I have been beguiled by fishing since the age of four. There was something about seeing those shapes in the water and wanting to somehow connect with them. I don’t know if it was simply an early hunter instinct kicking in or something a bit deeper. Until the age of seven I had been a coarse fisherman, slipping out after school on my bike to a lake nearby with my rod and net across the handlebars of my BMX. After a time, I rekindled a love of fishing in my father who began to join me and we shared many happy hours together on the bank.
My father had been a fly fisherman in his early years and after a period of time of keeping me company this form of fishing once more began to take over his interest. I remember watching him practicing casting on the lawn and scratching my head, wondering what form of wizardry this might be. Like any curious child watching their father doing something new and exciting I wanted to get involved. Although not keen to allow me near his brand new carbon fibre fly rod, in an effort to feed the interest he pulled out an old Swedish built fly rod in a cloth case vaguely smelling of mothballs and mould. I believe this “fly rod” have been manufactured from an old steel tank aerial, complete with solid wooden rosewood handle. It was a monstrosity, but at least I was unlikely to break it.. or lift it. He found me an old Bakelite fly reel and a floating line and using both hands I tried to emulate the casting motion that he was gracefully laying out on the lawn. Mine was less graceful… to say the least.
We spent a week or so fine tuning “casting style” before I think he finally he thought we were ready (probably more him than me). I remember distinctly being suspicious at the lack of tackle that was loaded into the car for our first fly fishing adventure. I had been reading up about the process of fly fishing the night before in my “Complete book of Fishing” and was curious to see how these objects made of fur and feather would work. I had tried to sneak in a small pot of maggots, which had been removed before the outset with gentle chastisement. I personally had felt it would be good to have a back up.
The fishery consisted of two lakes connected by a small channel with a bridge over it surrounded by tall poplar trees that were an excellent wind break. My father helped me tackle up, tied a length of leader to the end of the fly line with a figure of eight know on the loop and put on a black fly with a tuft of neon green wool in the tail. Although not a fly fisherman I was pretty competent with leader material and basic knots and I my father trusted me enough to not immediately stick the hook in myself. He directed me to a spot, gave me some brief instruction and then left me to my own devices. Presumably to get away from the constant barrage of questions that only a curious fishing obsessed seven year old can produce.
I remember flailing away with that old tank aerial until I had blisters on my hands and my shoulders ached from the weight. My father had caught a couple of fish and I had run over to net them, marvelling at their power, speed and aerial acrobatics compared to the roach, perch and belligerent tench I was used to chasing. It only fuelled me more, although the casting was becoming frustrating. The constant hook ups were beginning to get me down until finally I hook a branch half way up one of the poplar trees. Under no circumstance was I going to lose my fly, so like most small boys who grew up in the country I immediately began to climb the tree. I reach the branch it was on, shimmied out and unhooked it. As I dropped it to the ground I looked across and saw another fly stuck in the tree.. and another.. I spent the next hour harvesting the tree of its “fruit” before returning to the ground with a handful of flies, one of which I tied on the end of my leader. It was an attractive pink colour which caught me imagination.
I changed spots and moved onto the wooden bridge that connected the two lakes, figuring there was then nothing to get caught up in. After some frantic flailing, paying line out I managed a cast of at least 10 yards.. but the fly was in the water and I was over the deeper water of the second lake. The fly began to sink and I began to twitch it like my father had shown me. As the fly danced through the water column. As it drew closer I suddenly saw a green back following from the margin. My heart began to bound as I continued the short jerky retrieve. Suddenly accelerated and I remember seeing the white of its mouth open and close around the fly. It then tore off, hooking itself in the process and I tried to raise the rod, which just bent over like a noodle. I think steel is even softer than cane. The old black Bakelite squealed a kind of tortured note that made my father’s head snap towards me. There was a couple of seconds where he gauged if I was stuck on the bottom, but as soon as the rod bucked a couple of times he began to run with the net.
I will never forget the feeling of electricity that ran down the rod and into my arm, the feeling of being completely out of control and not knowing what to do…. And the sheer thrill of it! I kept the rod high and tried to reel in some line, but got my knuckles wrapped.. which really hurt. By this time my father was at my side, offering gentle instruction and encouragement. The fish splashed around on the surface until he manged to slide the net under it. I collapsed, the feeling of elation and accomplishment overwhelming. There, in the net, lay my first trout. A rainbow of perhaps a whopping 2 ½ lbs, which to me resembled a monster from the deep. It was quickly dispatched to be paraded to my mother on our return.
What started as an experiment became the norm. Having shown a spark of obsession my father fuelled it by buying me a Silstar 9’ 7# carbon fly rod, although I continued with the old reel for some time. Casting practised continued on the lawn regularly and we slipped away when ever we were able. A passion was born and soon my coarse fishing tackle was collecting dust in the corner of the tackle cupboard. They are days that I look back on with great fondness and only now do I see they were to shape the rest of my life.