Fishing: Cast-iron route to success

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IT WAS just 24 hours after my marathon fishing day on the Tweed, that I wrote of in my last column. And only the promise of being able to fish the dry fly for perhaps the last time this year got me out of the house and by the water's edge again. My shoulders ached and my hands were clenched in a permanent rod-holding position.

Fishing buddy, Pete, painted a rosy picture (Watch out for his fishing- column writing debut in two weeks' time whilst I am on holiday). "The Daddy Longlegs have been fishing really well at Rib Valley," he said, "it'll be very exciting, think of the big splash the fish will make as they take it. And we can take soup and chunky bread. I think there might be some cake, too."

Rib Valley has an excellent information service that some other fisheries could do with imitating. When you ring up you get a dated report on how it's been fishing, what flies and lines have been successful and what the weather's been like. Very impressive.

Rib Valley is where Pete goes to catch his Boxing Day trout. It is very pretty and would also be ideal for anyone a bit new to fishing as there are very few trees and bushes to get caught on. Just as well because some of the casting I saw was truly frightening. I don't care that this will make me unpopular with some of you, because it's true: some folk really could do with taking casting lessons.

I saw fantastic examples: the "nine to three o'clock cast", where the rod goes too far forward and way too far back. The "bad lake, naughty lake" cast, where the fisher tries to whip the living daylights out of the water. And I also saw some pretty fancy exhibits of the "cross-Channel cast" where so much line is aerialised, and so much false casting goes on, that at the very least the fisherman must be trying to join Dover and Calais with his nylon.

This isn't a kettle/pot situation, because I have never done any of these things. I have done others. For a while I was quite the expert at finding trees with my back cast. And I could present my line on the water in a most dainty spaghetti fashion. I am still very, very good at casting to almost exactly 25 feet, no matter how much line I try to get out. But on the whole my casting action is - let me tell you - pretty spectacular, admittedly after having taken instruction from some of the world's best.

Anyway, I put on a Daddy Longlegs (the knees of which I'd knotted, one of the few advantages of having teeny, nimble fingers) whilst Pete decided something else was called for. The DLL sat magnificently on the surface as I just relaxed. And relaxed some more. This is one of the reasons I love the dry fly so much, it's very meditative.

Within about 20 minutes, just as soon as the DLL had landed, I saw a fish come up and take, quite slowly. I counted "one, two" and then struck. He was on. I think it was the first time in living history that I have hooked a fish before Pete.

The fish didn't seem to want to fight, because, as I was to realise very shortly, he had other ideas for his escape. I took line in steadily, waiting for the trout to wake up and start battling. But he never did; instead, as he was nearly at my feet, whoosh. He was gone. The hook, fly and line were all intact. Clearly, the fish had been a bit of a Houdini. Later, as we were packing up, the man who runs Rib Valley said that because so much catch and release goes on there, the fish have got very good at throwing the hook. And people think fish are dumb!

Soup, naturally, was called for at this stage (there was to be no cake, that had been a cruel ruse on Pete's part). Sitting amongst goose droppings, I ate soup, the provenance of whose ingredients remains a mystery to this day.

The wind was now fierce and very difficult to cast into, which is what we were doing. Because, despite it being easier to cast with the wind behind you - it straightens out the line a treat - you will always have more success by casting into the wind. This is because as the wind pushes the water on to the opposite bank, any insect life - and therefore the trout's food - gets swept that way, too. And where food is trout follow. So, although working with the wind makes the casting easier, it is also fairly futile as all the fish will be way over the other side.

Sadly, there was to be no more dry-fly action or fish that day. And the dry flies with their proud hackles have now been packed away until next spring. Soon however, it will be grayling time...