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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