All anglers have at least one non-fishing friend who doesn’t do it, hasn’t tried it but takes the piss relentlessly. I’ve actually got a few, I see it these days as an occupational hazard and where possible I try to not rise to it (pun intended) and to just shrug it off. The main ringleader in our group is Danielle, a girl for whom delicacy and subtlety are not always personally attributable traits and if I caught a fish for every “dangling your little maggot” or “holding your big rod”‘ gag she has made over the years I’d be fishing for England. It’s no good arguing back, I’ve tried that, it just comes back ten times worse and after all these years I had resigned myself to being the only fish botherer in the group. Then I got sent a WhatsApp with the four little words every angler wants to hear:
Teach me to flyfish?
If I had been on a chair I’d have fallen off it. The very same chick, the chief protagonist for nigh on a decade and source of all fishing shanter (shit banter) had finally succumbed to the mystery and charm of fly fishing. I very quickly pinned down a date and a time and gave very little room for a change of heart or a cancellation. This was to be the opportunity to prove once and for all that my biggest passion in life isn’t just sitting still throwing worms at water and maybe even coax a new fly fishing buddy from where there had never been one before.
As the day drew nearer I felt pressure for the first time in a guiding situation. It wasn’t coming from Dani though, it was all self inflicted and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever given as much mental planning to a days fishing as I did this one. This is a girl who had never even held a fishing rod let alone cast one, or caught a fish, or waded a river. These however are things I can work around, as a guide every now and again you encounter such problems. The issue I was really worried about was her notoriously short attention span (£5 says she won’t read this blog to this point) and I knew that if I couldn’t get her in to a fish within thirty minutes or so then the level of interest would wane quickly.
I didn’t sleep much the night before. It seems ridiculous now but I had really hyped this day up in my mind. This wasn’t just guiding, this was guiding one of my best friends and most fierce critics! We hit the river for half ten and found it a little high but clear enough with a fairly blustery westerly breeze which held the promise of plenty of tangles if we couldn’t find a sheltered spot. There was a trickle of Grannom and LDO on the water but I didn’t mention too much about them – baby steps and all that. I donned my leaky old Greys waders while Danielle took my shiny new Redington Sonic Pros and she looked an awful lot better in them than I do which did infuriate me a little.
Given the lack of casting practice and the increasingly snide breeze I reached for the 10′ 3# Sage ESN with the French Leader – lobbing is a darned sight easier to learn than casting. Within half a dozen throws she had picked up the technique and was (very aggressively) throwing and fishing a team of bugs through a likely pool. A splashy rise at the head caught my eye, then another and another as the Grannom hatch cranked up a notch. I made the call to cut the bugs off and fish a dry on the french leader knowing that this is not an easy method of fishing and that Dani was unwittingly going to have to make the cast of her life.
On went the sz17 Fulling Mill Retirer Sedge and I offered in the finest guide parlance where we might want the fly to land – “next to that stick, to the left of the weed bed, behind that rock”. The french leader dry fly in these conditions was a real gamble. She launched the thirty feet of leader in to a back cast and swiped it forwards in a motion somewhere between a baseball pitch and a Mike Tyson right hook and at that moment something amazing happened. Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Jewish God and all the other helpful dudes guided that little fly through the stiff breeze to exactly the right area and no sooner had it settled on the water than a good sized trout had head and tailed right over it. She struck unprompted with an instinct that suggested she’d been doing this for thirty years and the fish was on.
And then it was off. The Deities had been too busy watching the fly to notice that the thin leader had wrapped around the tip ring and yours truly made a rush to untangle the issue rather than just trying to net the fish. I didn’t mention it at the time but I feel totally to blame for not landing that trout. Sorry Danz!
No mater though as the hatch was really hotting up and there were regular rises. Danielle nailed a casting technique of sorts and after a quick hint about reducing drag she was making perfect presentations and catching fish. I couldn’t really find a way of impressing on her the significance of what she was achieving, catching her first ever fish on a dry fly using a really tough technique to wild and wary trout and grayling, so I sort of let her crack on with it while the fishing was good. I knew that the “level of interest” clock was ticking.
Three fish on dries (100% hit ratio!) and one on the bugs (again striking without any prompting ) to me represents a bloody good effort, it took me a lot longer than that to get my first fish on a dry fly that’s for sure. The bites dried up and the clocked ticked down to zero but I felt really proud of her, not only because had she caught some fish but more so that she had been open enough to ask in the first place. I don’t know many chicks in their twenties who fly fish and I imagine Dani knows even fewer but she was willing to step out of her comfort zone and throw on a set of waders – I’ve got a lot of time for people like that.
I’ve not asked her if she wants to go again yet, though judging by the number of selfies and snapchats going round I get the impression she might just have enjoyed it enough to try it again some time. I did ask if the experience might have brought an end to the “dangling your maggot” jokes.
“Yeah” she said, “you don’t do that, you like to get knee deep and get your flies out for the fish!”
Shanter. Shit Banter.