March 1st, 2003
The palolo worm is a small invertebrate that lives amid the coral reefs of the south Pacific ocean. It is in many ways an unexceptional creature, related fairly closely to the ragworms and lugworms found in our harbours and estuaries that are widely used to catch fish off northern European shores; it spends most of its life tucked away between the clefts and nooks of the coral, minding its own business and munching happily on odd bits of detritus, and you would probably never see one for most of the year. But in Vanuatu, exactly five days after the full moon in October, its profile suddenly gets a lot higher. Spurred on by their genes, the palolos emerge in their millions to writhe about in the moonlight, busily exchanging wormy bodily fluids in a Dionysian frenzy before disappearing again before they get eaten.
And so it is with flyfishermen.
Okay, so most of us are better-looking than your average annelid. But the frenzy with which the approach of a new fishing season is greeted by our happy band is something to behold nonetheless. We may not be exchanging bodily fluids – at least, not where anyone can see us – but we are exchanging views, sometimes loudly. Most of us don’t have fifty pairs of testes either, for that matter. But something indefinable and yet utterly irresistible begins to happen at this time of year nonetheless. With atomic-clock timing, we emerge blinking from our winter shelters and begin to make preparations for the long months ahead. Suddenly, we are everywhere – scouring tackle shops for tying materials, queuing at post offices for rod licences, lining up to insult each other on bulletin boards, all driven by an unexplained visceral urge to Get Out There and start catching fish again – or at least, reminding ourselves how it might be done.
Last weekend, just after 6am on Sunday morning, I met a bloke on the common near where I live as I stepped out to freshen the lungs in advance of a long day’s writing. He had an odd look in his eyes and a generally strange demeanour – well-pressed suit, expensive overcoat, wellington boots, baseball cap – made all the stranger by a shiny new Sage outfit clasped in his right hand. Pausing briefly to admire his loops (and resisting the urge to tell him to drift more, and to buy a Scott), we spoke very briefly: “It’s that time of year, isn’t it?”, I said. “My wife doesn’t understand”, he replied. “She thinks it’s perverse to be out here doing this. I have to tell her I’m walking the dog”.
But I understand very well indeed. In the last ten days I have felt that I know what it must be like to be a palolo worm, even if I have forgotten most of the worm biology I ever knew. I have not actually picked up a flyrod since November 7th, thanks to the minor inconvenience of having a book to write, and I was aware that the pressure was building; and on 20th February the dam burst. Bugger the book, I thought; time to clean some flylines, oil a reel or two, sort the flyboxes out. I discovered I needed some flies, so I transferred the entire contents of my flytying chest to the living room table and spent a few frenzied hours tying buzzers and pheasant tails and damsel nymphs, ankle-deep in deer hair and copper wire. And then I picked up the new Loomis, intending to get out and maybe show off my double haul to my new friend on the common.
One problem. No reel.
Now, most of you will appreciate my dilemma at this point. Faced with an almost biological urge to go out and wave it all about a bit, I found myself to be lacking an essential piece of equipment – akin to one of our wormy friends discovering that he had been short-changed in the testicular department. I panicked. I sent Paul an email explaining my sudden and imperative need for some more tackle, forgetting that he was otherwise engaged on the other side of the world. I shivered in my flat for a day or two in my own cold-turkey hell, the intensity of which would give most crack addicts nightmares for years. He replied, eventually, that it might be a bit tricky to sort me out, given his current situation, and so it was in desperation that I turned to other sources for my fix.
Now, how hard can buying a fishing-reel be? All I wanted was a nice 7-weight thing with a Rio Windcutter tied to it. But almost immediately, another biological mechanism kicked in – my fashion-victim gene, buried for months but now vicious in its determination to prevent me from buying a Rimfly.
I know that Paul swears by Rimfly. And I know that for most of the fishing that I do, a reel is only really a container for the line; I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times a hooked fish required anything as complicated as a drag system to land last season. But I know that on Saturday I am going to hook one of Hanningfield’s giant overwintered rainbows, and that the drag on my reel will be smoking in seconds; so I want a good one. I want a reel that looks like it has been designed by a fisherman, rather than the architect of the starship Enterprise. I want a reel that doesn’t require a degree in civil engineering to fit a spare spool (nota bene, Loop). I want something that is black, or dark grey, or even dark blue – not something silver that will flash in the sunlight and scare the fish, or – worse, much worse – gold, the sort of reel that Peter Stringfellow might buy. I really don’t want to spend £400 on an Abel or a Billy Pate. And I really, really don’t want a Rimfly.
Not much to ask, I wouldn’t have thought. I’m not even that fussy about weight. A Teton would do fine; I have two which have caught me fish all over the world and never once seized or complained, and I love them both dearly. So I set out to buy a Teton Classic or Trinity or Tioga – and nobody sells them here any more, it seems. One bloke I spoke to tried to sell me (and I shudder as I type this) a gold reel of a make whose name I am not strong enough to type. I can’t find an STH, or a Ross. And as I type this, I am a desperate man.
So this is a cry for help. I am floundering, worm-like, in a sea of torment – a man whose genes are screaming at him to fulfil their destiny, yet deprived of the means with which to do it. Somebody put me out of my misery; somebody, please, tell me what I need before I do something we will all regret. Today, even a Rimfly seems like an option – and that is a terrible thing for a brand-fetishist to have to type.