No-one has ever accused me of being mature. Quite the opposite in fact. According to my wife, the best way to describe my character after 46 years of evolution is ‘infantile’. I am not a patient man. Not blessed with much composure or equanimity.
And yet, people always assume that fishermen must be very patient, self-contained, contemplative types. I am none of these. Normally, I’m a twitchy, restless, impatient cur, with all the restraint of a hungry stoat. But, just the other day, I surprised myself. I did something almost grown up. Photographer Paul Quagliana phoned me to say he was fishing at Sutton Bingham reservoir. Did I want to come along? He’d fished there twice before this season and caught limit-bags both times, fishing a floating line with nymphs and buzzers from the bank. ‘It was brilliant … stacks of fish’, said Paul. ‘I must have lost as many as I caught. Probably more’.
Sutton Bingham reservoir, near Yeovil in Somerset, is only ten miles from my home. I had not fished there yet that season, and it fishes famously-well in the early months. So it would’ve been churlish not to take Paul up on his invite.
I arrived in the middle of one of the most beautiful afternoons we had so far that year. Too beautiful. As I walked around the south bank to where Paul was fishing, I could feel hot sun on the back of my neck. It was a bright, warm, cloudless spring day; absolutely rubbish for trout fishing. Too much sun pushes the trout into deeper water and normally kills their appetite in the middle of the day. Paul had already tackled-up and was happily thrashing the reservoir with efficient determination. I’d passed several grinning anglers swaggering towards Sutton Bingham’s excellent fish cleaning room, with bulging bags of rainbow trout. And I even witnessed a couple of anglers netting fish as I walked to Paul’s plot.
Although I’d set my rod up at my truck, I didn’t do what I’d normally do and start whipping the water before my shadow’s even caught up with me. Instead, I sat down beside Paul, watched him fish and had a good butcher’s at what all the other anglers were doing. It was now 3.30pm, the sun was at its height still, and although plenty of fish had been caught in the morning, but from what I could see, the fish had stopped feeding. Takes were sporadic and timid. Anglers were gradually losing interest too.
‘I had a knock almost first cast’, said Paul. ‘But nothing since. Not a sausage’. It was that one tiny tug on his string that got Paul all pumped-up and keen to catch. That one pull, and the hazy promise of more like it, kept Paul casting relentlessly over the next three hours. It fuelled him with expectation. But without a single repeat-performance from the fish. It was during this three hour period, that I suddenly grew up and became all mature. I could have thrashed the reservoir to frothy foam and tried every combination of fly and flyline, until I either caught a fish or went mad in the attempt. Or, I could sit still and do absolutely nothing, until the time felt right. Until the fish started to show themselves again; either breaking the surface as they fed on invertebrate fly life, or by putting a substantial bend in another man’s rod.
Neither happened for hours. Ages. So I did nothing. I chatted with a couple of fishermen. I wandered a bit further around the reservoir, but mostly I sat still, watched, chewed the fat with multi-casting Paul, and waited.
Most people reading this probably think I’m a total tosser to claim that sitting still and not fishing is a virtue. But believe me, it would have been far easier to pick up the rod and do what I always do; thrash with optimism. To sit out the dog-day afternoon with a vague hope that things might begin to look up later, took guts. Not just lethargy.
After three and a bit hours, things started to happen. Most other anglers had bagged up, or buggered off, so their absence probably helped the trout move closer in, as the air cooled, the light levels dropped and flies started hatching and rising from the water’s surface.
I moved to a nearby swim and started to cast. I’d been at the reservoir nearly four hours by now, and had not so much as wetted a line. The first take came within three casts. An anorexic little nibble-pluck, into which I struck and missed; the small size 12 gold head hare’s ear nymph failing to find any mouth to hook into. Because I wasn’t feeling too tired and emotional from an afternoon of horse flogging the water, I was able to deduce that the way the surface current and wind made the floating line bend from left to right, might mean it’d be more effective to strike the rod sideways, away from the bend, rather than upwards in a conventional strike. Next cast, I had a chance to put my theory into practise. The gentle nudge-take was transformed into a three-pound rainbow fighting for his life, purely by altering the direction of my strike.
Paul was perplexed. He’d put in the hours. He’d thrashed the lake to foam. But, unreasonably, I caught the first fish. And so it went on. For every one I caught, he lost one, or missed a take. As my bag filled, Paul’s frustration increased. And Paul knows me well enough to be absolutely sure I’m no better an angler than he is. Just, I wasn’t so tired and burned-out with casting.
I caught fish because by 7pm I was still fresh and able to cast consistently. Paul had submitted to all those annoying failings of tiredness; when you catch a tree on your backcast, wrap your leader round the fly line, tangle your trace, snap-off on the strike. All the things I would normally do, but didn’t this time. Because I exercised a little patience and waited.
Does this mean I’m becoming mature? Or am I just an annoying prat who’s carping on about the one day he caught a few trout