.)

We bolted off up river to a promising run, but the still-stiffening east hoolie gave us second thoughts as the river was quite exposed. It our collective confusion Alistair and I turned to the Master for ideas, and he suggested a little spot he knew. We arrived at the spot twenty minutes later and bushwacked our way through wild vegetation to reach a point of the river a few hundred yards downstream of where we started.. Of course we bowed to the Master, who certainly knows this river better than I, and we started fishing.

Nothing moved at all, except for the micro-parr that seemed to be suicidally throwing themselves between the rocks at the edge of the water. Even the dark horse streamers didn’t produce anything, so eventually I resorted to a favourite searching pattern and started some casting practice. By some incredible twist of luck I managed to put my fly over a grayling without spooking him, and he enthusiastically grabbed the fly. It’s not really a good time of year to catch grayling, so I got him back as quickly as possible. Interestingly enough he did put up a serious scrap though, despite the obvious sexiness on his mind.

I ended up having a pretty successful day, in conditions that were excellent to start with but which quickly tailed off. Even in May, it seems, the hatches are already concentrating into short spells in the morning. It really payed to be on the river early enough to see flies moving, which is something I must remember for next year.

Enamuelle did pretty well too, despite disgracefully abandoning his dry fly ethics at one stage and opting for the some nymphy abominations. He even caught a fish, and to be honest I can hardly begrudge the man, for it was a great day spent in good company and spirit, with the old Northern master returning to catch again.