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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