Tuesday 20 July 2010

A Viceful Existence

Arthur Ransome by John.T. Gilroy

I had an odd notion at the age of about thirteen and I think it has stuck with me. I believed that inorder to be a proper fly fisherman you have to be able to tie your own flies. I think this may have stemmed from being rather distracted at my uncle’s wedding by John T. Gilroy’s portrait of Arthur Ransome at his fly tying table. His serious face, lit from his tying lamp like a Rembrandt, is somehow cheery as his inspects a newly tied fly.

I decided to take it up and I think I can make a serious claim to have been the only 13 year old girl in Britain in 1997 to ask for fly-tying equipment for her birthday.

I remember stepping into Frames of Hendon with my mother. It smells dusty and sweet and is stuffed full of strange things that coarse fisherman seem to need. I was decked out with a simple vice and whatever tying stuff he had. The shop owner, who still looks the same as he did then, gave me a book on fly-tying. He is a very kind man and his shop, which thankfully is still going, continues to be fantastic. I have lost the book now but I remember it had a recipe for a fly made out of a fag butt.

I got myself another book, “Peter Deane’s Fly-Tying”. It taught me that using a bobbin holder was sinful and that I must only ever use a type of tying silk that is no longer in production and own a vice that can only be purchased in the States*. I struggled. I gave up. I don’t blame myself entirely; I think Mr Deane has a part to play. His book may not have been the best for beginners but he is an eminently cool figure. He had a wheel chair that could make 40mph on the flat! I fished on for another 12 years with a sense of being deficient. My inability to tie wasn’t a serious condition like cancer. It was more like a hormone deficiency that makes you a bit too hairy. I was not a “compleat angler” and I felt deeply uncomfortable. I should add here, that I don’t think that fly fishermen who can’t tie flies are deficient, nor that there is a direct causal link between hairiness and fly-tying. Charles Ritz couldn’t and he didn’t seem to be overtly in need of depilatory aid.

Thankfully, I could get over my inadequacies when I moved to Yorkshire and enrolled in evening classes in fly-tying. I loved going. I learnt how to tie and got seriously competitive about the whole thing. I came third in the end of term competition. I think I was robbed. I am still quite huffy and bitter about it. However, going to classes and tying my own flies made me feel like a grown up. For the first time I was in the company of fishermen (and ladies) who weren’t involved in my procreation. Not long afterwards, when I caught my first fish on a fly I had tied myself; I felt I had become a woman.

*For non tier amongst you nearly all current fly-tiers regard bobbin holders as essential. I was fooled by Mr Deane’s eccentricities and I admire him for it.