Wednesday 23 June 2010

Just Call me Fizz..deux

It could have been because it had been such a stressful effort to get to the riverbank, or it could have been because the evening was warm, and (this shall especially apply to the line flinging fishermen amongst you) especially calm, but the night's fishing was magical.

The watery blanket of the river was being gently punctured by rises. I knew I would catch fish.  I remembered my father explaining to me as a very young girl about something called smutting.  Here trout sip the tiniest of newborn flies from the surface as they try and break free of the film to fly away and live.  I walked down the river and saw three rising fish. I tied on a size 22 poly-winged spinner.  Within three casts I caught a fish.  I worried for a second that my evening had peaked too soon.  I was wrong.
Buerre Noisette
The air pinked as the sun began to set and I walked upstream.  The light was fading so I removed my Polaroids. I heard a rise and spotted a moving bar the colour of beurre noisette (that's burnt butter to the less culinary minded). This was the fish that would make the horrid, trafficsome journey worth it.  I cast a fly over him.  I changed my fly three times and he remained uninterested.  Charles Ritz's stern, hotelier's words burned in my ears, "It's all in the presentation!" I changed my leader to a thin 2lb line, and tied on a minuscule Cul de Canard emerger.  With a praying sigh I cast, paying special attention to my timing.  I watched and waited and felt. I got him.

Landing that fin perfect fish would have been special enough for one evening. However, I was surrounded by bright, navy flashes of rushing swallows. I saw a young hare, a pair of water voles, an eel and maybe, just maybe a pygmy shrew ran over my welly. A perfect, calm marvel of an evening.

Although being alone of the river gives me time for introspection, I wonder sometimes that it might be better to have someone to experience these things with me. It seems selfish to have such beautiful hours all to yourself. The boy I was seeing decided that seeing me was not such a good idea. I am inclined to agree with him and I've taken it on the chin. It does show most harshly that I am not quite up there with Odette yet. I certainly do not possess enough charm yet to captivate Winston Churchill or a bespectacled boy, but certainly more than Lady Astor.

As I walked back on the riverbank, I met three gentleman. The youngest was about seventy five.  They wonderfully referred to themselves as "The Last of the Summer Wine Fishing Club". They had such camaraderie and had the kind of easy banter that only firm friends can. I felt envious and oddly, the sudden appearance of others confirmed my aloneness. They insisted on opening gates for me, even though it would have been far easier (and quicker) for me to extend them that courtesy. It struck me though, that they were of an age of the Odettes, Parkers and Mitfords, of Wrens, widows and Munition workers. Women who deserved enough respect to have a gate opened for them, and a seat given to them on a bus. I'm working on it.

My last minute, desperate and yet sucessful fishing trip has gone someway to emulate Madame Pol Roger.  In this though, and at the moment I can say like her that my great loves are "to garden, to go trout fishing and to decorate my houses".

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Just call me fizz...Part One

Odette Pol Roger is one of my idols. Great granddaughter of Sir Richard Wallace, who gave the Nation the Wallace collection, great friend of Winston Churchill and grande dame of the Pol Roger champagne family, she was also a fly fisherman. She frequently went to parties in Paris to encourage people to drink her family's champagne. After one such party she returned to her home overlooking the River Andelle and, "As the sun was coming up I was thinking of getting a bit of sleep when I looked down from my bedroom window and saw a huge trout in the stream which runs through the property. So I grabbed my rod and rushed down and caught him - still in my dinner gown. Well! Life must be enjoyed, no?"

Probably the most stylish fishing story in the world. I rank Odette amongst the great twentieth century women. Dorothy Parker, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davies, the Mitford Sisters, instantly spring to mind. Strong characters blessed with one or all of acerbic wit, guile, fearlessness and charm.  To me, this is what being a woman is all about.  The ability to be elegant and to beguile and yet bet unfazed enough to don your wellies, hop in a river and courier for the French Resistance. That wonderful mixture of being charming, courageous and even a little feckless is something to which I aspire. I also think that particular vision of womanhood is something we might yet lose. I worry sometimes that femininity is often reduced to an ability to walk in high heels and finding a man to pay for them.  Then again I might just be scathing because I have thus far accomplished neither of those things..

Yesterday, I rang up to organise some fishing and was horrified to discover that if I didn't make it to the river bank that evening it would be July before I trudged a river.

Here was my Odette moment. I had to go straight from work. How brilliant is it to go from crouching over a desk to crouching behind and casting over reeds?  A crazed, desperate lust came over me and I zoomed home just as the clock ticked five.  I ran upstairs, swapped trousers, (it would have been far cooler to keep my little pumps and thin summer trousers on but my mother would have a fit) and grabbed my fishing crate.  I nearly killed my cycling, lycra-clad Spanish housemate as I sped down my street.  He thinks I am mad, "like all those English people, you are just odd".  I think he may be right.

I couldn't relax the whole way in the car, I was anxious, needful to cast and conscious that, although it was midsummer, I might only have a couple of precious hours. I swore at caravans, lorries and BMW drivers.  I was like a salmon, desperate and demented, determined on making its way to its own river to spawn. Well, not quite spawn but you understand my meaning. 

I screeched to the fishing-hut and fumbled putting up my rod, changing my leader with shaking fingers, sweating, smoking, running, panting.

And then, with the briefest glimpse of the river and the just-heard sploosh of a trout rising I could breathe again.  I stopped, I watched and I smelt.  I was home.

Thursday 3 June 2010

The game is the thing..

Sometimes it can all be just a bit too easy. It was the height of this year's Mayfly season. Chalk stream fisherman dream of days when the hazy, wet, warm air speckles with chubby, lacy-winged mayfly. Saturday was perfect. Pretty, grey insect forms patterned the skies like damasked flowers on a linen table cloth. The sound of the river rippling and the song of the birds were punctuated by the splashes and clashes of mad, hungry and desperate trout.  Pretty much straight away my line was loaded with a green mayfly pattern. Pretty much straight away I was into a fish, then another and other.  They were giving themselves away too easily. The fish were being slutty and I felt a little dirty. Because I could catch them so easily the sport had disappeared. It confirmed to me what I had always felt: I don't go fishing to catch fish. The reasons why I go are many and complicated. I can't even begin to list them, perhaps it's a bit like trying to unpack my soul.
I know, however, that each time I go I try and get a little bit better.  Casting is maybe one of the few things I could get quite good at.  I decided to make the wanton fish a little harder to get. I placed myself in a bower of willow and decided to roll cast to them. Ideally this should mean that my line unfurls forward from my rod. I concentrated on making the loading D-shaped loop and flicked out the line. I repeated again and again until, well not perfect, but satisfactory. The fish for once that day were not impressed enough to take my faux morsel.  I was, and whilst watching its latex tail float perkily I concluded that everything is so much better when you have to work for it.