Sunday 12 September 2010

The Trout and the Tie

I've just trudged up the River Ouse into town. It has poured down with rain. It was sunny as I left the house. I was trying to look academic and effortless in a linen shirt and trousers. I have been trying to do a little work. I am now soaked to the bone and in need of an army of people to put some effort into making me look less like a laundry heap in need of ironing. The odds of a romantic, American style café encounter are now slim. Needless to say I am not good when it comes to bad weather.

I am going to make the confession now that I am a fair-weather fisherlady. I hate fishing in the rain. It's cold and it makes fishing with a dry-fly very difficult. Your flies have a tendency to drown, the hatches slow down and the fish cling to the gravelly bottom. This isn't my major issue with the rain. I abhor the fact that my hair goes frizzy and wet. It puts me off my fishing because I know that I am looking a little bit grim. I know this could seem vain and shallow and to many it wouldn't matter but it does to me. I learnt it from my mother.

Ma is the best dressed lady I know. She is always elegant and coordinated and incredibly beautiful. She dresses with total precision and correctness. Her casting is exactly the same; disciplined and flawless. When fishing, she wears neat trousers and perfectly ironed cotton shirts. She sometimes accompanies this with a little suede waistcoat. Her creel is perfectly clean and not the horrible mess that mine always is. I am also pretty sure she reapplies her lipstick throughout the day. She returns her fish with the utmost care, talking to the fish in soft tones and coaxing and tickling them back to form. I will say this though about my mother. She keeps the messiest fly box of anyone I know. She would also upset any fly-dresser because she picks at her flies to make them look tatty. She swears they work better this way and ignores the careful tying and entomological research destroying all the flies she uses into blobs of fluff. At least once a year she will fall into the river. I have no idea how she manages this. It must be part of her magic.

So, when I fish, madly and bizarrely, I will always make sure my hair is clean, dried and straightened. I will always iron my shirt. I always put makeup on, quite often with a lot more care then I do for going to work or weddings. I will try and look sort of stylish and always start off clean. My mother and I both lament the lack of decent fishing clothes for ladies. Neither of us want to go on the river bank looking like we are about to fight a war in the Viet-Cong. We cobble together what we can to bring a little elegance to the river. Please don't think we are any less tough because we want to look decent. I am known for sitting in nettle strewn and brambly spots finding cover for stalking fish. My mother is often to be found lying on her belly in a muddy patch casting for fish with tricky overhangs.

My mother learnt the importance of looking good by the riverbank because of her uncle Jo who taught her to fish. By all accounts he was a wizard of a fisherman, conjuring trout out of nowhere. He always did two things before going fishing. Firstly, he would go to mass, shooting off immediately after the important bits to set out fishing. Secondly, he would always wear a tweed suit and tie. This was out of deep respect for the wild creatures he was catching. Fishing is a bit like being someone's supper guest. One makes an effort because you are in someone else's home. You are in the domain of a trout, put a tie on.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Fishing Trips IV: Of Bonefish and Boneheads..

I apologise for the delay.  I have been fishing.  I also have a stinking cold and I am typing under the influence of Beecham's finest.

I joined Eloy at the crack of dawn.  It was probably before dawn as it was still dark. Under the eerie half dawn/half moonlight I handed over dollar bills wrapped in an elastic band. It must have looked like a drug deal. The analogy isn't far off. Fishing is something, I need, crave, want. It keeps me up at night. It distracts me during the day. I get withdrawal symptoms. It affects my mind and controls my life. Well, sort of.
  His fishing shed was filled with all sorts of junk.  I worried that I might be given another horrible rod.  I was wrong and I held the light flexible 10ft rod. 

Baby Girl, what are you wearing on your feet?
You need something better, wear these.

He handed me a pair of rubber soled shoes.  A pair of cockroaches crawled out of the left one.  I prayed they hadn't been mating in there.  I kicked myself for not wearing the surfing shoes my dad got me. They were new, clean and shiny and not a haven for amorous insects. I thought we would be on a boat.
We were for a bit.  He moved out to an area between the islands, a shallow, calm area of sea.
I cleaned my shoes before popping them on and hopping out of the boat.  Eloy crouched low. He pointed at nothing. He somehow managed to whisper aggressively.

Cast baby Girl. Cast as far as you can, to that spot.  Cast like you might die if you don't hit the spot.

It seemed a little dramatic. I cast. It wasn't far enough. I had no idea what I was casting too. Eloy explained that he was looking for glinty, silver flashes, the tails of feeding bonefish. They are very shy and you need to cast for miles to get them.
I felt very weird and a little under dressed for fishing being in a miniskirt, loose shirt and string bikini. Baby nurse sharks swam round my ankles. It felt a little alien.  However, as I got into the rhythm of wading through the sea grass, crouching low, casting hard I realised I was stalking.  It was just like sneaking along the riverbank under the cover of high reeds and nettles to cast to a fat brownie. Nettle stings and bramble scratches were replaced by sea leeches and the salty line cutting though my fingers as I retrieved.

Now Baby, baby, Now!

I cast, I struck. I had got one. Wikipedia tells me that pound for pound they are the fastest fish around.  In the shallows, they can't go down, they can only head out.  It zipped like a rocket, pulling my line out.  It was cartoonishly quick and strong.  It fought and I won.  Eloy pulled it out.  It seemed to me to be a silver-white sea grayling.  It was the prettiest fish I had ever seen.
We headed in.  Eloy headed out again with two member of the group to go spearfishing for a barbecue supper.  This was the idea of Tim, the Australian and a German called Ike. Man, he was a horrible piece of work.  I spent the afternoon lazing in hammock on a jetty sipping beer and trying to get my boyfriend to understand why it was so exciting.  My soporific haze was broken by the noise of their return. It was all very macho and uncivilised.  Ike came back and boasted to me, saying.

How many did you catch?
Just one. It was beautiful though.
I shot lots, I swam, and you just shoot and shoot, red ones, I didn't care.  It was so cool.

I lost it with him.  I shouted. He was showing off about killing for fun. This was totally unacceptable. In my view it was pure unthinking evil. As an angler, I have total respect for what I catch and deep love for where I catch them. If I kill, I kill quickly and cook it with love. If I return a fish it is with total haste and care.  He was slaughtering for fun. What was worse was that he was totally unapologetic for it.

It doesn't matter, it's just a fish. Why do you care?

 My boyfriend (now an ex) dragged me away, crying, stopping me before the situation got any worse and before it got  Fawlty Towers. It was one of the few occasions that we were in total agreement. Ike was an utter shit of a human being. I didn't speak to him for the rest of the holiday. I am not sure why I reacted so badly, and got so emotional. Maybe it was the contrast between the image I had of reef fish being speared and bleeding red everywhere and the memory of caressing that bonefish, so pure somehow in its whiteness. The image of poor wounded fish sinking to the ocean floor and my bonefish fleeing freely with a quick flick of its powerful tail and puff of white sand.