This cuppa was brewed up in the mountains, when the rain and cloud and wind didn’t look like letting up. Waiting this stuff out is infinitely better with good coffee.
And on the subject of waiting it out: Ted Leeson’s writing continues to delight me in a way that has me laying the open book down on my lap, after reading a particularly erudite and poetic piece, and clucking and shaking my head in awe of his ability to capture a moment or concept, with which I identify immeasurably.
“Much of the technical fly-fishing literature at which anglers have suckled for over a century possesses acutely hallucinogenic properties. Ingesting it produces weird distortions, and never more so than in the matter of hatching insects and rising fish, which generations of recreational users have been induced to believe are the default condition of the average trout stream and a routine component of the ordinary angler’s experience in fishing. While never nakedly advanced, this gravity defying assumption hovers so invisibly in the background that it verges on a form of corruption.”
Leeson continues in this vane, in what is probably the my favourite chapter in “Inventing Montana”, called, so aptly and cleverly “Wading for Godot”.
If you identify with the message that Leeson delivers in this chapter, then you could rightly mothball most of the fly-fishing books in your personal library, but you would do well to keep this one out on the coffee table:
It deals specifically with those times when trout are NOT rising to a hatch. (i.e. 99% of your time on the water)
I still own a rod called “snappy”. Until very recently it was the only rod I had ever broken. In fact, if truth be told, I didn’t break it. The kids did. It was a long time ago, and it got named based on its distinction of having been the rod that snapped. There is nothing original about that nomenclature. I stole it from Neil Patterson. He had written a superb article for Trout Fisherman magazine in the UK. It may be partly because he incorporated that story in his excellent book ”Chalkstream Chronicle”, but I prefer to think I remember the story from way back in ‘85 before he produced the book. The article was called “Bring me a rod and make it snappy”, and chronicled all the awful things he has done to fly rods in his time.
He also had a bright orange rod, which he called “the carrot”, and which kinda rusted at the ferrule on account of him never taking it apart, such that he never could again. That reminds me of my friend Bruce. Bruce once returned a rod to the tackle dealer who had sold it to him, saying that it really wasn’t working for him. On this occasion the South African failed in his bid to evoke the lifetime guarantee thing. I mention it thus because Roger tells me that the South Africans developed a reputation for being more inclined than anyone on the globe to need the lifetime guarantee on an Orvis. In fact Orvis grew suspicious of the motives of the South Africans, and started insisting that a piece be cut from the rod just above the grip and returned as proof that we were not accumulating good sticks. Bruce never got a chance to accumulate another good stick,because the reason his was not quite to his liking, is that not unlike “the carrot”, he had used it in the salt, and it had a reel permanently fixed to the reel seat.
With the advent of us having to prove that we really had broken the things, came a generous supply of awesome Orvis grips and reel seats. I never was a craftsman, and these donations were the perfect shortcut. I could epoxy a blank into the beautifully built Orvis piece, slap on some guides (which sometimes even lined up!) and voila! I had a fly rod. One particular rod was such that the blank rattled around in the grip. No problem, a particular removal company had recently seen fit to drive a 30 ton truck over a rod of mine (catastrophic failure!) , and I was able to cut a sleeve from that, slide the blank into it, and that in turn into the latest Orvis assembly donation. And there you had it: “Elliot” was borne!
I still have Elliot. Its an OK rod. It was the better of two rods that I found lying on the side of the main road. Yes, just lying there in the ditch. The sun glinted on one of the reels and I slammed on anchors and picked them up. I advertised, looking for their owners, but thankfully no one replied, and I reasoned that they were something marginally more honourable than an ill-gotten gain. The second one was appalling. Floppy, with no backbone at all. I acceded to a request to borrow a rod, and lent that one to the bloke in question. He wasn’t a fly-fisherman, so he wouldn’t have noticed the slight quality problem. In any event, he never returned the things he borrowed. He never returned that rod either.
Having built Elliot I was filled with rod builders confidence. So I repaired snappy with a segment donated to me by Roger. I built my son a rod. He still has it. I also built “the pony pole” for an old friend whose interest lies more in riding small tough Lesotho ponies across rugged countryside. I can identify with that particular affliction, since it takes place in Trout country, which is why I built him the rod.
I saw him not so long ago, and I think he said a pony had stood on the rod, before he got to use it. Come to think of it, I built him that rod in exchange for a car radio, the fate of which is long forgotten.
Delirium tremens !
Anyway, snappy fishes just fine, as does the first rod I ever broke , which was earlier this season.
Yes: the first. Remember, one was driven over by a removal truck. The other was slammed behind the car seat by my kids, and I wasn’t even there when the Lesotho pony stood on “the pony pole”. And that first rod I ever broke: In all fairness I didn’t break that one either. The dog did. His name is Ben. He is still alive. Graeme and I walked down a perfectly straight farm road on our way to fish the river. No trees. Fences twenty yards away. Just a straight road, and we both walked with our rods out behind us, as one should do. When we started the rod was fine. At the end of the road when we turned down to the river it was broken. And all we did was chat as we walked. But the dog. Ben. He was excitable, and young, and he bound ahead and then doubled back behind us, stopping to nuzzle us, and bite our hands playfully. So you see….it is simple. The dog bit the rod. It wasn’t me.
Wolff fixed it beautifully for me, and Peter, while I am embarrassed about what I did to John’s rod, it still fishes beautifully, and you can hardly see the repair.
I really do treasure it, I promise.
And it wasn’t me.
It was the dog.
The buzz and blur of youth. It was a time when our fly-fishing tackle was of poor quality, but our experiences were not. We were impoverished in material things, but bailed out by parents who put wheels under us, and held back enough not to quell our thirst for adventure. They were as brave in letting us go, as I am fearful of letting my own kids go, thirty years on. I saw my son off at a bus station in the dodgy part of town this morning. My parents drove me to a campsite in a luxury vehicle, and dropped us two schoolboys there for a week with a flimsy tent, a fly rod, and no cell phone.
Later our forays were in NX735. What a vehicle!
It must have been the sort of left over, pool vehicle from the sugar estate. It was ours to enjoy. We were to pack it with insufficient food, and an oversupply of beer and enthusiasm. Our lodgings were a pump house on Len Thurston’s farm dam, because we had run out of money to pay camping fees in Himeville, and this spot was for free, albeit a bit colder.
The club house at Hopewell was equally cheap, and the beer we were so able to afford enhanced the boat race we had from the inlet where we had been fishing, back to the jetty. The small outboards were not fast enough, so we rowed as well.
Back then we killed fish, ate badly, and built a store of memories, with equal ignorance. Our flies, and the barbs on the hooks we tied them on, were too big. Our egos may have been too. One’s tackle and gear was what you currently had, and not a carefully accumulated collection of things designed to make the trip more comfortable. I got sick on account of an East Griqualand trip on which I took just one flimsy jacket. It failed to protect me from the September snow, and I had earache for a week thereafter. Kevin and Steve used a no 8 spanner as a priest to harvest disgustingly large fish from a dam near Kokstad, because it was all they had. I missed out. I had an awful stomach bug. Medication to curb the problem didn’t even occur to us. One didn’t pack that stuff.
Instead we packed blissful ignorance, unbridled enthusiasm, and a blotting paper attitude to everything we heard and saw. We swaggered with an un-earned air of experience, while secretly storing and treasuring every fishing tip, scribbled road map, and passed down Trout fly. When Jimmy Little invited us into his caravan beside the water, and spoke to us in pure Welsh, we understood very little, but it was warm in there, and he added something interesting to the coffee. We got to drool on his Orvis fly rods too. We set out fishing at 3 am and shivered beside the dam, awaiting sunrise. We embarked on an ill timed hike down a river valley and returned to the leaky tent after nine at night in the rain. We forgot to close the gate, and had to try cover up the damage that the bull did to the fishing shack door. We got hailed on, and had lighting shake our very beings in some very exposed places. Guy and I returned home to use the phone to book the next day’s fishing, and to get a hot meal, and some sleep before we headed out again. It was all we needed. We dived in and dug fish from the weeds.
We all revere the fairytale memories of youth. But we lived our youth without revering it, for had we done so, it would have lost its youthfulness. We are told to draw pictures and sing like we did when we were kids, and we try to cast off the chains of adulthood. We try to pursue a time, but in fact it was not a time. It was a stage, and we have lost the faculties to re-create that stage. We hanker for “care-free”, but it is no longer ours.
My colleagues kids won’t eat their porridge, and whine about going to school. They live in a discomfort imposed upon them by the things they can not yet control. I leave his home smug in the knowledge that this phase is behind me. I am no longer thrown into the pit of life. Now I climb gingerly down the ladder , prepared for whatever lies down there.
I catch more fish now, because my nylon is fresh, and I tie on better hooks. I no longer have that awful reel from which the spool would regularly tumble. I suspect there was a horrible Hopewell hangover * after that boat race, and I have learnt how to dodge those. It is forgotten, but the wisdom earned is still there. I pack a warm jacket now. It is a good one, and there is no need to suffer.
Perhaps youthfulness belongs where it is, and resists our attempts to re invent it for good reason.
But if someone calls to say he is fetching me for fishing in 10 minutes, without prior warning, best I finish my porridge quickly and go to the senior school of life without whining!
Because I still have a lot to learn….
* Big H, big H, big H….a reference to the coding of a dump-site as being suitable for highly hazardous material!