Am I suffering from some form of insensitive lunacy ? – I’m sat in my fly tying room in Somerset. Outside it looks as if the end of the world is nigh, – 70mph winds driving rain and sleet sideways across the meadows; trees on many of the side roads to the village are down, and it seems that it hasn’t been properly light for four days. The Somerset Levels have been flooded since Christmas, where residents have been unable to live in their homes for seven weeks now, further East towards London, Old Father Thames is flooding his Home Counties neighbours, David Cameron is on TV wearing wellies standing by a fire engine, and what is it that I am doing ? – I’m sat tying size #18 and #20 small delicate olive upwing flies, larger emergers, and #14 and #16 buggy nymphs, in readiness for the Summer ! ! – as I tie, I have an image loop running through my head, when describing to anyone the River Wylye, clichés are unavoidable. A classic gently flowing chalkstream, it is mid summer, countless Swallows and Swifts swoop in to either drink or take flies from the bright babbling ripples, distorting and mixing the colours of wafting bright green melding with the glow of golden gravels. Currently it is over the banks into the fields for some distance. I think I need treatment.
I wind a badger hackle parachute,tie in and crinkle, a few fine deer hairs to create the impression of delicate legs, catch in the tips of a couple of CDC feathers and curve them over towards the eye, the side wisps splay out so beguilingly as it curves, one of my essential ‘trigger’ points on emergers;
I’m planning my attack on the river as if it is some kind of warfare, which I think is how I see it, I envisage myself as a sniper.
The Wylye’s lower reaches, and carriers near the stables are my prime areas. I do most of my fishing here, main river, sluices and ancient hatches, much of this area is akin to jungle warfare, fewer but larger fish, which even spook at cloud movement or if the sun suddenly peeps out. If I fail here, as I often do, then I’m off to that overhanging willow just above the railway bridge where last summer, from less than four metres away, close in at the margins, a trouts very large head, appeared directly in front of me, under the overhanging fronds,- slowly, timing its rise to synchronise the gulping down of a hatching, twitching floundering ED, – then sinking out of sight, all one smooth continuous movement leaving neither ripple nor splash. No one would believe me if I told them of the heart stopping fish like this one that I’ve seen on every reach of this part of the Wylye. Emergers I’ve tied like these are for him.
Further upstream from Wilton, there is a narrow arched stone bridge, where a muscular brooding brute of a trout appearing to be in excess of 18” holds to one side of an archway. I’ve watched him several times for the duration of eating a sandwich and drinking a coffee, – he never moves more than a foot either side, holding just out of the main current. I’ve begun to think of him as my ‘training fish’. This is the fish that spurs me into trying to improve my fishing skills, trying to perfect an underhand cast up inside the arch, trying to achieve for the fly to land as close to the inside edge where water meets stone as possible, so that as it comes back towards me, emerging from under the arch with no drag or hint of an unnatural movement hoping to entice him into making that short open mouthed move before the current swings it away downstream. I really don’t want to anthropomorphise, but this fish exudes brooding malevolence. I’ll have him, I just want to have that few seconds of adrenalin fuelled fear as I feel his weight, the fast deep head shaking runs as he attempts to dominate the angle of my rod and test my tippet and knots. I just want to put my fingers round those shoulders, feel the prick of those needle teeth as I remove the fly, and I want that special lingering moments of looking down, holding him in the current waiting for the kick away – for this fish, it is one of these emergers or maybe this new nymph that will give me that experience this coming season.
Further upstream from this stone bridge is a series of carriers, where a heart stopping sulky 20” fish resides, in a narrow piece of water with overgrown banks that you could almost stride across. He’s hard up against a big Hawthorn root stock that extends out into the water. This is a one cast fish, no one ever, within half a day will have a second cast at this fish. Last season I chose to walk and stalk this one fish three or four times. Only once did I rise him, Just the once, he closely inspected my fly, matching his drift with the fly and current, then I’m sure he sneered at me, hidden amongst the reeds and nettles, before sinking away below the ranunculus. He’s a real canny one, seemingly tolerating the presence of four or five smaller fish that hang around, a couple of metres behind him. They are his warning signal; if anything disturbs them, they shoot upstream towards and past him, then he’s gone in a blink, leaving a very slight swirl of silt drifting and settling in the current.
Summer 2014 will mark an epoch in the catching of large trout. I wish, – and yet it is precisely this kind of lunacy, more charitably described as an over developed sense of optimism, – that makes us fly fishermen, an unswerving belief that everything will improve and we’ll have better luck tomorrow.