October 5th, 2002
Autumn, for some people, is a time when they stop thinking about trout – a season of diminishing opportunities, to quote from one of Henry Lowe's fine books on catching reservoir fish – and a time when their thoughts turn to other pursuits. This has always seemed more than a little misguided to me. There is, for me, no better time to be out and about with a flyrod – to be able to breathe cool, damp air again after the dessicated winds of late summer, to watch the trees perform their kaleidoscopic magic act, is to live again after the near-death of August. And, of course, the fish themselves start to undergo fascinating changes – some behavioural, as the hatches peter out and they turn to their backup larder of fry and terrestrial insects in a last attempt to fatten themselves up for the winter, some physical as the trout start revving themselves up for their annual lovefest.
Looking out of my window in London over the last month or so, it has been more or less impossible to believe that any of this is happening. Last night, I sat outside a pub clad only in a t-shirt, trying to remember the last time it rained, or that I felt really confident about going fishing; trying, indeed, to remember the last time I caught more than one fish in a day. This has been an abysmal season for me, a season in which I have gained much theoretical about the art of catching trout while failing abjectly to put any of it into practice; the fish have seemed more cautious and less visible than ever before, making life hard for those of us who need activity somewhere near the surface to catalyse us into some sort of useful action.
I write this as I am about to disappear to one of the hottest places on earth, in pursuit of fish that bear as much resemblance to trout as my home-tied flies do to the insects they hilariously claim to represent. And I've been really hoping that before I go, something vaguely seasonally normal will happen, so that I can at least go out and get properly wet and cold and, hopefully, fishy before I find myself turning crimson under the fierce Antipodean sun. Sadly, my prayers have been in vain. As I consult the weather forecasts for the next two weeks before I leave, I see nothing but warm air, bright skies and gentle winds; conditions under which any self-respecting trout will be sulking in sixty feet of water, smirking occasionally at the antics of those of us dim enough to try and catch them.
It's odd how attached we become to seasons. My passion for autumn, originally fired by the pursuit of fat chub and hungry barbel on the lowland rivers of England, is matched by others' equal enthusiasm for spring and summer; and there are people in some parts of the world who, almost unbelievably, get their buzz fishing size 28 midge patterns on ice-laden rivers in deepest winter. This year, the seasons seem to have blended together into one amorphous, indistinguishable mass; with the exception of one storm of almost Biblical proportions, I can remember nothing more attention-grabbing than the odd drizzle, or an occasional afternoon of blazing calm. Never mind seasonal affective disorder; I have seasonal withdrawal disorder, and it's driving me mad.
This 'autumn', I've caught two fry-feeding fish. Just two, after countless grim hours in their pursuit. I have risen (but not hooked or caught) one fish to a daddy-long-legs at a time when I would expect to be filling my boots on them. Friends better-skilled in these arts than I have visited home waters full of anticipation, only to report crushing blanks. So much for Keats' much-quoted season of mists and mellow fruitfulness; the only mist I've seen is the red one that descends over me as I untangle my wind-unassisted leader for the fifth time, the only fruitfulness the banana I inadvertently left in the bottom of my bag sometime back in early September and discovered yesterday.
I've given up now. Inspired by a virtuoso fly-tying demonstration from Viking Lars, I shall devote the next two weeks to an attempt to create the sorts of things that Australian fish like to eat, and I shall cast all thoughts of trout to the four winds – assuming, that is, that they bother to turn up. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear how the rest of you have fared on the banks this year. It would be nice to know that I am just another victim of the seasons. The next few weeks will be devoted to my first attempts at saltwater fly-fishing; watch this space for tales of woe down under.