Horrendously wet and windy weather might make fishing hard, but at least the chaos outside gives me the excuse to do some reading. Every Christmas, extended family tend to buy me some quirky fishing material and this year has been no exception, hence a copy of "The Fishing Gazette" from Autumn 1959. Written twenty years before I was born, it is a fascinating little window into a different era of fishing. What can we glean from the past? The tackle and lay out might look dated, with hand drawn diagrams and the cream of rods of the day selling for £7-£10, but in other ways the Angling Gazette displays some nostalgically traditional values. The quality of writing is often a much better standard than today's magazines, I have to say. Writers such as Fred J Taylor seem understated and articulate by comparison. Gone also are those toe curling, lazy cliches; you never feel like slapping the writer for describing a fish as a "bar of gold" or their "prize". Articles also rove freely into other topics such as wildlife and rivers management. The whole feel is far less commercial too. The hard sell is not there. Even the ads are somehow sweetly naive. The other noticeable difference is that the title embraces all types of fishing- sea bass and roach are discussed in the same pages as salmon flies. Could it be that fifty years later we are more narrow-minded in some ways? In total contrast to the regular floods we now face in the UK, the hilariously named correspondent for Devon, Mr Cecil F Plimsole notes that there are "no signs of rain near, and the rivers are extremely low."
Some aspects of fishing in this country never change however, and in this respect I've also enjoyed dipping into Jeremy Paxman's "The English" and "Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life." Paxman makes the true statement that anglers are a nostalgic breed, continually hankering for a golden age that probably never existed. You've heard it before: Everything was better twenty years ago. Fishing is continually facing ruin at the hands of (cormorants/ foreigners/ overfishing/ xx insert selected name of perpetual evil here xx). How very, bloody, English.
An even spookier echo of the present is held within the Angling Gazette as a Mr F W Holiday (all 50s anglers are known very formally by initials and surnames, naturally) tries to debunk the myth that fly fishing is some arcane form of art, not for the likes of you and I. "Such a lot of pretentious tripe has been written about fly fishing that many people are afraid to try for fear they will make themselves look silly," he comments, "but the rudiments are learned quickly enough". The same sentiment has been my own message with "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish".
The new collector's edition has been the icing on the cake. From initially being told that the idea was a non-starter by one publishers, Merlin Unwin grabbed the project by the horns and, over 2000 copies later, the doubters have been proved spectacularly wrong. It would be superb to see a softback edition released in the next run to get even more hands on fly rods, but at the other end of the spectrum is the special, leather bound edition. Complete with hand marbled end papers and gilt edged pages, 50 copies really have been given the deluxe treatment (check out the the gold perch taking the fly on the cover). Heck, it's so nicely done I can hardly bring myself to run my greasy fingers over the thing (see www.merlinunwin.co.uk for more info).
Otherwise I have only been out for one days fishing since returning from my travels. With incessant rain and topsy turvy weather still the norm, perhaps I should have anticipated a blank days piking. Nevertheless, fishing is so many things besides catching, like watching the strangely fluid patterns made by mobs of starlings or just catching up with a friend.
Monday, 31 December 2012
Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Phew, is all I can say to 2012. Time for a celebratory tipple. Firstly, an apology to regular followers who may be wondering where I've been for the last three weeks. I can say but little about my recent whereabouts, suffice to say I've been on the biggest fishing adventure of my life, braving some spectacularly varied climates and challenges under the gaze of film cameras. No, I'm not on mind-altering drugs. It seems just as unreal to me at the present moment- but all will be revealed in the new year! In the meantime, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on what has been a momentous, topsy turvy year in all its' muddy, unexpected, magnificent glory. MOST LEGENDARY NUTTER OF THE YEAR Goes to the right honourable Norbert Darby (who else?). A man who arranges to meet for a morning's fishing, only to turn up sleeping in a tent having lost his keys and possibly his mind. Mr Darby, without you the world would be a safer, saner but ultimately far less interesting place. FAVOURITE PICTURE OF THE YEAR There's no place quite like home, and this one's from the heart. I was meant to be photographing kit and bait, but became hypnotised by the sheer beauty of the Grand Western Canal at first light. No filters or tricks needed here- it really was this golden. A delightful place, which leads us neatly on to our next part. "OH S**T" MOMENT OF THE YEAR Gobsmacked hardly describes my reaction to news that in the terrible flooding late in 2012, a whole section of the Grand Western's banks collapsed, sending water pouring into nearby fields. Angler's hearts were in their mouths and local residents temporarily evacuated. Credit due to my pike fishing pal Ian Nadin, among the volunteers, as well as the EA for their efforts to rescue fish and deal with this unforseen crisis. Here's to sunnier times, though they may seem some way off yet. CATCH OF THE YEAR While I am by no means a die hard specimen angler, it is nice to land something breathtaking once in a while. I have Alex Prowse to thank for both his cracking "Zoota Lures" as well as being my host for a day's pike fishing I'll never forget. This one went 27lbs 10oz, and I went to pieces with shock. FREAK CATCH OF THE YEAR It has been a year for some oddball catches on equally unusual methods. Nymphing for bream can be spectacularly challenging, but did turn up this quite bizarre hybrid. I'd have said rudd/bream, but hell, what do I know? It took a little gold bead fly without a second thought. CUTE CATCH OF THE YEAR 2012 has been a year when I reaquainted myself with that buttery beauty the crucian carp. I had some absolute belters at Marsh Farm in the company of Russ Hilton, but perhaps the most memorable fish was this one, caught by Bryony Pym. On her first ever fishing trip, she caught several of them- smiles and sunny afternoons on a pond are priceless things in fishing. GREEDIEST MOUTH OF THE YEAR No, the answer isn't me at an all you can eat for £6 buffet. It is a perch. This one was retained for a couple of hours in a keepnet, where it added a couple of ounces after using the experience to pinch a few of the tiddly roach kept with it! MOST GRUELLING TRIP OF THE YEAR Bloody hell were we up against it in Wales. Half way up a mountain, with only a fly rod to secure our dinner for the night. Accompanied by intrepid photographer Frazer McBain we roughed it and survived a long haul complete with howling winds, lashing rain and steep ascents. PROUDEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR I've accomplished a few things in 2012 I would never have dreamed of not so long ago. Becoming a qualified Level 2 Angling Coach is one of them. Making TV appearances would also be up there. But top of the list has to be the publication of my books, "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" and "Fishing For Dummies". Signing editions for readers is still quite unreal. What makes me most proud is the sheer number of readers who have responded so positively to "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish" however. You are the ones the hard work was for- and hearing from anglers who have just caught their first ever roach, chub or pike on the fly is absolutely thrilling. I'm as elated as Merlin Unwin books that my first title sold so well- as a result, the next release is a special, collectible leather bound edition of 50 books. All of this only leaves me to say what a great story 2012 has been- for the most part down to the many brilliant, enthusiastic, helpful people I've been lucky enough to call my friends in the fishing world. And as for the odd bad stick who proved unhelpful or made my life harder, I should probably thank you too; without you I wouldn't have worked so hard to make 2012 a special year. Which only leaves me to wish every one of you a very happy Christmas and more great days on the bank for the holidays and the new year. At this point I think I need a lie down and a glass of mulled cider.