The fishing club that I belong to has a very efficient web based booking system. It is all very slick. You log on with a password, tick little boxes, and when you are done it sends you an automated e-mail. Very functional.
But back in the day, we had to deal with people!
One club had a truly dear lady, whom one phoned at set times in the evening. She chatted away, and got to know each of the regular club members, at least in an “over the phone” kind of way. As a high school kid, my car owning friend obliged and the two of us fished every single day of the holidays, booking the next day’s water in the evening , just after getting in off the water. Each day as he dropped me off at the farm house we had a ritual in which we had to decide who was going to call her. “ you call her” “No, I called yesterday, you call her” and so it would go.
We referred to her by the most dreadful name you could possibly give a lady, but never to her face of course, and our appalling label was hardly befitting of such a gracious and friendly soul. I guess it was a macho schoolboy thing, fortunately conducted harmlessly between the two of us, but mention of it here brings the memories flooding back.
Another club up the road had a booking office that you called at. I remember holiday season up there. We would stop by in the morning, eager to locate the best beat, find out what had fished well the day before, and generally fuel up on fishing lore.
But the old fox in the booking office, albeit being friendly enough, had a sour disposition. We would scan the blackboard behind him, running our eyes down the list of farm names. Each one we paused at and enquired about would bring on remarks of “full of bass that one”, or “you will get stuck on that road for sure”, or “choked with weed”. So it would go, until inevitably there were none left from the list, and we would return to the water where we had blanked the day before. Our enthusiasm and eagerness in tact only because we were fifteen years old.
Thinking back on it, it was not unlike that classic John Cleese skit, in which he calls on the cheese shop, and tries unsuccessfully to buy just about every cheese known to man.
Then there was the time that I phoned ahead to book camping and fishing at Highmoor. Of course the phone line is strung feebly up a mountain pass, and there is a lot that goes on between town and Highmoor along that line, so it was crackly.
When we arrived at that tiny office, fully loaded with gear, my wife and I were alarmed to hear that it was fully booked, and that there was no place for us. I politely asked to see the booking register, where I discovered that my name (Andrew Fowler) had been morphed in a label that I am still referred to at times, “Hundry Sowler”. I politely corrected the good booking man, and turned to speak to my wife, but she was gone: she was outside in the garden sobbing with laughter!
You had to be there.
In Thomas McGuane’s wonderful book of the same name he writes “For the ardent fisherman, progress is toward the kinds of fishing that are never productive in the sense of the blood riots of the hunting-and-fishing periodicals.”
That is a deep thought, and one that makes me feel a little better. Clearly I am progressing, because I am not catching a whole pile of fish! Of course I would like to catch some better sized fish, or a few more of them, but I will bow graciously to this “progress” that has been bestowed on me.
The truth be told, I have done a great deal of progressing in my time as a fly-fisherman. Quite aside from my current slump, I have had some steep graphed periods in which I could not complain about the size of the fish, or the mix being in favour of “stockies” as is currently the case, because I caught nothing at all.
My kids have just ended school for the short September holiday, and it reminds me of such a ten day holiday of my own. We had stocked a small dam over on the far boundary of the farm, and the fish should by then have grown to a size that they were worthy of being caught. It was however a warm year, so I fished only the early mornings. It must have been before I was riding a motorbike or driving, because I remember walking there and back every day before breakfast for ten days straight. Each morning I would see a fish or two rise, or experience some small glimmer of hope, for I returned every single day. But every day I trudged well over a kilometer back to the farmhouse, empty handed and hungry for the first meal of the day. Ten days straight, I tell you, and not so much as a nibble.
A diary entry of mine in July 1998 records that one of my pals had his 17th blank day straight!
As a university student, a few of us once took off for a week and camped at Glengarry campsite. We fanned out each day and fished various stillwaters. One or two of the guys got a fish here or there, but they were very sparse, and I remember enough to know that I caught nothing at all. My diary records that it was so cold that my toothpaste froze, and I remember it being as miserable as that. After a week of camping and blank fishing days my buddies dropped me back at the farm, where I wasted no time in calling Guy, my other fishing friend, and arranging to go and fish Aberfoyle dam the very next day. We caught nothing there either!
Aberfoyle dam was a lovely NFFC water, close to town, but the rules were such that you had to park and walk to the dam , which put many people off. We often went there and fished, and waved at the drivers of the passing trains. On one trip back in 1989, the water was dirty, and we caught nothing at all, yet again. We did however consume a few beers, the effects of which had us wondering if we could employ a trick from the old stories in which a can of milk was poured into the river in the morning to clear up the water for later in the day.
The strange thing about these slow patches, it that they cause me to want to fish more, and to fish more carefully. They serve to heighten the pleasure of the days when it does all come together. But beside all that, some of the greatest mischief, some of the best memories, and the most unusual experiences, have been had plunking around in water apparently devoid of fish.
So here’s to progress!
May it end soon.