May 2009

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The world of fly fishing is a world of many-a-cliche, and that of there being more to fishing than fish is perhaps the oldest of all. I’ve trotted out the line “there weren’t many fish caught, but there were a lot of nice clouds and wildlife to see instead” on more occasions than I’d care to admit, and that includes on these pages (funnily enough, there’s a remarkable correlation between such phrases and my trips out for grayling…).


Despite the snide remarks of non-angling (and even angling come to mention it) pals, I stand by my comments as genuine. If the only reason I went fishing was to hook a trout and then slip it back, I suspect my interest might not have remained at such a fever pitch for such a long time. The act of fooling a spring trout on a dry is of course one of life’s finest pleasures, and one that only becomes more appreciated with time. But the brutal fact is that, at least on the rivers where I fish, it’s impossible to ever be sure of finding rising fish.


Over the seasons I have found a plethora of streamside distractions to occupy my mind when it inevitably wanders from matters aquatic. I always carry a camera, and it often features heavily during quiet moments. Searching out wee beasties to photograph is great fun, and a lovely way to learn about river ecology. Last year I even took up the harmonica, and found that riversides were an ideal place to practice, being as they often are in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing like the sense of freedom to wail provided by tall trees, waving grasses and no people.


One of the best things about fishing is the quiet moments, where sitting beside a gurgling run one has the space to really breathe. I often spend an hour or more de-robed of my fishing gear just sitting and staring into the middle distance (that almost makes it sound like I’m naked, which is not true, at least physically). Perhaps it says more about me that it does about fishing or rivers, but whatever the case I do love the way that angling gives you time to find space, both in body and in mind.


I also find that my perfected middle-distance stare helps me to listen to the sounds around me in a more focussed way than if I’m actually trying to fish. I think that no-one should be allowed to pass judgment on fishing as being boring or pointless unless they’ve spent a sunny May afternoon by the side of a tree-clad riverbank, occasionally glancing around, but mostly just listening to the chorus of life. Perhaps the sight of a rising hatch, spurring on trout to the surface, should compliment such a romantic scene. Only then, when your eyes are full of the colour of the bluebell carpet under the trees, and your nose sings with the smell of wild onion, only then do I think one should be able to pronounce fishing as pointless. If you do wish to do so, you have my blessing, for perhaps I am indeed mad. But I do know of one man in possession of a hell of a lot more intelligence than I who seems to have understood something of what I’m trying to say (or perhaps it’s the other way around)..

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. A. Einstein


Despite this upwelling of sentiment for the glory of the riverbank, we are coming close to the crux of the post. While I have come to love the being part of fishing a beautiful river, I realise more and more that in fact what I’ve been is little more than a city interloper, full of excitement at pastures new, and perhaps also a little full of myself. I do sometimes wonder if my dream of the river is a false and silly dream borne of crowded streets and blaring car horns. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I suppose a dream is what you make of it, and if it gets you through the day, the month or the year, weaving a little line of hope, that’s as much as you can wish for. What I can say is that all this this ho-hum, romantic posturing has spurned me on in recent weeks to engage a bit more with my surroundings when I’m out and about, and get past all the stargazing. And it starts with the trees.


Despite being an admirer of fine trees, I’m as ingnorant as nuts about what distinguishes an oak from a tree of heaven. It’s finally got to me, and I’m turning over a new leaf. My first step on the road to horticultural heaven has been to buy a wee pocket book about the most common trees in the UK. I thumbed through a load of big impressive tomes before deciding on this little gem, and for less than a fiver I’m very pleased. It’s easily small enough to take along on trips to the river and glen, and seems reasonably comprehensive if not exhaustive. Perfect for a beginner.


I’ve resolved to learn at least one tree every time I’m out. Any more than that and I know I’ll forget. With my trusty camera around my neck to make records, I’m starting out on the dusty road to knowledge. I reckon it’ll make a nice wee side-chain of posts here on Tamanawis. I suppose my secret hope is that any readers out there with a similar thirst for natural knowledge might learn along with me as I make posts and pages about what I learn.

So, there is a new section to the site, called The Trees. It’s not directly part of the blog, but is rather a fixed set of pages more like a normal website. Each time I update it I’ll give a shout from here on the blog for any readers coming through Google Reader and the like. There is a permanant link to The Trees page up in the navigation bar visible on every single post and page on Tamanawis. Find it near the top of the page, just below the banner. There are already two entries, alder and beech. What can I say? Exciting stuff.

It might just be yet another distraction from fishing, but I’m actually rather enjoying my new quest for treedom. Out and about, fishing or otherwise, I’m finding a whole new world of fun as I speculate and marvel at the wonderful world of trees. One might almost say that a leaf has been turned. And at the second telling of that feeble joke in one post, it’s over and out.

April has been a very mixed month of a few glorious highs sprinkled sparsely amongst a shower of blanks. I’ve been too busy to make posts for each of my outings, so I’m going to blurt it all out here in a wonna or a twoer.


Back on the 7th I went down to a nice bit of water known to produce the odd monster. I was hoping for (April) March Browns. As I crawled up to the water I immediately spotted a couple of wonderful swirls. Adjusting my gaze above the water’s surface I quickly made out ranks of tell-tale zeppelins fluttering upstream.

The slightest upstream wind warmed my neck, and that feeling of infinite possibility crept out from its winter hibernation. The sight of rising fish in spring always convinces me that having a six month closed season is worth it, if only for the heightened sense of joy come April. Senses dulled by months of time away from the water find themselves jolted back to life. Memories and feelings thought passed forever return with renewed vigour. What a great time of year.


I stealthily stumbled down to the water’s edge and tried to take in the sight of multiple rising fish before me. Which to choose?


I decided that the most steadily rising fish, twenty yards upstream, looked the most temptable. I began a slow waddle through the thigh-deep water, suddenly more afraid than ever of spooking my newly-reacquainted adversaries.


I paused and prepared to cast by letting the current pull out a long loop of line downstream. As I looked around to check the line for tangles a fish swirled aggressively in the seam just off to my left, barely five yards downstream and across from where I stood.


Gift horses in the mouth and all that, I decided to have a speculative chuck. Two drifts produced nothing more than a nice V-wake as my DHE dragged downstream. I tried a third cast, incorporating a ludicrously over-exagerated upwards motion to try and produce a parachute cast. The fly and cast landed nicely and started to slip downstream. As the cast neared the point of no-drag-free-drift return the fish came up and engulfed the fly. By some twist of luck or ironed-in instinct I struck nicely and the fish was on.


As fly-angling readers will know it can take a trip or two to really get back into things after a winter away from all things fishy-tailed. This is particularly true for playing hooked fish, which can be an art-form in itself. The recently-attached fish paid no ounce of thought for this as it screeched off across the river at full pelt. There was little need to put the coils of loose line back on the reel as within moments they were distinctly straightened and heading for the far line of trees. I tightened up the reel and tried to lever the fish back in my direction. This succeeded in transmitting a message to the fish that the only route of escape was upwards, which was exactly where it headed, twisting and turning in the sunshine.


Some moments passed, and as I started to get control of things I got a good look at the cause of all the trouble. Hmm…distinctly silver flashes, but was it just the light? I finally slipped the net underneath the water and drew the fish over the rim. Glory hallelujah, it was silvery all right. Long, slightly lean, full-spotted and shimmering with blue-silver energy, it was unmistakably a sea trout. I popped off the handle of my weigh-net and the scales drew down to just a smidgen over 4lb. Regular readers may know that I’ve been on the hunt for a sea trout for some time, and have failed quite miserably to ever catch one using conventional wisdom. Well, there on that beautiful spring morning, March Browns a-buzzing, I caught my first sea trout, with dry fly and floating line. Not the worst start to a season I’ve ever had.


I had a good look at the fish as I cradled it in the current. Despite its silvery sheen and keen battle-spirit, I guessed that it was a kelt. Its lower tail was quite badly torn up, which I thought may have been due to spawning frolics. But who knows? Maybe it had just had a run-in with a seal on its way up the estuary. Whatever the case, its short visit to have a chat with me opened a little jar of happiness by that quiet riverbank.