By Bill Drew
The palpitations started to subside after two days. The week after I admitted my fishing failure in "Fish and Fly", personal e-mails from around Europe began to arrive. They spilled the beans on years, indeed decades of glorious ineptitude. The truth is out. Duffers are everywhere. Fish swim unmolested in our presence (most days), tackle manufacturers prosper as we struggle to perfect our technique, the super- skilled mop up our missed chances and we remain happy. As we say in Scotland,
"Who is like us ? Damn few and they are all dead . " Think about it. We duffers are the very salt of the earth. Catch and release without too much of the catch places us at the vanguard of environmental conservation . Through our season tickets we even subsidise the release of stocked fish for others to catch.
I was perversely delight to discover that people fish with pleasure and numerous blank days on chalkstreams. It is simply inverted snobbery I admit, but having never even seen a chalkstream in real life, far less fished one, I had envisaged pukka purists guaranteed success by lifelong dedication and wealth. This preconception was blown out of the water by one E-Mail.
Struggling Swedes and a laid back German further destroyed a few of my mistaken stereotypes. In reflection then we make up a happy new breed, a sort of "League of Duffers", who enjoy fishing first and foremost and a fish every other trip as a virtual bonus.
So what about of the rest of you ? The type of fishers who are confident of success, and whose feats make up so much of popular fishing writing. It strikes me that if you lot could be simply kept off the water, the rivers of Britain, indeed the world, would soon be awash with naive /plentiful/large fish. Nevertheless I believe you should be tolerated, for you are an interesting set of individuals who can provide entertainment and education for we duffers.
My mind then slipped back to an idyllic day in May. I remember it well because that was the day when we had the summer of 1998. It was warm, almost hot and unbelievably it was DRY. It was a Saturday and I was fishing a lovely stretch of the Tweed courtesy of Les at the Tweed Valley Hotel. I had furtively purchased a cigar, the first in 10 years, and I basked contentedly by the edge of my favourite pool certain of an imminent and spectacular mid-day rise. I was a happy bunny.
I gradually became aware of a presence. Have you ever seen a good gun dog cover a field for fallen game? It was that sort of feeling of hunting efficiency which was suddenly upon me as I reclined on the grass. A small stooped soul of indeterminate years asked me if anything was moving. As I stuttered out a response his eyes scanned the water darting and cutting the surface with intensity. Then the rise began. It was more dramatic and instantaneous than the switching on of Christmas lights in a city square. As I put out my smoke he was on, in and in command of the water. Two casts and he pulled a creamy 3/4lber to his net and released it. Two more and a vibrant 1lb beauty erupted from the pool, skittered across the surface for some moments and then was netted, dispatched and in his bag." Aw the best ", he grunted and loped off upstream.
Well you can guess the rest. I never touched a trout all day. My adequate casting descended into tangles. When I tried the cigar again it was ashes in my mouth. I was sadly aware of my incompetence. I never saw another soul that Saturday and the assassin never reappeared. Perhaps he tripped and was smothered by the weight of his bag of 1lb wild trout!
Another day I met the "Poacher". He was a man who could find and kill game fish on any water, legally/illegally, rod/lure/fly/hand grub/noose/teeth, and he walked the river almost every day. That is however a tale for another day. Both of these men possessed abundant skills but there is a place for all at the banquet we call fishing. So keep your bold tales of missed opportunities coming by E-mail, we learn as much from the fish we fail to catch as we do from our red letter days.
© Bill Drew 1999
This article has also been published in the UK Flyfishing Magazine: FISH AND FLY: www.fishandfly.co.uk
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