Angler Turned Teacher

I really like fishing and catching fish, and the chances are that if you’re reading this blog then you do too so we’ve got lots in common already, so hi!

I like catching fish, I like tying flies, I like watching fishing films and reading fishing books and talking to other like minded fishers about fishing. There can be very few – if any – past times that can encroach upon and engulf your soul as quickly and as completely as standing in a river waving a stick can. As time goes by I’m beggining to realise just how lucky I am to have fishing in my life while other folks fill theirs with reality tv, boozing or working for a fortune they’ll never have or need. All anglers are rich – the more you fall in love with it the less money you’ll need (or have).

I’ve realised in the last few years though that teaching other people to fish and to appreciate fishing means just as much, if not more, than catching my own fish these days. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with some very enthusiastic newbies of different abilities and with their own different goals in mind and each time has been as rewarding and fulfilling to me as catching my own fish ever has been. Hooking, playing and landing a fish is usually over in a few minutes, but watching a good friend learn to hook, play and land their first or biggest fish over the course of weeks, months and years is soul food of a whole different kind.

Jason is a friend of a friend who contacted me about learning to catch grayling using modern no-line techniques. He’s no newcomer to fishing, he’s a coarse match angler of some repute, a seasoned multi-code bait angler and a dabbler in still water trout fishing. What’s more he also spent a day out with top Derbyshire angler and guide Glen Pointon who told me that Jason had a basic technique fairly well nailed at shorter range. With the conditions set to be perfect and a nice early start in the offing I felt confident that this should be less of a lesson and more of a trouble-shooting session.

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Early December in the UK is cold, there’s no escaping it, and this particular morning was certainly the coldest of the winter so far. We arrived to a river which seemed to flow with an icy lethargy not between banks but between crisp culverts of white frost. The air froze every ounce of breath in an instant, everything was as still and perfect as frozen time. These kinds of mornings are the ones a grayling angler thinks of right the way through the summer and Jason and I both knew that mother nature had played her part in making the day a success, if we could keep our cool at the right times and keep warm during the rest of the day then a great days sport was in the offing.

Glen was right, of course, Jason knew what he was doing right from the start. Having spent a few minutes talking tactics and techniques he was able to show good form and make great drifts. I came in to the day knowing that concentration wouldn’t be an issue as it can be, his match fishing pedigree suggested a guy who was focussed on catching fish. We made a few minor technical adjustments to how he read the spiral indicator, looked at ways of fishing the flies deeper towards the end of the drift and focussed on being a little more enthusiastic with the hook setting and within minutes grayling number one was on the bank.

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This was followed by grayling numbers two, three and an awful lot more but while the numbers were good I really hoped Jason would hook something that would test his mettle a little more. I watched him strike a fish and could tell from the look on his face that this fish felt a little different. The Sage ESN hooped right over and he was running downstream towards me quickly. “It feels like a submarine” was how he described the fish that we still hadn’t seen after five minutes of battle but I had a feeling that it would be one of the remaining rogue rainbows stocked by another club in April. Out of season but not unwelcome, by now they’re very settled in and they really pull back. The fish was played expertly by a man who has played fish expertly for a very long time though the netting was made tough as the fish didn’t fit in Jasons little wooden pan net. A fish of around two pounds made a better account of itself than a similar stillwater fish ever could and it went back strongly after a couple of pictures. Jason had been on the river an hour and had banked the biggest grayling and rainbow trout of his life.

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At no point was the fishing electric – the bigger grayling never really showed themselves – but we caught steadilly through the day. More importantly Jasons ability to fish the method continued on an upward curve, he was making presentations at distance and off the wrong shoulder and hitting more takes than earlier in the day. He hit a take on a drift against some foliage on the far bank that I hoped would be the big grayling we had hoped for but I can’t say I was dissapointed when he landed a really fine brownie which again was played with the calculated ease of a guy who catches a lot of fish. Another personal best for Jason and the crowning glory of a fine Derbyshire Slam as each fish was over a pound. This is the second time he had ever fished this method, I’m not sure where he goes from here?

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I fished throughout most of the day, following Jason up the likely looking runs offering advice and insults as required. I think I caught plenty of fish but to be honest I can’t really remember any of them, even while I was landing a fish I was conscious of what was happening a little further upstream. We changed flies an awful lot as should always be the case and discussed the reasons behind any changes that were made.

The sun had sunk low by mid-afternoon, a glorious glow of orange and purple and red spread wide across the western sky. The air had a cool haze and a brisk chill which suggested the days fishing may beclose to its conclusion. The busy kingfisher had retired too, having had just as successful a day as we had. Whether the kingfisher had experienced the most prolific day’s hunting of his life or not I’m unsure but Jason had and that was something we were both very proud of.

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It’s hard not to appreciate a day when it is filled with so many great moments but to me the magic of these moments were they weren’t mine at all, they were Jasons. I was as peripheral as the sheep in the fields or the hawk hovering high above us for most of the day, watching the first chapter of a new story unfolding. Sometimes I got to be part of the story, with the net, or with the camera or sometimes with the fly box but at no point was the moment or the story mine and to me this is the pleasure and privilege of passing on the things you know.

The modern world has made the aquisition of information as simple as a few words in a search engine, and as such the process of learning the theories of any subject is no more than a few hours work. What Google can’t fulfill is the desire to make these theories work in practise. Google also can’t be there to net the fish that you’re struggling with or tie the flies on. In an age where humanity is becoming more and more detched both socially and environmentally the simple role of teaching somebody how to fish or how to fish a technique elevates the aquisition of information to a genuine human experience made all the more fulfilling by the sharing of such moments.

Take somebody fishing, they might just have the best days fishing you’ve ever had.

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