Fishing: Charming tones of Falkus retain power to inspire salmon 'miracles'

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The Independent Online

There are some folk you hear so much about you feel as if you've met them. But it was only when I listened to a CD of Hugh Falkus talking about the salmon and the sea trout that I realised I had, indeed, never met him and never even heard him. Perhaps this is testament to his evocative writing that I thought I had already heard his voice.

Hugh Falkus died eight years ago. He had been a Spitfire pilot, an actor, and more latterly a broadcaster, writer and fishing instructor (although the latter belies the influence he had). He was - and still is - a colossus in the fishing world (his books on the salmon and the sea trout are regarded as definitive works) and as with all such people, the stories you hear about him are mixed. Certainly no one disputes that he could be a bit gruff at times.

There are tales of people travelling miles to see him, arriving unannounced on his Cumbrian doorstep to fawn and recount what a great influence he and his writing had been on them. Such worship, however, didn't seem to be enough to stop Falkus, apparently, not being best pleased with the intrusion. And, really, who can blame him?

A fishing pal once told me a great story about him. One day Falkus was teaching a group of men how to Spey cast. These men were all at the top of their field: doctors, barristers, judges etc. But they were all reduced to a quiver as Falkus strode behind them, watching their efforts which became pathetic in his presence. At one point, he crossed the bridge over the river they were on to survey the two lines of pupils, one on each bank. Silence descended, then suddenly his great booming voice bellowed "No no no no no no no" and each and every man was reduced to the stature of a schoolboy, wondering which of them had cocked up.

The trembling was apparently visible as he, slowly, walked up the line to the offender... When one complained that he had not caught any salmon that day, Falkus said, "When a salmon takes a fly it is a miracle and all that happened is that, today, a miracle didn't occur".

So I got a certain thrill when I found out that the FlyFisher's Classic Library has just brought out a CD on which Falkus talks tactics about the Salmon and the Sea Trout (it is £20, tel: 01647 441046; www.ffcl.com). This is a bit of a radical move for the FFCL as they specialise in reprinting "old" fishing books and bringing them to a new audience - a great idea.

The recording was made 25 years ago when the writer Keith Allan persuaded Falkus to talk about the salmon and the sea trout. Falkus apparently insisted on being very method, actually being on the river bank when he was talking about being on the river bank etc.

The real charm, however, is the voice. It is the sort of voice men seemed to have long ago but sadly never seem to any more. I can't think of many things nicer than putting this on in the car as you drive to some cold river one morning to fish for your first salmon of the season, warming yourself when you get there with coffee with a dash of whisky (the way Falkus drank his). Or to accompany you on the journey home after a night's sea trout fishing.

One gets a little of the flavour of the man behind the voice from this CD. I loved the tale of how, one summer's day on Speyside when everyone was fishing for salmon using small lures and floating lines, a friend of his put on a sinking line and a tube fly and went on to catch five salmon, while another friend that day caught the biggest salmon he had ever caught - 36lbs - by doing the same. It makes you feel it's OK to fish in an unorthodox way 'cos Falkus says so.

The recording on sea trout is particularly magical and evocative. Falkus made me laugh when he says that human voices are too distracting while night fishing for the sea trout, "which is why my two Labradors are my ideal companions - they don't chatter".

I shan't spoil the rest of the recording by telling you too much, just pour yourself a large whisky, put the CD on the stereo, sit back, close your eyes and remember: the season reopens soon.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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