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