The Compleat Dunderhead

fishing lines
Click to follow
The Independent Online
I Must have been off school the day they advised: "Put your brain in gear before engaging mouth." The scene is the banks of the Dove in Derbyshire, the river that played a starring role in Walton's The Compleat Angler. The local hotel, which looks after the fishing, is named the Izaak Walton Hotel. The clues were all around. But when Tony Bridgett, secretary of the local club, came along to help our little band of grayling fishers, I stepped in with both waders.

Interesting man, Bridgett. He has fished the river for 25 years and once caught 49 trout in three hours. "I don't know why I didn't make it 50. I think I had some job to finish." I'm sure I'd remember catching 49 trout. Still, if you want to know how to fish the Dove, he's your man. Bridgett walks it almost every day - and probably has pet names for the fish too.

But Bridgett has another talent. He is probably the world authority on Izaak Walton. He has lectured on Walton to the Izaak Walton Society of America and collects the most obscure Walton-related material. Bridgett probably knows what Walton had for breakfast on Christmas Day in 1678, when he was the guest of the Bishop of Winchester at Farnham Castle, Surrey.

Not a man to trifle with, you'll agree. But my excuse is that he had only been introduced as Tony. With the benefit of his surname, I would not have plunged in with a condemnation of Walton's writing, his lack of angling knowledge and my favourite line about how the book should be recommended by doctors for insomniacs.

Bridgett politely demurred, corrected my inaccurate quotation and said that, on the contrary, he felt that Walton's was a book for all ages, as illustrated by the fact that it had been reprinted in more editions than any other books except The Bible and the works of Shakespeare. It all slipped into place when he started talking about lecturing in the US. Suddenly, I realised who Tony was. Whoops. Exit of stout party. Fortunately the others on the trip, a jaunt organised by John Bailey of Angling Travel, missed this little cameo. They were trying to catch a fish that could see their antics perfectly well and clearly had a great deal of fun swimming up to their feeble imitations of an aquatic insect - and turning away.

Purists would see it as a bit of a cheat, but we advised them to put tiny polystyrene indicators on the line to spot the merest sign of interest by a grayling. The fish were taking the fly and dropping it before an inexperienced angler could realise anything had happened. It worked, after a fashion. Two caught fish on the first day, three on the second and they all saw enough fish to keep them excited, illustrating once again that it's not catching fish, but thinking you're going to that is most important.

They say God doesn't take the time spent fishing off your allotted span. Good job, because you certainly don't notice it frittering away. It was only about 4pm that I realised I hadn't had any lunch, and that I'd walked eight miles along the river, a distance I would consider as a marathon in normal circumstances. But time skipped by because, when I wasn't misleading our eager anglers, I was talking to Bailey about taimen.

These fish, the largest, rarest and toughest of the salmon family, are restricted to a wild part of Mongolia. The sportswriter Clive Gammon spent 20 years trying to get one. With Bailey, he is one of the few in the world to have captured the stunning taimen. But this autumn, I too may join the privileged few. After quizzing Bailey, I couldn't resist joining his first organised trip there - especially as it means passing through a place called Moron. Just right for someone who tries to give a Walton lesson to the world expert on old Izaak.

l The day after we left the Dove, one of our party, Ade Bristow, stayed on and caught a 2lb 3oz grayling - larger than I've ever caught. I'd like to pretend it was my tuition - but I would be lying.

Comments