Monday, 11 December 2017

Salmo Sororibus

2017 has been a good year. Admittedly, my fishing season got off to slow start. Thanks to a silly thing called HSP my legs were covered in ulcers. The biggest, deepest, sorest one had to occur just at the top of my wading boot, so I couldn’t wade for half the season. My father’s new water was a god send and their kindly attitude towards rod sharing meant that I had good access to great, well-managed chalk for most of the season.

People can be a bit sniffy about bank fishing, or maybe the current social media trend for macho grip and grin shots of people looking wanky macho in their expensive waders excludes the gentle art of fly-fishing from the river’s side lines. However, to counter drag and avoid snags I have had to become a more skilful angler. Roll casting, throwing curves into my line are all things I’ve had to master this season. It’s a slower game, territory is explored more slowly, fish considered more carefully. Sitting and thinking is part of the game plan. I don’t feel I lost out because those quiet moments of contemplation in its purest sense were offered to me in abundance as I let my swollen pox-ridden legs cool in the river. Catching goodly numbers of wild trout on dry flies was the healing tonic I needed. Being constrained to the riverbank was oddly freeing. 

I think freedom has been a bit of a theme for my fishing year. Anne Woodcock did the kindest thing and invited me to the Tweed to salmon fish on one of her ladies days. My legs were healed enough to don waders so I zoomed up the M1 and beyond lugging the finest 1990s salmon tackle. I struggled in so many ways, I hadn’t used my double-handed rod for twenty-one years, I had forgotten how to spey cast. In fairness, the brilliant ghillies struggled to turn over the ancient stiff line. I had a bite from a salmon and I struck like a woman who had been fishing dry fly for trout all season like a bloody idiot.

What amazed me was my reaction to these many fishing faux pas. I felt no shame, I didn’t mind that my casting was a bit crap and that I didn't really know what I was doing. Normally when fishing in groups I have felt compelled to fish well. This time I felt no pressure to do anything but have fun.

On the long drive back to England, I realised what the difference was. I was fishing with women. My audience of ladies didn’t care one jot about my performance or my casting skills; they were there to have jolly good time.

I don’t think the men I fish with care either but when I fish with men I do. I care a lot. I’m often the first woman they’ve fished with, or even seen hold a fishing rod. They often make a point of telling me this fascinating fact about themselves. Suddenly, I feel like I must fish very well. I must cast beautifully, exercise perfect line control and catch fish. I feel an intense pressure to ‘not let the side down’ to prove that women can fish, and fish well. I feel pressured to be extra jolly and extra lovely so that they don’t feel I am encroaching on ‘their’ territory. I fish like I am fighting for a woman’s right to fish, to belong in their world. This is nonsense of course.

However, little things like walking into tackle shops and being looked at like I was lost, always being asked if this is the first time I have been fishing give me the impression that as a female angler I am a weirdo. This kind of thing doesn’t always piss me off but it is always tiring. When I fished with those fantastic women on the Tweed that pressure disappeared. That weekend I wasn’t an outsider, I was one of the gang. Unburdened from having to be a paradigm of women's angling, I could relax and I could learn.  I learned so much, that when I went fishing with my father in Wales this August, when that salmon bit my fly and I felt that deep and definite pull, I didn’t panic. I leaned into the tug and caught my first salmon.

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Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Art of Angling

For the past couple of months I have been holed up in my shed, grappling with writing a journal article. I am pretty rubbish at writing such things basically because it is super boring. Formatting footnotes and writing wanky phrases that please reviewers like "the evidence presented here" "close examination of the text reveals" has managed to suck the joy out of any research. This confirms my choice to not apply to do a PhD. A wise move by a twenty-one year old.
I was checking a reference the other day when I came across The Art of Angling by R.Brookes, written in 1721 and published in 1789. You can download a version of it here.


The book goes through all sorts of weird and wonderful ways of catching all sorts of weird and wonderful fish. I found the endless pages of equipment needed for making artificial flies unnervingly familiar. The author spends two pages listing materials, then concludes, 'When the Angler is furnished with all these materials, he may make any sort of Artificial flies' before listing yet more pages of 'essential' equipment. My filing cabinet full of sorts of fly tying tat is testament to the universal truth that the fly dresser is never fully equipped.
Recent sunny days remind me that the trout season in England will be starting soon and the sooner that I finish with this wretched piece of writing, the sooner I can fish however, my mind can't stop wandering 'To verdant Banks of Crystal streams'.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sophia Banks's Trade Card

Sophia Banks was the sister of the famous naturalist and all round polymath Jospeh Banks.
She would make astute observations of the natural world and many of her ideas found a place in her brother's writings. She is perhaps best remembered for her large collections of ephemera which are now housed in the British Museum. The thousands of visit-cards, trade notices and prints are the detritus of an elite gentlewoman's life. It's particularly pleasing therefore to find this rather fabulous trade card, one of three from Iverson and Sons in her collections.

Trade Card of Iverson and Stone (c.1792) Collection of Sophia Banks
Copyright: The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum Number: D,2.2084

In Georgian England, angling was a gentle art, enjoyed equally by both men and women. Rivers and lakes became dotted with dinky little houses, furnished with comfortable chairs for ladies to pursue this art in comfort, with servants to do disgusting things like baiting hooks. It would be wrong to conclude that such comfort replaced an angler's obsession and enthusiasm for the sport. Look at Lady Mary Coke's account of fishing with Princess Amelia in 1768,

The Princess order'd me to attend her to the Great Water to fish: 
in two hours I catched three score; two large carpe & above twenty considerable perch;
the rest small. The Princess catched about forty, but none so large as mine, to the great 
mortification of the page who attended her. He seem'd to think it a reproach that the 
Princess shou'd catch less fish than mine: his distress made me Laugh.

Op.cit. Kate Felus The Secret Life of the Georgian Garden, pg. 84.