Cane Rods and Narrow Streams

The River Wylye has some of the most picturesque, delightful  and beguiling little carriers that you’ll  ever come upon.  True Chalkstreams aren’t found anywhere else in the world, so these medieval narrow  man made irrigation rivulets really qualify for the word unique.    Rarely more than six feet across, in places you could jump across them, were it not for the bankside rushes.  The water, genuinely crystal,  their depth can vary from a three feet to just under 12”, depending on how they  were designed to flow, flood and carry nutrient bearing silts into the old water meadows.   It is only by crawling, stalking, and occasional subtle peering,  that you will ever catch sight of some of the heart stopping  trout and grayling that control and claim parts  of each channel.  Under ranunculus, in banking undercuts, or beneath overhanging trees, these cunning and wily fish sit controlling their own piece of this narrow never ending flow of nutritious  invertebrates that chalkstreams produce in such huge amounts.    Invariably, and shrewdly, these fish seem to have positioned themselves with devious fly casting fishermen in mind.  Here there are some large uncatchable trout that will make a a fool of those who assume themselves to be expert.   Just when you think you’ve got this river cracked, it can make a muppet out of you to bring you back to reality.   Therefore, if you’re content to spend an afternoon  spooking more trout than you could ever dream of catching, there just might be a couple you can take from these carriers.   Catching a fish of any size from a carrier is no mean feat,  and those who venture to do so should mull over  John Gierach’s intelligent and eloquent phrase,  ‘….your stature as a fly fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed….’

For when the masochist in me opts to pass a few hours on these small nitrate free, calcium rich overgrown streams, I have a beautiful 6’ 6” #3weight rod that after much deliberation and research  I had made for me in Michigan by the illustrious Shane Gray.   It’s an absolute delight to use, I treat it as if it’s a very special friend, there’s something about it, its almost a work of art – (and there’s a caution in those last few words)

Using a cane rod somehow makes me change my whole approach, maybe its because its made of a real living material,  cliché though that might be, but a cane rod makes me want to be a better fly fisherman,  I’m sure it flatters my casting, occasionally it teaches or makes me aware of why the fly hasn’t landed precisely where I wanted it.  Something special happens to your mind set with a cane rod,  if I’ve missed a teasing little dimple of a rise, it slows and calms me.  No hurried re-ginking and clumsy tangling re-cast.  Somehow, you can’t rush a cane rod, you become more contemplative.

Love it as I do, I think I’ve discovered an issue, though one I’m content to live with.   Late on an  evening rise, I had one of those intimate tantalising sipping takes that could so very easily go unnoticed in the dying light.  The lift, the responding moving splattering  subsurface weight indicated a good sized fish, but with the  temperament of a scorned  Mike Tyson.   In those first five seconds,  I wanted this lightweight delight to transform itself into an 8’ 6” 6 weight carbon fibre rod.   This hard fighting plunging fish in an instant had me involuntarily lowering the tip almost parallel to the water – a novices mistake.   The ‘work of art’ rod was bending alarmingly from tip to butt, I became aware that I was constantly glancing up at an extreme curve,   a thought came into my head…’ is this fish worth £X’s?’  I came to no answer or decision, and irrationally, how I’d haggled with a Customs Officer at Heathrow over whether it was a ‘used’ or ‘new’ rod came into my head.

I allowed the fish greater control than I would normally have done, realising that you need a longer rod to quickly take control and subdue better than average fish.   Eventually, longer than I was comfortable about, it came alongside for me to unhook.   On this occasion, I was lucky, it hadn’t got snagged anywhere or run further than I could manage.   Some fisherman say that cane can take it and bend forever, but it caused an hiatus in our relationship….I’m not sure that I can trust her anymore, or maybe myself with this rod.  I’m giving myself a good talking to, if it breaks then tough, I have two tips for it, and I’ll just have to buy another from Shane Gray in Michigan.  The lesson for me is that I shouldn’t endow an inanimate object with an aura of being something special, a rod is  just a tool to catch fish with.

I’ve decided that I have ten, probably fifteen, active fishing years left before eyesight and physical infirmity prevent me scrambling through undergrowth and wading swift waters, so I’m going to have another two cane rods built specially for the coming years.  A new adventure beckons, researching and meeting the craftsmen who will manufacture a thing of beauty that I’ll leave to my Grandson to fish with after my demise.

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Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Books that every fisherman should have. Part 1

This book has been my favourite for the past few years.   Within its covers, there is a wealth of intelligent observation, which he complements by analysing some of the unproven myths that many of us have generally accepted and passed onto each other over the years.   Unafraid of challenging head on established dogma, Wyatt is able to pepper his American(but he’s Canadian) style phraseology with original dry humour and wit.  I enjoy his forensic dismantling of fishing scenarios that I’ve also encountered and I’ve employed some of his tactics successfully.  Of particular interest is the rationale for design and use of the Deer Hair Emerger.  Good fly pictures, disappointed that many more are in Black and White.  A must have book.

You cannot consider yourself to be a serious tyer of flies without this book close to hand.  And in turning the pages, you quickly become aware of the limitations of your tying skills.  Expensive, undoubtedly, and some of its explanations are atypically American worded, so you have to re read them to fully understand, but the excellent step by step pictures on every  technique imaginable, – and there are more than you’d ever beleive existed.  This book provides you with the details of how to set about tying any kind of flies, for any kind of fishing destination in the world.  Should I ever be washed up on a Desert Island, then this is the book that I’d want, together with a huge chest of materials and tools, to be washed up on the shore beside me.  Enough content to keep you absorbed for years.

A fishing life we'd all aspire to

An almost romantic love of living alongside a Chalkstream he’s blessed with fishing, the subtext of which is an enviable, much sought after lifestyle.  An easy raconteur who’s accounts of everyday and special day encounters with his river, fish, and the characters that formed part of the fishing fortunate on this picturesque and famous river.  Maybe a book for the nostalgics, but delightfully littered in margins and headings with pencil drawings of flies and scenes of the chapter and month of the year. 

I doubt if there are many fly tyers who do not have this handy pocket sized book somewhere close to hand when they are tying.  In parts it is a little difficult to follow in the structure of its layout.  Whilst highly informative, whenever I refer back to it, I always find myself wishing that  that some of the photographs and illustrations had been better and larger, there is an amateur feel to them, but I think this was probably dictated by publishing costs, and also prevented by its chosen format.  It is a text book that steers the populist side of entomology.   Possibly ‘the’ reference source for fly identification prior to fly tying in the UK, not always easy to find and follow individual stages of fly life, but I wouldn’t be without it even if the spine of it has been cracking and pages coming loose since I first purchased it.   

This book can destroy your sanity. It should be read only if you’re absolutely satisfied with living in the UK doing your everyday fishing.   To the less secure, this book will have you reaching for luggage bags and a variety of rods whilst googling the places he fishes.  A successful writer and film producter who has too much talent to call upon, evidenced here as an accomplished writer able to evoke a sense of his younger days with some excellent fishing destinations.   His ability to use the English language in such a subtle and yet powerful way is a master class of communication.  If you have only one book token, – this is the book.

The Suffering of the Winter Fisherman

Brilliant ! – a really hard frost last night, weather forecasters were spot on.  Cold air from Eastern Russia, a warm front coming in from the West. What a result, the UK night time temperatures were -9 at Yeovilton, whilst in Europe, its down to -35 !  Depending upon which weather front wins, we may be in for  lotsa snow in the next few  days.

A perfect morning for what I have to do.  I’m walking the river with a new member of the club, – not all of it of course, just a couple of hours, explaining parking and the Reach marking protocols, and some of the features of the river.  Then the rest of the day is mine so I’m doing some Grayling fishing.  We’re meeting at the River Keepers Cottage, which is situated about one third down the length of the river, firstly we’ll walk a few of the Reaches in that area, and then I’ll tantalise him with a view of the nearby Carriers.  

There’s nothing to fire the imagination for Summer fishing than a view of the Carriers and split second glimpses of fast moving bulky underwater shadows as they speed away upstream at first sight of your white face.  Carriers are man made, narrower than the main river, their original purpose was to irrigate the meadows, bringing in much wanted silt and nutrients, by managing the river in this way, controlled seepage into the watermeadows, it meant that grass roots were protected from frosts and snow, more winter cattle could be grazed, the big benefit was it enabled an extra hay cut being made in the summertime.  The very skilled job of organising and managing this process was carried out by men called ‘Drowners’.

It isn’t unusual, over a few hundred yards to have two or  three carriers each running off at a right angle and then parallel, before returning to the main river again.  The permanently flowing hatches creat exquisite havens for all forms of wildlife.   Shallower than the main river, generally a yard or two across, bankside vegetation varies, if its dense during the Summer it makes them very difficult to cast in, you have to be extremely cautious and very accurate with your casting, otherwise, its snagged flies and scared fish for quite some distance.  If there’s no cover, then you’re on your hands and knees crawling and casting from a crouched position.  Past observations confirms that the Carriers carry fewer Trout and Grayling, but those that inhabit them are usually well above average size.  Reach 16 is a picture book example, – even in Winter, so it should make interesting nymph fishing this afternoon.   

So that’s my afternoon planned – and when the cold has really bitten into me and the sun dropped behind the hill ? well, within a couple of hundred metres of the river, there is a superb Farm Shop, with comfy chairs, a log burning stove, and excellent Pork, Chicken, Beef and Ale pies that they make there in the kitchen;  the aroma of the pies and warm baking bread is so seductive, I’ll sink into the comfy chair by the fire with a strong pot of coffee and wonder if life get any better ?