“That is night fishing, the essence of angling, the emperor of sports. It is a gorgeous gambling game in which one stakes the certainty of long hours of faceless fumbling, nerve-racking starts, frights, falls, and fishless baskets against the off-chance of hooking into – not landing necessarily or even probably, but hooking into – a fish as long and heavy as a railroad tie and as unmanageable as a runaway submarine. It combines the wary stalking and immobile patience of an Indian hunter with sudden, violent action, the mystery and thrill of the unknown, a stimulating sense of isolation and self-reliance, and an unparalleled opportunity to be close to nature since most creatures are really nocturnal in habit.”
From the book “Fishless days, Angling Nights” by Sparse Grey Hackle 1971.
I have an old friend who, when he is sitting comfortably in our lounge, and a truly classic piece of music comes on the stereo, closes his eyes as he listens.
I think he sways a little too.
He certainly zones out.
He escapes the confines of our simple human surroundings, switches off the world around him, and allows his mind to soar to lofty and beautiful places in which the depth of his appreciation knows no bounds. He transcends those in the room who nod in his direction and snigger, and he rises to a place above us all.
I may have sniggered along with the others at one time. I don’t know. But I no longer do.
I too now know that lofty place. I think we all need such a place, given that to go there is all we can do in this broken and often painful world.
That place is one in which the things you choose to immerse your consciousness in, take over from all else. It is a place where the love your soul has for images, and words, and music, and beauty holds sway. It is a place that defies description, and which is unique to you alone. It is a place that acknowledges and reveres your fondest memories, and houses your own aesthetic blueprint.
My such place encompasses mountains, landscapes, weather, trout (and the waters they live in), set against a watermark of stories, and songs; all in the context of very personal memories.
I am taken to that lofty place by images. Not just any images mind you, but collections of images played out in the context of personal connections, complete with birdsong, and the sounds of a rushing mountain stream.
Those images, and everything that goes along with them, are I suppose well represented by what I post on this journal.
Here is a fairly random and possibly representative sample of those: Image Library.
I identify with John Gierach when he says “The modern depictions of fly fishing in print and video are accurate as far as they go, but they usually run heavy on gratuitous fish catching and light on the long silences that characterize the sport”. I don’t suppose it is a coincidence that McGuane writes about “The longest silence”
My silences on the water, while they are just that: Silences; can be represented by favourite music.
- The sounds of silence: Disturbed …..no, not Simon & Garfunkel, although I love that version…but you’ve gotta listen to this!
And while their names don’t fit the topic quite as poetically, take a listen to these ones too.
- Sacrifice: Sinead O’Connor
- American Pie: Madonna Its just a pity she doesn’t sing the whole thing
- Favourite mistake: Cheryl Crow
- Thumbing my way: Pearl Jam
- The Boxer: Mumford & Sons
- You and me: Lifehouse
And beautiful stories are the echoes of my own stories:
Reading list….books in which, when I got to the end I felt I had “ just finished sucking the last precious drop off the last page of a beautiful book.” (to quote Robin Douglas)
My list of such books: It is difficult to single out just a few books of all those I heave read, but here is my attempt to do that:
- On the spine of time: Middleton
- The River Why: Duncan
- Chalkstream Chronicle: Patterson
- Hunting Trout: Sutcliffe
- The Habit of Rivers:Leeson
- Where the Trout are as long as your leg: Gierach (I know, they are all brilliant)
You are a flyfisher. You are reading this blog. I think you will get it. No one else will. Close your eyes. They will snigger.
To hell with them.
The other day my friend and I did an exchange of sorts. He and his wife got oxtail. I got his left over beers, a good bottle of wine and the loan of a book. I should consider myself lucky. He would have digested the oxtail in a few hours, and I haven’t yet returned the last book he lent me. Truth be told the oxtail was an experiment: a mix of three rather dodgy looking online recipes, each of which attempt to condense the cooking time of oxtail from six hours to two, and none of which I followed with any dedication. And not only have I failed to return his last book, I haven’t even started reading it.
I was assured though, that what I consider a poor quality, gonzo picture of the author on the cover of this latest tome, should not put me off. Its the second edition.Bright blue surf breaking in the background. A bright red text box bearing the title. An arguably overexposed picture, but with the fisherman’s face in shade. 1970’s movie star blue reflective sunglasses, and after a while I noticed that the weird groin protrusion was in fact a fish, its form poorly contrasted between the mans legs and some or other rag being used as a glove to hold its tail. The right arm is held off to the side, clutching a fly rod rather clumsily……
OK, let me stop bashing the cover .
Inside is sheer brilliance.
My prejudice normally has me skipping chapters on bass, catfish and the like. Seth Norman’s skill as a writer had me relishing pieces on bait fishing! Actually the pieces on bait fishing, spinning and saltwater species, like those on Trout, were not about fishing at all. They are about death, love, lust, justice, schizophrenia, and nomadic travelling experiences. The fishing is just the glue that holds the pages together, and it serves to attract obsessed flyfishermen like me to topics broader than fly choice and casting techniques. Norman draws you into contemplation of your father’s death, your career and lifestyle choice, and your spirit of generosity or otherwise. He causes you to lose your mind. When he has you in there, he holds you there with fishing tales, and humour, and sentences that you read three times just to roll them around in your head a bit. I found myself wanting to suck the marrow out of the pages somehow. Maybe I will sleep with it under my pillow.
Allow me to quote a few lines:
“…..we’re four thousand feet into a narrow Sierra pass. Cliff wall to the right, cliff wall to the left and in the high beams we see a great white yacht broadside, an oceangoing yacht blocking the highway from shoulder to shoulder. “What’s that?” Mor asks, naturally enough……..
………….“No matter. I know another stream behind us and south. As we bed down in a campground, Mor in front, me over the cab, I hear him laugh again. “Noahs Ark. Does that kind of thing, do things like that happen often on these trips?’’
I consider . “Arks not so often. But a fishing trip is always a meander. You can’t quite know what will come up.”
“You like that?”
He pauses. We each have a small skylight to look through; through mine I can see an edge of cloud silvered by moonlight. Once more, Mor laughs, long, happily. “Of course. Of course you do. You’ve always liked that.”
If you enjoyed “The river Why” by David James Duncan, or “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”, you will enjoy this one for sure.
Not that my opinion counts in the shadow of a Pulitzer nomination, but Seth Norman, I salute you.
I must own a copy for sure, because this one will be re-read.
To the great Nick Lyons: I somehow only got to know about this book after its second edition ( It was first published back in 1996!) , but Sir…could you do something about that 2nd Ed cover ? A sunset maybe. A Trout? Revert to the first edition cover maybe? Maybe a rod and reel in soft light? No? Okay no problem, I am buying the book anyway.
The first edition is pictured left. I have ordered one…a second hand one. I found it on some or other online store. I hope it arrives. It cost half of next year’s Christmas bonus. I know, I’m an astute investor. No, you may not borrow it. Not even in exchange for good oxtail.