On Fishing: Sometimes the teacher can learn something from the pupil

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The Independent Online

"What about that one then?" said I, pointing to a fly whose name I wasn't sure of. "No, that one won't work," said one of my two companions, as they carried on 'rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarbing' about tactics. "I might try me a dry fly," I said. They both looked up, as if I had chosen that moment to ask if either fancied a lap dance. A small stare of derision: "There's nothing rising." And eyes down again to chat about what to put on. In the meantime, I put my little fly on and started to fish. Splash. A fish. "Was that a fish?" asked one. "Yes," I replied. "And he rose to the dry?" I nodded. I waited. But there was no fanfare of how clever my tactics were.

"What about that one then?" said I, pointing to a fly whose name I wasn't sure of. "No, that one won't work," said one of my two companions, as they carried on 'rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarbing' about tactics. "I might try me a dry fly," I said. They both looked up, as if I had chosen that moment to ask if either fancied a lap dance. A small stare of derision: "There's nothing rising." And eyes down again to chat about what to put on. In the meantime, I put my little fly on and started to fish. Splash. A fish. "Was that a fish?" asked one. "Yes," I replied. "And he rose to the dry?" I nodded. I waited. But there was no fanfare of how clever my tactics were.

I long to be thought knowledgeable on the riverbank, but I'm a way off. And I can't really complain because when I am, I panic. Once or twice I've been fishing with people who think that because I write this column, I must know every trick in the book. A small crowd gathered (impromptu I may add) around a lake in Sussex once as they waited for my words of wisdom on the fisherman's viagra: tactics. And I longed for the much more usual scenario of me fishing with people I can learn from.

But this is one of the interesting things about learning a skill outside of childhood. To those that knew you as a beginner, that's what you'll always be (I give driving as a prime example here). We've all done jobs, (haven't we?) where we've been pretty junior. And, however much we may have risen through the ranks, there will always be the person who still thinks of us as that idiot on the first day that jammed the fax machine. (Actually, this was me on a national paper some years ago and I felt sure I'd brought the very epi-centre of world news to a standstill. I still flush hot thinking about it).

And so it is with me and fishing. My boyfriend will always have decades on me in fishing experience and, 99 per cent of the time, I love this. I love that I can ask him anything and he will know the answer. Much of what I know is due to him, and the various other fishing supremos I've met through the years that have been generous enough to slice up their cake of knowledge and give me a slice. But just very occasionally, when I am fishing with some of those wise folk, I suggest something a bit different and they're kindly, but mentally I can tell they're just patting me on the head and not really listening.

The advantage beginners have is that they see things with a fresh eye. When I first started to fish I lost count of the number of times I was told "because that's just the way it is" when I asked "why?" for the 117th time that day. At first – and still now on occasion – I was too unconfident to defy them and press further, or try out what I wanted to anyway – even though trial and error is a great way to learn. Although perceived wisdom is almost always correct, just occasionally it doesn't do any harm to fly in the face of it.

A good many summers ago now, I was fishing one of the rivers in Devon with the great Roy Buckingham. I had cast and cast and not risen my fish. "You'll never raise him now, he's seen the fly too many times," said Roy. But – and I know this holds no logic – I thought: "Well, maybe for the fish it's a bit like courtship. If someone is very keen and keeps on and on asking you for a date, it's easy to say no because you know they'll be back. But sometimes, turning away and then asking one last time works wonders." (Don't ask me how they know it'll be the last time, it just is like that, okay.) So I left it for two minutes and cast again, as Roy turned to head homeward. Success! I got the fish's phone number. Roy won't remember this, but I do, because it was the first time I had defied 'authority' and done what felt right. It was this small success that made me experiment with floating boobies amid much snortling – but with great success – some years later.

Perhaps the next time we go fishing with someone we taught, or first knew as a beginner, we might just listen a teensy bit more. (If that person is me, a square of chocolate never goes amiss either.) Because experience can make one a bit deaf, and sometimes, just sometimes, the teacher can learn something from his pupil too.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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