March 8th, 2003
I fear for my sanity sometimes.
I’ve just spent what turned out to be a pretty miserable winter, desperately trying to finish a book I didn’t really want to write in time to go fishing with Paul and the boys in New Zealand. It’s finished now (and here’s a shameless plug for it), the sun is shining and there are fish out there just begging me to go and catch them. Really, they are. Work is at manageable levels, the bailiffs are gone from the doorstep and all in all, life was looking a lot more interesting than it has for some time.
And then I blew it all by approaching a publisher about another book.
Now, for those of you who have never endured the horror of book-writing, let me give you a small insight into exactly how stupid this is. This one will take three months or so of research and preparation, followed by at least another three of actually writing it – that is, if I actually manage to stick to the target of a thousand words a day, which of course I won’t. So make that six months. Nine months in total – nine months of all sorts of mental anguish at my inability to find the right words, guilt at missing deadlines, poverty induced by the lack of a proper job, isolation from friends and loved ones and, finally, grim desperation as the final deadline approaches and I still have 30,000 words to write with two weeks to go.
But this one is about flyfishing, so I really want to do it.
Now, you may think that the world probably doesn’t need another book on flyfishing, and I have some sympathy with that point of view. There are a great many very good books out there that have become part of flyfishing mythology and lore, and I own a great many of them. But I also believe that there is still a need for teaching aids that deal with the important things in this esteemed sport of ours. There’s been a lot of discussion on this site recently about instruction of one kind or another, and it is clear that the facts about learning to flyfish reasonably well are these: 1) you need someone to give you some lessons 2) the general standard of instruction in this country is lamentably poor and 3) it’s definitely not about to get any better, thanks to any number of regrettable decisions by the various governing bodies and some absurd political wrangling. All this means that it is hard to find someone who can really show you around the workings of a flyrod and teach you how to use it to actually catch fish with.
There are some people – Paul being one of them – who are very good at this. I have learned most of the useful things I know about flyfishing from him, and quite a lot that is not very useful at all too. This is not restricted to just casting; just watching someone who knows what they’re doing wading a fast river, for example, is the best way of learning to do it yourself. And this, really, is what good instructors do – they give you an understanding of the whole, rather than just the central mechanics; nobody would be happy with a driving instructor who taught you how to steer and change gear but somehow neglected to tell you how to brake, or to fill the car with petrol, yet fishing instructors are guilty of these sorts of critical omissions all the time.
Critically, good instructors also show you how to do things that you never thought you would need to know how to do, or that seem so blindingly obvious that you never really think about them until you need them. How, for example, do you cast from the wrong shoulder into a fierce downstream wind (something that most river fishers actually need to do all the time) if you have never been shown how? Or how do you cast to a fish that rises right underneath the boat? Sure, you can thrash around a bit and maybe eventually work this out for yourself the hard (and probably wrong) way – but by that time, the fish you were trying to catch has buggered off anyway.
The new flycasting exams administered by the Joint Angling Governing Bodies don’t address things like this, at least in their basic announced forms. If you want to learn how to wade a fast river safely, you either have to be lucky enough to know someone else who does this sort of thing or look on this site, which as you all know is uniquely full of such information about these things. But that really is about it. Even the TV fish porn programs don’t show you this sort of stuff, despite the fact that they have an ideal medium in which to do so – instead, they are full of shots of blokes blithely standing up to their waists in raging torrents, with no explanation of how they got there or how they intend to get back in one piece. Now and again they hoik out a fish to try and make you feel better about this; our reward for enduring the opacity of the rest of the program and the inevitable idiocy of the presenter. No wonder I gave my TV away last week.
Books on flyfishing are no substitute for doing it, or for learning it in the company of the right people. But they at least stand a chance of explaining to people how to do those things that can make life by the waterside so miserable if you get them wrong, or so utterly exquisite if you get them right. That, really, is my motivation for doing this; not because I think I can add much to the still improperly understood physics of flycasting, or because I can explain why trout prefer Paul’s flies to my own, or why his feet smell quite the way they do after a few hours in a pair of waders – but because there is a lot of stuff out there that people really don’t seem to want to tell you. Thanks to the members of the Sexyloops community, I have learned more about these things than I could ever have really imagined; so much, indeed, that I feel oddly inspired to lock myself in a darkened room for the best part of a year while I try to spread the word. I’ve got some ideas of my own about what the book will contain. But I’d love to hear from anyone who has flyfishing secrets to share, and wouldn’t mind seeing their names in print as a result. And now, I’m going fishing. I may not get another chance for a while…