If you read the magazines, fishing trips come in two flavours: lottery win heli-fishing in Zealand, or fishing the stocked reservoirs in Kent [that pay to advertise]. Both were unaffordable, so Dicky and myself headed west for a fishing adventure of our own.
The Brecon Beacons feed water into the Usk, which feeds the Wye, before it joins the Severn, becoming the Bristol Channel. This is cut-price fishing at its best; every bend in the river brings you to another vista from a fly-fishing catalogue. There are loads of campsites from £10 a night and fishing is also a tenner a day. For food there is an Aldi nearby and several fly fishing shops in case you brought too much money with you.
We cross the border and our guidebook recommends a place we turn out to be passing. We pull up at the Georgian/Italianate frontage of an older country house, the map says they have fishing, the signpost says they have camping, the sun is shining, the fields lush and even the cows look like they must be especially photogenic breeds. Even though we’re technically in Wales for once it isn’t raining, even the sheep look relaxed.
At the house there is one of those wrought iron bell-pulls you’d use for summoning Lurch in a Hammer Horror movie so I give it a yank and we wait. After a while an emo appears; looking both confused and knotted in some kind of terrible teenage angst. Dicky simplifying his message, says loudly and clearly “Fishing and camping: there’s a sign’. After a long pause the emo mumbles “I’ll get, er, someone” and shuffles off. Once he’s safely out of sight we hear him shout ‘MUM.”
Felicity Kendal from The Good Life appears looking irritated by her useless offspring. I fear I’m about to get the officious tone the Welsh tourist board describes as ‘friendly’ when her eyes fall on Dicky. Her pupils dilate and she suddenly has to rearrange her hair. She explains the short route to the camping area. Tom will pop over to collect the money later. “Barbara likes you”.
After we’ve set up camp Tom – all Fat-Face and green wellies- appears at our fireside, with the faux matey air of a man who’s been sent by his wife. He trots out a list of rules and regulations, enthuses about the water quality, takes a few quid off us, turns down a tot of scotch and ambles off into the darkness.
If you are going to engage in the noble sport of Fly fishing you’ll need to know what you’re letting yourself in for. You’re going to dress up in a pair of plastic trousers, pack a miniature special effects department in a box tied around your neck, then fight your way though the bushes and brambles carrying what may as well be a glass stick that cost £600. If you make it down to the water without rod-snapping or wader-shredding mishap, you’ll then stand, up to your under-crackers in cold water, precariously perched on a slime-encrusted rock. From this vantage point you must flick the line out into the current without snagging it on the trees that line the bank behind you, also without allowing over enthusiasm to unbalance you into the recently melted snow that’s surging past.
Once you’ve had a couple of casts the six-foot piece of spider’s web that connects the hook and fly to the main line will have crocheted itself into some kind of knotted micro-doily. Which you will then have to untangle as you sit cursing in the dapped half light of the bank. Just to rub it in, that other rule of fly fishing will come into play; fish will jump to hovering mayflies, as you attempt to untangle the fivers worth of special line. By the time you’ve had enough and cut the birds nest off and installed a new tippet the fish will have left to jeer at other fisherman, or worse still in conspiracy with the fishing shops, jump onto the hook of a beginner, addicting him to a lifetime of dropping money at every fishing shop he passes. It happened to me.
I once asked some Scottish fishing guides or Ghillies, what the difference was between a £50 rod and one costing £650, lots of waffle about ‘technical rods’ later, it comes down to this. ‘Y’ken the way cheap tennis balls lose their bounce after a couple of days, and get shabby quite quickly? Rods are the same’. His mate interjected, “I’d take pretty much any woman you care to name out tae the car park, very very few of them are worth taking home afterwards”.
The tying of flies is building tiny lifelike models, a kind of hobby within a hobby, some people believe that fish have eyes like underwater kestrel’s and re-create, in gobsmacking detail, the exact flies that are hatching on that exact morning on that exact bend in the river, they not only have to look the part but behave as the real thing would, sinking at pre-calculated rates their little legs twitching in the current. The rest of us fish with ‘attractors’ they’re flys for people with lives/too many hobbies already. We hope that any glittering lap dancer’s eyelash will provoke a fish to attack. If you really/actually wanted to catch fish you’d use a worm, but that’s considered unsporting.
I’m standing up to my waist in the water, birds sing, mayflies dance over the dancing golden confetti the sun throws onto the water. Dicky is about 20 yards away casting up stream into a riffle where the water breaks over some unseen obstruction. It’s one of those rare moments of true peace, the babble of my head quietens, the babble of the water soothes, the smell of dew and sweet meadow grasses are carried on the breeze, every piece of flotsam that passes seems propelled to do acrobatics in the current by an unseen hand. Dicky back casts, his orange line flicking lazily behind him. I watch it silently describing the tight hypnotic loop of the accomplished fly fisherman. It’s poetry in motion. I’m captivated, all is well in the world, and I am immersed in the moment.
WTF! Something has bitten me, right on the back of my feckin’ head, my hand rises to the source of the pain, I pinch something rough and feathery attached to my neck, I feel a sharp proboscis embedded in my skin, Dicky’s rod completes the forward stroke of his cast, the line tenses, the renewed stabbing pain announces we’re connected, the line arrests his arm and the inertia sends him stumbling forward, off his rock and into the river. Blood drips from the back of my head. We sack it off to sit by the campfire. No fish were landed, but that’s hardly the point. So they tell me.