Fishmail: In the Bag

June 29th, 2002

I had never been in an ambulance before. For 37 years, I managed to avoid any kind of injury more serious than a Chinese burn – while all around me friends and relatives spent years breaking limbs or contracting near-fatal tropical diseases, I was a massive underachiever in the A&E department. Two trips to India in search of mahseer and months spent idling in snake and croc-infested Australian swamps between them yielded nothing more serious than a mosquito bite or two – nary an emergency mahout or flying doctor in sight. And then on December 14th 2000, I found myself being propelled hastily towards Kingston Hospital's accident and emergency department, green-uniformed paramedics plying me with oxygen in the approved BBC1 manner, so racked with pain and fear that I was unable to wonder even if the brook we passed over had ever held wild brownies.

Serious stuff, I think you'll agree. Actually, it turned out to be nothing worse than an attack of renal colic – kidney stones to you and me, or nephrolithiasis to the men in white coats. I really cannot recommend these, not even as a way of getting your hands on exciting prescription-only medications – my first taste of morphine was rendered immensely unenjoyable by the tiny piece of gravel steadily working its way along my shrieking ureter. I shall spare you further details; suffice to say that they have recurred several times since, have if anything got worse rather than better in terms of their ability to inflict catastrophic pain and shock, and have had an interesting and unforseen impact on my life as a flyfisherman.

There's not much you can do to avoid kidney stones once they've decided that you're their new home, but you can – indeed must – drink lots and lots of water. I like to put away four or five litres a day whenever possible, and this means that I have to carry it around with me. This in turn necessitates a bag of some sort – never more so than when out fishing, when I am constantly reminded of the Ancient Mariner's terrible dilemma ­ water, water everywhere, all of it likely to do something a lot worse to me than the kidney stones ever will. While much of the fishable water in the British Isles is unlikely to do me much harm, cryptosporidiosis or Weil's disease not withstanding, the same cannot be said of the Ganges, where on some stretches that thing rotting in a pool upstream of you is as likely to be a person as a cow or a goat.

Bottled water seems to be an excellent thing to have with me at all times, then. But it is just one of many other items that I also think it useful to have with me when chasing fish. One of the great attractions of trout fishing over coarse fishing has always seemed that I don't need to carry so much stuff with me, and it is indeed a great joy to be free of the burden of the gallon of hempseed and six pints of maggots that characterise much of my summer fishing. But I have not quite learned the lesson yet, and I still carry too many things that I think may come in handy at some point; far, far too many spools of tippet material, several zingers, two or sometimes three fly boxes, at least two varieties each of floatant and sinkant, spare spools, camera (and often my spectacular Leica binoculars), food of various kinds, Leatherman. Most of you know the problem. And the problem creates a greater one: what is the best way to carry all this around?

Many people opt for the fisherman's waistcoat, of course, and I can only salute them for their common sense, if not for their fashion sense. Waistcoats have always seemed like the devil's own invention to me, but I shall keep that particular pot of powder dry for another occasion. In any case, I have never seen one which addresses my need to hump a couple of bottles of Evian's finest around with me at all times, so I am enslaved to a bag of some sort. And boy, am I ever enslaved. I just had a quick look in my cupboard and discovered eight examples that I have bought at one time or another in my search for the perfect bag; and yesterday I bought another one, because it seemed about that time of year,

What would the bag of all bags look like? Well, here's one further problem; I have no idea. Sometimes I think it needs a small number of largish pockets, into which I can group items that seem to have related functions; tippets and leaders in one, fly-boxes in another, tools and unguents in a third, spools and cameras and water and other big things in the central compartment. But then, sometimes I think that what matters most is that it has an easily-accessible pocket on the very outside, in which I can keep the things I use most often. Invariably it has the wrong sort of strap; one that is not sufficiently adjustable for my non-trivial girth (I'm a 48C man, and they all seem to be happiest when configured at 34A), or too narrow. Almost always, it has clasps and zips and dangly bits apparently designed specifically with tangling flyline in mind. It might hang at the wrong angle (an angle at which the camera falls into the water, usually) or refuse to stay where I put it. And it almost never has a sensible place to hang my landing net.

And what should it be made of? I like cordura bags, partly because I like the word 'cordura' and partly because the stuff itself is indestructible and very waterproof. But people who make cordura bags seem to have a problem with making them fisher-friendly; the four I own all suffer from at least two of the faults above. Other materials tear, rot and smell with equal abandon. And no-one has yet found a way to make useful pockets out of wicker, as far as I can tell.

So, the search for the perfect bag continues, and I suspect that it will be at least as challenging as my pursuit of the perfect cast or my attempts to tie a perfect fly. This time, though, trout fishing has casually thrown me a problem to solve which has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to catch a fish. Instead, it exploits some of my most deeply-seated neuroses, while simultaneously creating all sorts of new and exciting retail opportunities. I'm off to test the new one tomorrow, without much hope but with all the excitement that comes with stream-testing a new bit of kit. Meanwhile, any suggestions will be very gratefully received. You could be doing my kidneys an enormous favour.

Sean Geer ( is a freelance journalist and author. He specialises in ritual humiliation by fish on four continents - most recently in Ireland, where he became the first angler in history to not land a mayfly-caught trout on Lough Corrib in the middle of the mayfly season. A retired seahorse conservationist and self-taught zen origamist, he is currently writing a novel about sex, death and the meaning of fish.

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