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What is summer to you?


To me summer is late evenings on my favourite stream, casting at crimson water with sedges buzzing around my head. It’s the feeling of ariving to swarms of spinners pulsing forward and back, up and down around my car. It’s the sight of a blue winged olive perched on the windscreen, looking at all his pals in the air.

summer-5The other night I pulled the car up next to the verge and stepped out into the gathering dim. Swallows swept in their loopy dance above the field, and that feeling of summer magic crept out from its hiding place somewhere in my conciousness.


In recent months I’ve spent rather too much time contemplating where I’m going in my life, and thinking about all the things I’m not doing. Although I am still what one might call ‘young’, I do sometimes feel that life is moving on rather too fast. But on evenings with swallows and fragile little olives, I feel sure I’ve found something special and worth looking after, and enviable to most if they only knew.


Summer is blue winged olives. It’s the squinting eyes that dart to and a-fro in search of the little sherry spinner on the end of my leader, as it’s tugged forth and back through low water eddies. With the passing seasons, though, I worry less and less about actually seeing the size 16 speck on the water.


I increasingly view spinner fishing as being the mysterious brother to upstream nymphing, where the best success comes from seeing the surface of the water rather than looking for a fly lying prostrate on it. I try to focus all my attention on casting the end of the fly line to where I’ve seen a sipping trout, subconsciously timing the pace of the river as it brings the spinner back to the fish, and waiting for a rise. In the gloaming of 10pm in July it hardly seems worth the effort trying to see an artificial fly lying flat in or just under the water’s surface.

summer-11There usually comes a point in the evening where I decide that’s it’s time to cut loose and sedge for glory. This time normally arrives as I determine that it’s getting close to the point of no-tying-on-a-fly return. If the fish are obviously still on the spinner then it’s obviously a bit silly to switch to the sedge. But I have grown rather fond of the release granted by suddenly having a hunk of deer tied to a size 10 hook at the end of the leader, instead of the delicate filaments of poly-yarn and seal’s fur that comprise my sherry spinner.

summer-2It’s been a strange year down at riffle city. Since I discovered that supplementary stocking of trout takes place there, things just haven’t been the same in my head. Nevertheless, summer has become so connected with riffle city that I’m uncontrollably drawn there come July.


The trout this year have been uncommonly small. As with one of the other river’s I like to fish it has been hard work to get through the wee’uns. I’m beginning to think now that come summer the rule to follow is that there’s an inverse relationship between the apparent agressivness of the rise, and the size of the fish. So during these past two trips to the riffles I have been trying hard to spot the subtle rises.


I’ve even had some success using this principle, but have no evidence to prove as much. It’s also been a season of fish falling off.

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.

A couple of years back my dad and I nipped up the road to Pitlochry to have a casting lesson with Ally Gowans. As we strolled down to the river I asked him about his general leader setup for dry fly fishing. He said that he preferred the simplest method possible, that of knotting a tapered leader to the end of his fly line. Carefully weighing up a poisoned barb, I asked him about the use of the dreaded braided loop…


It turned out that he was the newly appointed Commander in Chief of the Braided Loops Anonymous charity. This is a little known organisation that works to rehabilitate anglers unfortunate enough to have been conned by clever marketing into using braided loops on the ends of their fly lines. He was remarkably adamant about the evil of braided loops, and I could see where he was coming from.

People spend gazillions of pounds/dollars/euros on fly lines. Some of those Scientific Anglers jobs cost more than most of my fly rods. These modern fly lines are a marvel of engineering. Carefully chosen plastic composites are sheathed over intricately woven braid, and the whole thing given a precise and painstakingly researched profile. There are gazillions of profiles of course, each suited to a different condition, a certain size of fly, a nymph or a dry, night time or day time. The profiles taper with nuclear accuracy, honed from the wide diameter of the head, down through the transitional taper to the delicate little section right at the tip. It’s enough to cause my head to spin.

So there they are, ranks of beautifully constructed fly lines, many of them costing considerably more than a fine 17 year old single malt. They’re carefully attached to similarly expensive brightly-coloured backing, presumably made from Madonna’s old tights, and wound onto similarly expensive reels peddled by certain bling merchants as important for catching fish. And the pièce de résistance?  Glue a 50 pence hunk of plastic on the end.

It’s like a sous-chef taking all day to prepare a delicately flavoured bolognaise sauce, using only the freshest ripe tomatoes, the most aromatic basil and the most mature steak, and then lobbing in half a bottle of ketchup. It’s just not cricket.

So, what’s a better solution?


This picture has nothing to do with this post. But tell me, when was a photo of a guy wearing a kilt sporting a head digitally-substituted with a bunch of flowers not a good thing?

Well the old Wise-Man of Pitlochry uses a simple Borger knot, tying his leader straight onto the end of the fly line. This inevitably causes a slight hump from the wraps of the knot, but it’s a hell of a lot less intrusive than those braided loops.

In an earlier post I waxed lyrical about the method of gluing a leader into the end of the fly line. This is still my preferred method, and the one that unquestionably gives the smoothest transition between fly line and leader, and ultimately the smoothest turnover.

The only downside is the slight hinging effect that happens between the stiff end of the leader butt and the limp fly line. I’ve found that over the course of a few months, particularly when you’re fishing a lot, a bit of a crack can sometimes develop in the fly line at this hinge.

Personally, I can’t be bothered with trying to re-glue a hingey fly line to leader connection when I’m out on the river. Nowadays I therefore tend to adopt the Wise-Man’s approach, and use a knot.


And here we come to the crux of this ramble. Whilst browsing around a year or two ago I came across a groovy nail knot tool that makes it really easy to tie a secure connection between leader and fly line. The Wise-Man disapproved of course, saying that any angler worth his salt should be able to tie knots without a tool. Again, I can see his point, but I like my damn tool. It’s small, cute and does the job very nicely. I’ve tried doing nail knots with no tools, and while it is perfectly possible, this wee tool lets me do it in a fraction of the time. Most importantly however, I feel more inclined to trust the final knots.

Via the Moldy Chum blog, I came across an article about the upcoming River Why film this morning. It draws attention to one or two interesting things of which I was not previously aware. Most importantly, David James Duncan, the author of the original (and wonderful) book, has done as much as he can to halt the film’s production.


Amber Heard, star of the upcoming River Why film. Hmm..excellent casting I’d say.

According to the article, he has been to court, claiming copyright infringement and various other bits and bobs, which has resulted in the current production of the film being unable to use his name in promoting the film. I say ‘current production’ because the article goes on to say that once the upcoming film has been released, Duncan will once again own the rights to his own book, and is planning to make his own screen version. Hmm…. all a bit dodgy I reckon.

In an earlier post I mentioned that Duncan had been contributing to the screenplay. A commenter on that post pointed out that the film would be quite different to the book (er, not a huge surprise..). I now learn that Duncan has been fighting the film.. Personally, I’m a bit confused. But looking at the Official Website for the new film, I see no mention of Duncan at all.

I don’t like being overly negative towards people who are trying to produce a film, or make music, or do anything creative. But I do begin to struggle a little bit when it appears that a film is being made, not just with a shrug of the shoulders from the author, but with a pitched court battle between him and the producers. I wouldn’t give a damn, of course, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was David James Duncan who created the story, the characters, the beautiful mood of the book. It’s his novel, and although I’m fully aware that copyright law is more complicated than my simplistic standpoint, I simply don’t feel comfortable about a film that doesn’t have the author’s backing. Amber Heard, however, I feel quite comfortable about.

I’m feeling in a particularly contemplative and reminiscent mood this evening.. I say evening, but it’s 2 in the morning and I’m fed up of working. I just dug up some old photos and video clips, back in the days when it didn’t rain every day and I actually went fishing.

One trip really sticks in the memory. It was July 2006, and my brother and I went on a three day fishing extravaganza in the south of Scotland. We fished a nice river (didn’t catch much), then a remote wee hill loch, with a simply gorgeous wee outflow burn. I have one video clip in particular which brings back a crystal sharp memory every time I watch it. My brother had gone ahead in search of a nice pool further up the burn whilst I fumbled about with a map or a headtorch or a piece of string or something similarly useful. As I came around a bend in the track I noticed his bag, but not him. I crept around the large boulders at the top of the mini-gorge, and found him crouched down at the side of the most stunning pool you could imagine.

The sun was shining, the water was ever so slightly whisky-tinted, and it gurgled and bubbled and slipped over the rocky pool head and into the main amphitheater. As I watched, he flicked his leader gently towards the pool inflow. Despite its bright deer hair wing, it was impossible to see the sedge among the bubbles and white water, and my eyes darted maniacally around the riffle. Suddenly there was a mini explosion, like a passing bird had dropped a stone (or something else) into the pool. He tightened the line, and a trout flew four feet back toward him, before summersaulting back into the pool. Somehow it had stayed on the hook, and he quickly played (hmm…possible pushing it there) the golden spotted brownie back to the net. The idea of a net might seem a bit absurd (it was), but it did allow us to sit back for a few moments of infantile jubilation whilst we gawped at the beauty of the trout. It was about 5 inches long. But in the setting it made our smiles at least that wide.

Thinking back on that day, I’ve come to the conclusion that it defines almost everything that is good about fly fishing. We were in a stunning setting, deep in the southern uplands, surrounded by sweeping hills that glowed green in the warm sunlight. The sound of the burn was like a thousand tinkling wind chimes, all singing together a song of quiet contentment. Trout darted around the pools at the slightest shadow, but with a few minutes rest regained their innocent confidence. There was nobody else there, just a couple of brothers sat ogling in disbelief at the simplest of things, a tiny fish shining in the rippled water.

I’m under no illusion that all of fly fishing is like that day, with its zen calm and eery silence, shared brotherhood and wild smiles. I don’t even think it should be, for if it was always like that I think I’d be bored before long. But I do think there was something in those moments that, if lost or forgotten, would spell the end of a truly lasting enjoyment of the whole thing. I have the strongest of inklings that the day I loose the excitement of those hours, a pounding heart at the sight of the next pool, is the day I need to stop fishing.

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