Cock will

Why Peter prefers fish­ing in com­pany rather than soli­tude as the years go by

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents - Peter Cock­will: Stillwater ex­pert, guide and Trout Fish­er­man con­trib­u­tor of 35 years

IT’S a funny thing, get­ting older. I’m by no means averse to my own com­pany, yet more and more, I’m find­ing gen­uine plea­sure in hav­ing time to fish with friends in­stead of alone, as proved by a recent oc­ca­sion, which thank­fully in­volved a day when I was on duty at the fish­ery where I now work. It in­volves the fam­ily of John Clark who lived near Ton­bridge in Kent and who was a pas­sion­ate fisher. Af­ter he passed away in 2004, his fam­ily and friends started an an­nual get-to­gether, sched­uled to oc­cur as close as pos­si­ble to his May 27 birth­day. It in­volves tak­ing over one of sev­eral lo­cal fish­eries for the day, with up to three gen­er­a­tions tak­ing part, and then hav­ing a fairly in­for­mal com­pe­ti­tion. The pre­vi­ous year’s win­ner is the judge for the day and awards John’s fish­ing hat, which is kept in a beau­ti­fully made, wood and glass case, and then a bot­tle of whisky is passed around to drink a toast to a re­ally pop­u­lar man. There’s no pres­sure in this match; no mad scram­ble for the ‘best’ place, no win-at-all costs at­ti­tude (thank good­ness); just a lovely time to­gether, maybe help­ing young­sters with their cast­ing or as­sist­ing with net­ting for some of the more el­derly con­tes­tants. It was a per­fect oc­ca­sion, and a model ex­am­ple of how fish­ing can bring peo­ple to­gether, and also be a fun event. I sin­cerely hope I’m around for the next time the fam­ily cir­cuit of fish­eries takes place. There was an­other day when peo­ple came to­gether to re­mem­ber a spe­cial friend, and raise money for Macmil­lan Cancer Sup­port as they did so. Harry Warr was a keeper on the Frome with a huge cir­cle of friends, and this was an­other lovely day with so many home-made cakes avail­able that the fish­ery could have fed twice as many guests as it needed to. And it raised £800 for the char­ity.

Gath­er­ing

There’s a lot to be said for this type of fish­ery gath­er­ing. Some­times, it’s just a small group of friends who come fish­ing for the day and the ban­ter can be as much fun as the fish­ing it­self. On other oc­ca­sions, there’s a large group pre­sent for ei­ther a char­ity or cor­po­rate day and the auc­tions or prize-giv­ing can be very amus­ing, es­pe­cially if there’s a booby prize among the awards. I re­call one such oc­ca­sion where a new­comer to fly-fish­ing some­how man­aged to get a fly stuck in the back of his neck, not once, but twice, and – full credit to him for his pre­ci­sion – in ex­actly the same place. When it came to award­ing the prize for con­sis­tency, it was im­pos­si­ble to look be­yond him... Sadly, there are other days not quite so joy­ous, thanks to greed com­ing to the fore, in the shape of those an­glers who just can’t help them­selves from catch­ing as many fish as pos­si­ble, a strain of in­stinc­tive one-up­man­ship that can be­come a tad em­bar­rass­ing. One chap (maybe it’s a testos­terone thing) who shall re­main name­less, re­ally went over the top. With­out a shred of self-aware­ness, he hap­pily ended up sweep­ing the prizes for most fish, heav­i­est bag, heav­i­est in­di­vid­ual etc. I asked the host if he did much busi­ness with this par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­ual. “Not af­ter to­day,” he as­sured me. Mer­ci­fully, that sort of me-me-me-fest is a rar­ity: more com­mon are those lovely mo­ments when some­one is into his or her first-ever trout on the fly and there’s all sorts of well-mean­ing ad­vice be­ing of­fered by on­look­ers al­most as pleased as the an­gler when the fish fi­nally comes to the net.

Dis­be­lief

An­other grat­i­fy­ing mo­ment, al­beit in a very dif­fer­ent group con­text, is the dis­be­lief on peo­ple’s faces when they first re­alise the sheer num­bers of sal­mon that run Alaskan rivers. I’m in my 29th year of tak­ing peo­ple to this won­der­ful land and I long ago re­alised that I might as well save my breath try­ing to ex­plain what they are likely to see be­cause no one re­ally be­lieves me un­til they see it through their own, very wide eyes . I love shar­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence at that mo­ment, not least be­cause when the first-ever chi­nook (king sal­mon) is hooked, I know it’s a mo­ment that will live forever with the an­gler who hooked it – the stop­ping of the line; the dou­ble thump as the fish shakes its head; the re­lent­less, heavy pull with which a long bat­tle com­mences. So of­ten, it ends badly but when that hap­pens, I take so­lace from my good friend and ace of sal­mon an­glers, Ore­gon’s Jim Teeny, who, de­spite hav­ing for­got­ten more about this type of fish­ing than many peo­ple know, still only claims to land just one in ev­ery three ‘kings’ that he hooks. In­ter­est­ingly, Jim loves to fish the kings as much as ever but I seem to have slipped into the ‘been there done that’ phase and am per­fectly happy to fish for the smaller species. It’s hard to ex­plain our dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes, but then again, those fish bring me fun and plea­sure, and you might ask what more rea­son do I need? I’m forever puz­zled when I hear some­one sum up a day’s fish­ing as “hard work”. Es­pe­cially when you scratch the sur­face of that ac­cu­sa­tion and it turns out to stem from the an­gler’s real beef – that he caught a hand­ful of fish in­stead of the shed-load he was hop­ing for. (Oops, I’ve just used the male pro­noun again. Freudian slip...?) What­ever your gen­der, if that’s how you see fish­ing then I’d re­spect­fully sug­gest it’s time you were try­ing an­other sport.

“A new­comer twice man­aged to get a fly stuck in his neck and – full credit to him for pre­ci­sion – in ex­actly the same spot.”

Fish­ing is as much about peo­ple as it is about soli­tude.

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