All the Cool Dudes – And why the fish don’t give a damn.

I always enjoy Richard Wilsons witty column of comment that so often resonates with my own experience.  I must admit I often feel a little outgunned when I visit the waters edge and open my small fly boxes of often bedraggled flys. I generally manage to catch a few though despite not having boxes full of every size and colour buzzer available. I often wonder if the the natural world has as many types of nymphs as the average anglers fly box. Got me thinking of an article on fishing fashion outfits. It has to be camo for carp and blue for Match fishing……

RICHARD WILSONS  FISH RISE

All the Cool Dudes – And why the fish don’t give a damn.

Wanna flash your fancy gear or check out the cool kit & kaboodle that other folks carry? Or maybe just keep up with the times, fishing-wise? Maybe you, like me, worry that you’re behind the curve; an also-ran in the thrusting world of fish-tech?

What to do? Who to ask? On my bit of the planet, I can spend all day on a river and never see anyone. The only other angler out there could be naked and who’d know? Not me – for which I am very grateful. But this isolation means I’m getting a bit set in my ways.

We all know that Silicon Valley mantra: move fast and break things. That’s not me. Of course not. Change, even keeping up to date, comes slowly. So it was a bit of a surprise when I crashed into a transformational Eureka!moment that mugged me, unexpectedly, in a car park full of fishing folk.

A few years ago I moved house and now live near a reservoir created almost 125 years ago. It’s big, well-stocked with hard-fighting rainbow trout and a place of pilgrimage for those who live further afield. By any standard you care to apply, it is well-bedded into its landscape.

The fun begins when the car park gate opens at 8 am and the arrivals parade from car to pontoon-catwalk and into the waiting hire boats. It’s showtime. The display includes uber-cool 4-wheel trolleys laden with fishing luggage, multiple rod tubes and more. All greenish, of course. It’s a scaled reminder of those swanky quay-side luggage displays from the golden age of transatlantic ocean liners. You’re only as grand as your bags.

This is competitive. Expensive tackle, of the pay-and-display variety, is on show to upstage the less well-off with their bargain-basement rods and reels. Increasingly the only way I can tell the two apart is by price and brand logos. The last genuinely bad rod I owned was an upmarket brand. And the one before that.

I’m also witnessing a demonstration of the first rule of fishing: All tackle expands to fill the space available to it. Here the carry-on luggage limit is set by the size of the hire boat or your wallet, whichever sinks first. My craft bobs along high in the water with just me, one rod, a net, a small shoulder bag for tackle and a plastic shopping bag with a few provisions. I worry that my fellow anglers are looking down on my feeble kit assemblage with the faux concern of the well-endowed.

Once we get out fishing there are at least 20 boats, well spread out but in clear view. Initially, I’m driven by anxiety that my tackle inadequacy means others will outperform me. I’m doing what the pros call ‘covering the water well’ which, to you and me, means blanking. Thankfully nobody is catching anything much.  So that’s OK.

Next my attention turns to how well, or not, they’re casting. This would be more interesting if I could see who’s doing what in the cheap seats and who’s fishing the posh logos. So all I learn is that some people cast better than others. Ho-hum.

As the fishless day gets longer, I start to wonder why everyone is wearing the same colour clothes.  Greenish, of course. By now it’s clear I need to get a life or catch some fish.

Despite their clear kit advantage, most of the regulars are struggling with the conditions. And so am I. Fish are not being caught.

But not quite. Because not everyone is blanking. There is a brazen exception that warms the cockles of my non-conformist heart. With a metaphoric single finger to convention, a solitary boater is breaking the dress code for just about every sort of fly fishing everywhere and ever. It’s the eureka! moment that lights up my day – and it’s up there with having an Osprey land on your ornithological hat.

A silver-haired gent in his late 70s is wearing a red Puffa jacket and hauling in yet another fish almost every time I look his way. He is vibrantly not in anybody’s herd. And whatever he’s doing it’s working with no reliance whatsoever on the colour greenish. His trousers are old and dull orange, probably corduroy, lightly paint-stained and discordantly at one with the jacket.

By chance, we both call it a day at the same time and step onto the pontoon a few minutes apart. We exchange greetings, his more chipper than mine.  My new acquaintance is tall and elegant – a picture of good health and a fine, Heston-esque model for his jacket. He’s also wearing what seem to be comfortable rubber-soled bedroom slippers.

I was quitting because nothing was happening for me.  He has had an excellent day’s sport and is in early because advancing years shorten the day.

I am awestruck and humbled. As an aspiring minimalist, I like to think my kit is inconsequential. My new acquaintance puts me to shame.  He carries no tackle bag. Just a nondescript rod and a modest but deep net, along with some spare nylon and a small fly box (all buzzers) which fit comfortably in one pocket of his iridescent jacket. I assume he also has nippers and some bits n’bobs tucked away somewhere.

He had launched with a rod, a light lunch, a net and tackle to fit in 2 modest pockets.  And he’s the most successful rod on the water.  So hurrah for that! If a red jacket catches fish, I’m getting one.  I might just get one anyway.  Just to be awkward while pretending to be nearly 80 and that I haven’t grown up yet.

So here’s a controversial thought: Maybe the fish don’t give a damn about the colour of our kit, as long as it doesn’t flash or strobe.

And what if trout actually like red? This could be tough for them because red light is very hard to see when you’re underwater. So if it doesn’t shout Boo! they may not even know it’s there. They can, however, see greenish very clearly. Brownish too. Are there two more dangerous colours for fish? When did you ever see a heron wearing red?

So, what are we waiting for?  I’ve seen the future: On my boat I want nothing that isn’t cheap and cheerful. I will keep all the necessary tackle trimmings, like flies, in the pockets of my Hawaiian shirt.  With my red Puffa jacket I’ll be sporting carpet slippers, a daft hat, plastic aviators and slobby trackies. And the rod will be jacket-matching red –  really cheap, much too short and loaded with a homemade shooting head. I can stun livestock on the far bank with that. And who’s to say I won‘t also catch fish?

Does anyone want to enter one of those competitive tournaments with me? Is one of you fishing pros up for joining me on this? I don’t think we’ll disgrace ourselves and, who knows, we might even win something. With no luggage aboard we could even find space for a Ghetto Blaster. So best play-list, maybe?

Move fast, break things and go fishing. And all of it while sitting down. Eureka!

Still Crazy After All These Years – The Psychotic Angler – Richard Wilsons Fish Rise

posted in: Game Fishing, Sidebar | 0

Still Crazy After All These Years

The Psychotic Angler

By RichardWilson

“I wouldn’t recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”  Hunter S Thompson.

It takes two short questions to expose just how viscerally brain-bending fishing can be.

The first is ‘Why do we go fishing?’ This isn’t subtle and needs just 3 words for an answer. Maybe there’s someone out there who’ll say they don’t go fishing to catch fish, but I’ve never met them. There’s no shortage of secondary reasons such as good company and beautiful locations, but they’re all predicated on the idea that we go fishing to catch fish.  The clue is in the name. This answer, as I will demonstrate, is wrong.

So here’s the 2nd question: What’s your most memorable One That Got Away?  The Special One. That oh-so-nearly fish of cruelly snuffed gratification? Make a mental note of your answer.

“I shall remember that son of a bitch forever,” Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

We’ve all lived the moment: A fish takes, the water boils silver, sinews strain and adrenaline surges.  Then suddenly, catastrophically, the rod is weightless and a flaccid line shapes a languid downstream curl.  Time pauses until reality bleeds back in, but the void and the fish that filled it are infinite.

Many of our most memorable losses come early in life.  For example, the 3lb wild trout in a small stream when I was 14. We parted company in the dying of the day with only the bats as a witness.  And still it stalks me. This is odd because at 12 I had caught a bigger wild trout in more challenging conditions. Yet I remember every detail of the one I lost and a lot less of the one I netted. I am not alone in this, and the difference between the two matters.  People who remember a tantalising near-miss more acutely than a success attract psychologists, drawn vulture-like to a nascent psychosis.

“It is good to lose fish. If we didn’t, much of the thrill of angling would be gone.” Ray Bergman.

All fly fishing, especially Salmon and Steelhead, is conducted against increasingly steep odds. A cursory glance at the catch returns makes for dismal reading. So, as we head for the river, we save face by telling anyone who’ll listen that there’s too little or too much water, the wrong wind, nets in the estuary, bloody farmers, bloody pollution, bloody this and bloody that and, of course, bloody climate change. It’s gonna be tough.

And as fast as we lay down the reasons for why fishing is futile, we ignore them. Well, I do, and I expect you do too.  OK, the river’s not looking great, but after several blank days flogging warm, low water there’s a single lacklustre fish showing and I’m due some luck.

Look on the bright side,” I say to myself, “What are the odds against yet another fishless outing? This is going to be my day.”  And therein lies trouble because this is magical thinking. The men and women in white coats will identify it as the Gambler’s Fallacy, another red flag for psychosis.

Psychosis: noun (psychoses)

Characterized by a loss of contact with reality and an imperative belief that one’s actions are rational.

The Fallacy works like this: At the Casino de Monte-Carlo on 18 August 1913 the ball fell on black 26 times in a row. As the streak lengthened gamblers lost millions betting on red because, surely, the next spin could not be yet another black.

According to my abacus, the odds on 26 successive blacks are about 135m:1 – give or take several million. But the odds of the next spin going Red are always 2:1 regardless of what happened the spin before (for pedants, the true odds on a roulette table are 37:18). The point is that a spin of the roulette wheel is not affected by the previous spin, just as a fishless week cannot make tomorrow successful.

‘Ah,’ you say, ‘in a casino I’m at the mercy of the House, but when fishing I can make my own luck’.  This is true, but only up to a point. For example, we could go fishing only on days when all the conditions are perfect.  And we could fish well-stocked waters.  And choose a lucky fly, buy a cool hat, cast perfectly and in all manner of ways take control.

Which is why we always catch and release a creel-full. Except, of course, we don’t. The only near odds-on certainty about fly fishing is that nobody catches anything without a line in the water. Everything else is marginal. As John Gierach almost says: You can change your fly and catch a fish, or you can stick with the old one and catch a fish – or not. I know of only one exception to this rule:  A friend who caught his first salmon with a gaff (and helpful gillie) on a fine Scottish river. This is not encouraged nowadays.

The next psychosis red flag is the kicker for anglers, and it’s also rooted in gambling.  If you have ever played a casino one-armed bandit you’ll know how this feels: You pull the handle or press the button and the wheels spin.  Click, click, click – 3 oranges line up across the screen, left to right.  The 4th wheel spins a little longer until the last orange drops into the line, pauses, twitches, harrumphs and then shudders one place onward with its last gasp. It’s a heart-wrenching moment of loss, because in that skipped beat the ecstasy roar of cascading coins filled your ears.

The excitement of this fruity near miss is so strong that it can be seen on an MRI scan.  Brain activity hits peaks akin to sex or drugs in a scanner light show so awash with dopamine that it’s visibly more exciting, and addictive, than an actual win. The subconscious brain desperately wants to do that again, and again, and again. The manufacturers know this and are in a continual battle with the regulators to deliver plenty of these near misses. In terms of brain activity, that last orange is up there with great sex, a mirror covered with cocaine – or that fish, the really big one that got away. We want more – and we want it NOW. Which cues this:

“I wouldn’t recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”  Hunter S Thompson.

As always, Thompson was onto something. Somewhere between the showboating and the drink, drugs, sex and dopamine, he rode a compulsive wave that we can all relate to, even if we can’t ride it as hard or fluently as he did.

Behavioural problems are persistent and the younger we start the harder they are to shake off. So the fish we lost as a teenager set our already hormone-addled and overstimulated brains on fire. An explosion of dopamine made us fishing junkies. That’s because our inner teenage ape was still learning how to swing through the trees – and although catching the next branch was important, having it slip through our fingers was much more memorable; but only if we survived. The biggest lessons in life are learned in failure.

In my experience, people who dabble in fishing and then quit do not have a One That Got Away. They get out before it’s too late.  Which would be laudable, but they then miss out on all the fun: The exquisite pain of that lost fish.

And as salmon aficionado and serial author Max Hastings so accurately summed up: “I can remember almost every salmon I have ever lost with much better clarity than the fish I have landed.”

So let’s revert to my opening question: ‘What’s your most memorable One That Got Away?’.  I expect it’s not really just the one, is it?  Even though I lost count years ago they’re all still swimming around in the back of my mind like fish in a deep clear-water pool, some occasionally rising to the surface before sinking back again, others always in view.

It’s not just that we regular fishermen and women are losers, we’re serial losers.

Paradoxically, we rationalise fishing as the sport of catching fish.

No, it isn’t.

______________________________________

Thank you for taking the time to read my work. It really helps me if you can do some, or even all, of the following:

Tell others I’m here:

Richard Wilsons Fish Rise -Humorous, edgy and thought provoking as always!

Many thanks to Richard Wilson for sharing his writing on North Devon Angling News.

Humorous, edgy and thought provoking as always!

Zuckerberg’s Fish-Floppery

This morning I popped into Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the future.  Call me vain, but I decided to lie about my age and be a 19 yr-old, which was lucky because everyone I met was also 19.  Except the Fairy Princess who was also the last person I saw there and, for all I know, might have been a 60-year-old man back in the real world.

Meta-time is erratic and distance is irrelevant, so I could go when and where I wanted. To make my trip challenging I went fly fishing for migrating salmon while standing on the lip of Niagara Falls

First, the good bits: I stayed dry because just about nobody in the Metaverse has legs (or waders). So I hovered Zen-like above the river, which was very, very cool. No treacherously slippery rocks to upend me, no raging torrent to wash me over the edge and no physical threat from the constant flow of thrill-seekers in barrels. The second matter of great importance was that I caught a very big Salmon.

I was so pleased about this that I jumped off the Falls and swooshed straight past the tourist boats into the visitor centre Starbucks where I flashed the plastic for a $1 Frappuccino. Cool entrance and cheap coffee, huh? I was soon joined by a gorgeous 19-yr old fishing tackle sales agent praising my fishing skills and suggesting that her big-brand 9-foot rod was much better than the one I was using.

She promised that with the most expensive rod in their range (just $1!) I was guaranteed to catch 3 Steelhead whenever I went fishing, and that a 40lb Steelhead would earn a bonus 120lb sturgeon. So I flashed the plastic again, the rod appeared to hand and my new friend vanished before my eyes. Just as I thought we were getting on rather well. Ah well.

Left to myself, I surveyed my surroundings.  At the end of the coffee shop was a huge fishing tackle store lit up by a neon sign that declared: Mega-Webba-Verse-Tackle-Company – All Brands Stocked and Everything Available Now.

I wafted in and found myself hovering next to a 19-yr old male wearing an old-fashioned blue and white hooped bathing suit.  We were both looking fondly at a magnificent Classic Fly Reel of the sort that costs $1000 in the reel world.  Here it was just $1. A bargain!

“Cool reel,“ I said to my new companion.

 “It’s amazing. And everything here is exactly the right size. It fits my head like a glove.” He replied.

“A head-glove?” I said.

“Don’t be an idiot’” he snapped, “It’s a barrel hat.” He was talking down to me as though I was a 19-yr old know-nothing. He then reached out and put the reel on his head where it was very obviously the perfect hat to enhance your selfies as you went over the Falls. The badge read, “I’m a Barrel-Head!”. He took it off and passed it to me.

“Oh,” he sputtered. “So now it’s a fishing reel. Isn’t this the Barrel-Riders-Kit-O’gasm Emporium?”

Pennies dropped and, in tandem, we said “Oh F**k it!”.  At which the store transformed itself into a pulsating display of sex toys and bondage gear as an inanely smiling, baby-faced Zucker-clone slimed into our bewildered company.

“OK,” it said, “which of you two is the leather-fetishist paddle-boarder?”

This wasn’t my kind of life experience, so I morphed off to the bank of a famous Scottish salmon river where I caught 3 big Steelhead in 5 minutes. The new rod worked so well I was catching fish that don’t exist in Europe.

“Och Aye”, said the Gillie, a hybrid Euro-stereotype wearing a kilt that was much too short for 19-yr old man, “Begorrah mate! Them’s Steelhead! I dare say that one weighs as much as the Blarney Stone of Scone.”

“How much does the Blarney Scone weigh?” I asked, breaking the rhyme.

“It’ll be 40lbs exactly,” he replied.

As he said it, my rod bent into a 120lb Sturgeon.

Dunno’ how that got up the fish ladder,” said the Gillie. And then, “This is crazy. I’m taking this idiotic headset off and going back to work. Don’t forget this is a catch-and-release fishery.” With that, he disappeared. Silently.

I decided I’d had enough of my new rod and threw it at the river. It de-pixilated in mid-air.

On the far bank was a pub called The Old Metaverse.  I drifted over and into the bar where I bounced repeatedly off a stool that was slightly too high for me.  The barmaid, a 6-yr old Fairy Princess, refused to serve me because I didn’t have an ID Card to prove my age. But never mind, she said, she would sell me one for $1.

At the other end of the bar a drunk was dropping his trousers while shouting that his willie was awesome and that it was his God-given right to fight us because he was right, we were idiots and this was a public bar, so anything goes.

“That’s just Elon being Elon. He’s only 19.” said the Princess. “He’s a free-willy absolutist. I expect he’ll grow out of it.”

Somebody hit him, a gun was drawn, furniture thrown and the Princess produced a machete. As the air turned blue and the floor ran red with fake blood I walked out through the wall, took the headset off and helped myself to a real cold beer from my own real fridge. It was very good to be home. Real good.

So here’s my conclusion: To nobody’s surprise the Metaverse is Zuckerberg’s even bigger bid to coral all the real advertising and marketing money everywhere, raid your piggy bank and then drain your data.  It serves no other useful purpose whatsoever, except to allow us to go fishing without legs.  Which is unbelievably cool. Sadly, Zuckerberg’s ambition will include monetising virtual waders and virtual wader accessories like boots and pay-per-use rescue services. So there will be legs.

The Metaverse sends a shiver up my spine. It’s a sugar trap for low-life – the perverts, shysters and fraudsters. The old men pretending to be little girls and AI faking it as seductive sales reps. It’s a shit-show platform for politicians, influencers and the wackadoodle self-delusionals. A place where everyone is welcome and all are victims because all of us, even the slime-balls, are there to be shucked dry by the uber-parasite Zuckerberg.

There is just one silver lining, and it’s the conclusion surely held universally by anyone sane who visits Zuckerland: If all the jerks are in the Metaverse exposing themselves and shooting each other, then while they’re in there the real world might be just a tiny little bit better for the rest of us.

That, and the wading.

Changing Times at the water’s edge

For those of you who dont buy the NDJ a few comments on the state of angling etc. From this weeks edition.

Changing Times at the water’s edge

            At the turn of the year, it is perhaps a good time to both reflect and look to the future. The past couple of years have been extraordinary with many issues impacting upon our lives. During the COVID pandemic the word unprecedented was used repeatedly  as we all struggled with the strict measures imposed and the fear of the unknown.

            During this period many rediscovered or perhaps found for the first time the importance of nature and great outdoors for the nurturing of both mental and physical health. Angling received a significant boost during this period and for a time angling related businesses enjoyed a boost. As life has returned to a new normal the initial upsurge in angling has faltered as new issues have impacted. The cost of living has forced up the cost of most things including fishing tackle and related costs such as travel and bait.

            There are areas within angling that still seem to be thriving with carp angling seemingly booming across the country. There are now many lakes that boast specimen carp of thirty, forty and even fifty pounds. The demand for these fish is strong resulting in expensive and often exclusive syndicate waters. It is good that these fisheries exist offering the chance for anglers to catch splendid fish. There is however a risk that elitism can make it difficult for newcomers and difficult to afford. It is perhaps worth considering what has happened to other areas of angling in recent years.

            During the late seventies and eighties Stillwater trout fishing became increasingly popular with more and more waters stocked with trout. On the larger reservoirs rainbow trout dominated offering exciting sport at a reasonable cost. Smaller put and take stillwater’s were opened across the country and were stocked with larger and larger trout. Many anglers started to chase these big farmed fish prepared to pay ever higher prices to secure double figure trout and above. Stillwater trout fishing has suffered as stocking levels desired by many anglers has become  unsustainable. The generation of anglers who grew up through the boom years are now dwindling with very few young anglers taking their places.

            There is perhaps a danger that the obsessive quest for bigger and bigger carp could have a similar impact on the future of carp angling.

            Fortunately, some anglers are starting to value the  true essence of fly fishing relishing the thrill of targeting wild trout in less heavily stocked waters.  It is perhaps a blessing in disguise that a greater awareness of the value of natural rivers has resulted. Fergal Sharkey, formally an Irish punk rocker has recently gained notoriety as a campaigner for cleaner rivers highlighting the pollution and neglect of these vital arteries of the land by water companies and intensive farming. A recent report in the national media has highlighted the failure of government to retain objectives in the Water Framework directive with targets now pushed back over thirty years. If we do not act quickly iconic species like salmon and sea trout will be extinct within a generation.

            The future of Sea Angling is complex with fish populations always fluctuating. This winter appears to be promising with cod numbers up on recent years. North Devon estuaries have seen a greater abundance of cod with plenty of double figure cod showing up channel. Bass numbers have been increasing in recent years with lure fishing becoming increasingly popular.

            Off the coast larger apex predators like shark and tuna seem to be increasing in number. The CHART program that has highlighted the economic value of a catch and release big game fishery. In excess of one thousand blue fin tuna have been brought boat-side and tagged in during the 2022 season. There is hope that a long term recreational tuna fishery will be established bringing exciting opportunities for anglers.

            The history of angling will continue to evolve and there are always new discoveries on the horizon. As the climate changes the impact upon fish stocks is uncertain with warmer seas potentially bringing new species within range. The biggest concern must be the impact of weather extremes on freshwater. The summer of 2022 will be remembered for drought conditions and long periods of hot weather. Reservoir levels dropped to previously unseen levels and trout farms lost many fish intended for stocking into the region’s lakes. Rivers were at exceptionally low levels for several months resulting in one of the worst salmon seasons on record. Good news on the river Taw was a large run of shad during late spring and early summer. These rare migratory fish are a protected species and are returned quickly to the river with a minimum of handling.

            I would like to wish all readers a Happy and fish filled New Year.

 

FREEDOMS LOST

posted in: At the Waters Edge, Sidebar | 0

I was fortunate to grow up in North Devon and as a teenager in the mid to late 1970’s I realise looking back how lucky we were. I wrote a  short piece a few weeks ago reflecting upon the wild brown trout that were abundant in the local rivers including the River Umber that runs through Combe Martin.

Lost treasures of childhood days

As youngsters we also enjoyed the freedom to explore and fish the local coastline. In those days access to the coast was far more readily available and even were land was private a courteous request would generally secure access. In many cases free access was taken for granted as normality as it had been for many generations.

Over the years I have seen these freedoms slowly eroded partly due to the ignorant actions of the few and partly due to the ever increasing population of this crowded isle.

We took a stroll along the Old Coast Road near Combe Martin a familiar path and part of the Coastal Path. This old road provides access to several fishing marks that have been a pleasure to fish over the past fifty years. Many memories came flooding back as we walked beneath those old trees where as a young angler we paused to catch our breath after trudging up the steep steps from the rocky foreshore.

Sadly, the signs of restriction have appeared forbidding vehicular access. Physical barriers to prevent access and numerous signs stating the area is now out of bounds for vehicles. I understand that this was in part caused by an influx of people following the first COVID lockdown combined with articles in the National papers extolling the beauty of this stretch of coast.

The loss of freedoms once enjoyed have been brought about by many factors including a combination of an increased population, Lack of respect for land and an intolerance of landowners.

Access to vast areas of the coast have been lost or restricted over the years. As anglers we need to do our bit by ensuring we leave no litter and respect landowners only crossing land after gaining permission or perhaps paying the relevant toll.

This sense of loss can also be felt inland with many old lakes and ponds lost to angling. Whilst we are fortunate to have a vast number of commercial fisheries those smaller club waters have dwindled.

I revisited a local pond once rented by Barnstaple & District Angling Association. The deep dark waters were surrounded by trees their leaves resplendent in rich autumn colours. Fallen limbs disappeared into the depths and the brooding atmosphere held a certain fascination as I recalled those days of forty odd years ago when I had fished in the weekly matches held by B&DAA.

The glimpse of a kingfisher brought a flash of colour to the day. A couple of pheasants rustled through the brambles.

I read on a sign of the plans to turn the area into a holiday complex. Supposedly eco- friendly and in tune with nature. I cannot help but think that the place would be far better left alone with perhaps the occasional angler contemplating the disappearance of a crimson topped float. These neglected corners of the countryside are precious and should not be sacrificed without serious consideration.