The title of this piece is not a prelude to a series of fishermanâ€™s tall tales (these are likely to come in an April article), but rather to consider the love of watching fish.
My fascination with fish is almost certainly the reason I got into fishing. I love nature in all its forms, but fish have always been the creatures that have held my interest the most. Typical of most fishermen, I simply canâ€™t cross a bridge without looking over the parapet to search the water below for signs of a finned resident or two. If there is indeed a fish, I can stand transfixed for long minutes, often forgetting my hurry and certainly loosing myself in its underwater world. Perhaps it is this â€˜otherworldlinessâ€™ that makes fish so special above the other fauna that breathes air and moves in the same medium as we homo sapiens do.
Not only do I love to watch fish, I also love to hunt and catch them particularly when able to see their reaction to whatever lure or bait it is that I am tempting them with. As I have opined in a previous article, an afternoon fishing on a clear stream, be it a chalkstream or highland burn, can teach you more of the ways of fish than months of fishing in more turbid waters and I would heartily recommend both these kinds of venue to any angler.
I have recently returned from a trip to Cambridge. During my short time there I managed to have a few all too short hours lure fishing for perch and pike with my host. The Cam was running reasonably clear and at its summer level, and this allowed me to witness two solid pike hit my lure, in one case almost at my feet. The fact that neither deigned to hold on until I landed them was almost incidental. The fact that I had been lucky enough to witness their strike and ensuing fury more than compensated for my loss. Even the third pike that followed my lure to my feet without striking was not considered a loss, but rather a victory for my wish to see wild fish rather than just catching them. Happy days on the Cam indeed.
My recent trip to Lewis in the company of Richard Bath and Jon Gibb saw us fishing in both the Gorge Pool and Bridge Pool of the River Fhorsa â€“ and the highlight of this was being able to watch the reaction of the salmon to our various offerings. Whilst the vast majority of our flies were studiously or contemptuously ignored, it was mesmerizing to watch.
Manyâ€™s the time I have climbed a tree in order to watch fish in a river. Being high above them and moving slowly means you remain unseen and have the pleasure and privilege of watching nature in the raw. Often I have managed to dangle my line down from the tree to allow my weighted nymph to jig in front of a trout â€“ not the most sporting of methods if you are a dry fly purist (but Iâ€™m not) â€“ but certainly one of the most captivating because you get to watch the fishâ€™s reaction. Success is not guaranteed but when you do hook the fish you certainly earn your catch due to the resulting agility test as you try and play the fish as you climb down said tree. Sadly, this is mostly undignified now that Iâ€™m old and stiff of limb.
A fish you are lucky enough to watch does tend to stick in the angling memory. I will never forget a trout taken from the River Dever chalkstream in Hampshire which I was lucky enough to catch many, many years ago. What made its capture more memorable than the other trout I was to extract from that same river was that I was sitting only six feet away from it and able to watch itâ€™s every move.
It was holding station in the current in a very narrow channel between the overgrown bank from which I was fishing and a clump of ranunculus weed. An ill-placed bush and an awkward cross wind made a straight upstream cast impossible and so I was forced into a stealth approach.
I knew I would have only a few attempts at putting my fly in the right place before the fish would be spooked given the clarity of the water. My approach was to cast along the bank itself so that my flyline landed on terra firma but my cast would be blown by the crosswind to put my fly the short distance required onto the water. This approach meant that my fly had to land perfectly, as it would only travel a matter of inches before being dragged in an arc towards the bank due to the anchoring effect of the line stuck in the bankside vegetation.
All the time this would be happening I was in a position to watch whether my finned friend would find my offering of interest. Well, through entire fluke my first cast was exactly as I wanted it to beâ€¦but my Piscean pal didnâ€™t see it that way and lazily came up to inspect my dry fly before turning his nose up. Why I donâ€™t know, but he gave me a second chance and by repeating my casting fluke, the fly landed like gossamer (I think thatâ€™s the expression used in all the fly fishing books) in the right place and he didnâ€™t need a third invitation. The whole thing remains etched in my mind and I can almost close my eyes, smell the rich meadow grass, feel the warm wind and remember the sight of his white mouth closing over my fly before everything went tight and mayhem broke loose. Ah, the stuff to warm the cocklesâ€¦!
A whole world better than watching Robson Greenâ€¦