The question is not how to fish, but why you do it. The author and his fishing buddies do it out of necessity. It’s more important than life and death to them to escape the human world, step in to water and wave a stick. Left on the shore is their misery and worries. Standing in the water they find freedom, healing and occasionally a fish.
Battles are lost and won with tongue in cheek and always celebrated with mountains of cake and an endless stream of fresh espresso coffee. To the band of brothers it’s more important who you fish with than how big the fish is; except for the ones lost.
You may not learn a lot about catching more and bigger fish, but reading these stories is like holding a mirror up in front of yourself getting a little wiser. The small why is a big one.
- This artickel is written by Danish photojournalist Søren Skarby
PASS IT ON
The island I grew up and still live on has got one river; the rest are small and very small streams. Even though they are small they produce an incredible amount of sea trout.
In my early teenage days the river was way too far away and the sea a totally unsolved mystery. My friends and I roamed the moats and small lakes and that was about it, but it didn’t relieve the itch enough. In search of a cure I joined the local club and that gave access to a nice stream and to what became my personal heaven, an old gravel pit, to which a ten-mile bike ride was no problem.
The last truck had left the gravel pit many years before I stood at the bank for the first time and it was actually hard to recognise anymore. There were willows, grass and flowers all over the place and an exaltation of larks were having a daylong song contest.
The club had a very simple concept for the place; every early spring a truck full of trout was loaded into the water. Then fishing was forbidden for at least a month and during that period of time the fish converted from tame kittens to not so easy to get tigers. The water was clear as gin and made it really hard to focus on rigging the rod. I could see the fish.
Keeping an eye on the boils my brain was working overtime choosing the right lure. The first cast was made with shaking hands and landed pretty close to a boil, but nothing happened. Two hours later I had been bombing the trout with all the lures in my tackle box without the slightest feeling of a take at all. When you are 13 that can make you give up and convince yourself that it’s just not the right day to fish. Then the magician showed up.
The light was beginning to fade when I saw him on the opposite bank of the gravel pit. At first I didn’t understand what he was doing, but then I realized that he was waving a fly rod. With elegant curves in the air he placed the fly at the right spot every time and that alone was a sensation. My uncle who took me fishing for the first time had always told me that fly-fishing was snobbish and posh, properly because he couldn’t cast, and for sure I felt the same way. The next hour or so changed that at a rapid pace, I was converting from one religion to another without time for any Ave Maria’s. The reason was simple and obvious; he was catching fish and to my total disbelief releasing them again.
I just sat on the bank sipping lemonade and saw him work his magic again and again feeling like the most incompetent fisherman who had ever had a rod in his hand. Watching the magician still casting spells with his wand I packed my gear and started the long ride home. It’s still a small miracle that I didn’t ride my bike out in front of a car occupied as I was with digesting the revelation.
Buying a fly rod was totally out of the question, since I had close to no budget, but there was an advantage to joining the fishing club because apart from places to fish, they could help me build a rod at a very affordable prize.
One evening a week the next winter we were a group of boys sitting in the cellar of a school winding the guides and shaping handles. When the last layer of polish was dry I stood with my first own fly rod in hand, a six weight, eight-foot glass rod. That was the wand, now I had to learn to do the spells and that included flies.
We went through the rite of passage for all beginners of the art, tying a red tag. Then the need for a vice and materials became more than present. Living far out in the countryside I had to order it and just wait for the package to arrive. At last it did in the middle of a blizzard, the postman had to walk the last stretch to my parent’s house because of snowdrifts. My mother offered him a cup of warm tea while I opened the box with shaking hands. It was all there, tinsel, thread, hooks, feathers and all the other magic dust you need to cast spells.
The first couple of hundred flies looked like spooked dust balls. To save money I cut the materials off the hooks and started all over again. It was a long cold winter; there was plenty of time.
When spring finally arrived I trained casting on my parents lawn after consulting books on how to do it. Sometimes the fly landed in the spot I wanted it to, but it happened less often than I wanted to admit.
The length of the casts where such that if the fish was no more than 15 yards away I had some kind of chance. Practising was a way of waiting for the season to begin. By season I meant the opening of the gravel pit and I was convinced that I could catch fish the same way the magician did.
In my mind I had seen it loads of times even though the part where I released the fish was a bit blurry. It was still mind-blowing that someone could release a fish. My opinion was that fish is something you catch and the prize you get is that you can have it for dinner.
When the gravel pit finally opened I realized that casting on a lawn and casting by the water are two very different things. First of all the back cast turned out to be a complicated thing that kept me occupied with saving my fly from predatory trees, grass and everything else more than one foot high behind me. It looked like the trout knew when I was untying knots on the tippet, they always rose to the surface while I couldn’t cast, when I finally could the wind, to my frustration, joined the conspiracy.
After kicking a tree stump and sipping some lemonade I looked in the fly box and found a dry fly. With a good amount of willingness most fly fishers would recognise it as a blue dun, it was one of my own creations and the feather wings had cost me sweat, tears and an awful lot of expensive materials. I tied it to the tippet and to my satisfaction the first cast with it was some kind of straight. In other words I cast my first spell, not a strong and powerful one, but a spell anyway.
Inuit hunters are very humble, they will never brag about a big catch, as that isn’t considered to be proper behaviour. Instead a good hunter will nearly whisper while he looks down that a seal was so kind that it was letting him shoot it.
The trout wasn’t kind; it was generous, gentle, charitable and unselfish. It picked speed from the bottom and exploded out of the water with my lousy fly in mouth hooking itself. I wouldn’t have been able to set the hook myself. The memory of the fight is a blur, but I did manage to land the fish and then my cry of triumph roared over the water. The bike ride home was one long triumphant parade and again I didn’t pay much attention to traffic.
Some years later I was sometimes still fishing in the gravel pit. At the end of May I could stand on my doorstep and nearly smell that it would be one of those evenings. The gravel pit had a considerable population of caenis and a rise of the small insects could make the trout insane. Imagine fish acting like baleen whales cruising in the surface with their mouths open. Caenis got a reputation for being the anglers curse and that is true when you try to imitate the imago, there are way to many of them.
There is a spell that can break the curse and I had learned it from fishing one evening after the other. Frank Sawyer’s simple and incredible efficient pheasant tail nymph can do the job, just cast it three feet in front of a trout inhaling the little white duns and then strip it slowly. It doesn’t work every time, but chances are pretty good. That spell had brought me to the stage where I sometimes was releasing fish.
The three boys stood in front of me just after I had finished the pizza I had bought on the way.
“Is that a fly rod?” said one of them pointing at the rod I was rigging. I nodded and he asked how it worked.
“Let me drink my coffee” I said and looked in direction of the pot nearly boiling, “then I’ll show you.”
The boys were having a look at my fly boxes, I dared show them, four or five years had passed since the first time I sat in front of a vice. They pointed out the colourful ones and couldn’t believe their eyes when I tied the anonymous looking little brown nymph on the tippet. When the cup was empty I picked up the rod and we went down to the water.
The plan was to show them how to cast and it worked fine they were all ears and eyes and I didn’t fumble. In the middle of the cast a trout rose in the water it was the first guest of the evenings feast. The fly landed as it should and I told the boys about stripping it. The fish turned out to be one of the really kind and friendly, it took the fly.
Showing all the coolness I could I landed the fish showed it to the boys and released it again. Then I looked at them and saw myself looking at the magician, their mouths were so open that I could nearly see what they’d had for breakfast. Then a hailstorm of questions broke loose and I tried to answer as good as I could and explaining about building rods and tying flies.
The rest of that evening I was feeling dizzy because of the fact that I had been so incredible lucky it would properly never happen again.
A year later I stood on the bank again knowing that the caenis would be on the rise. On the other side were two of the boys trying to cast, the third had strayed during the winter to some kind of sport involving a ball. The boys looked lost entangled in their own lines as they were and I felt obliged to help because I, and a very friendly trout, had cast the spell on them.
I rigged my rod and walked in their direction.
“Let me show you how to wave a wand.”