Grave Gods – Mr Crabtree needs a drink

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

Click on link below for more Richard Wilson

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A Happy New Year and a big thank you to all you readers who’ve found and subscribed to my scribblings. Also, a heads-up: I’m going to embark on an erratic and very occasional mission to restore doggerel poetry to the heart of global cultural life. Be warned! The first missive will be arriving soon. Meanwhile – have a great year.

But not this time … here I’m wondering where all the young fish scribes are:

Why are so many of the best fishing books written by dead people? OK, a lot of old dross has been winnowed out by the passing of time and there are a few giants who are still with us. But it’s true: In fishing, the author pre-amble is all too often The Late, Great … (but please, not Izaak Walton).

Much of this can be blamed on the recent arrival of a burgeoning genre of how-to-fish clones. Templated school essays, corralling a rod, a reel, this knot, that fly, a perfect cast and, pause for breath, how to think like a fish.

Think like a fish? Why? Fish brains are an evolutionary also-ran from the times when amoebae were the smart kids on the block.

Not that it matters. This entire genre is redundant because the definitive how-to-fish book was first published in the 1940s and, some 5m sales later, has no need to evolve any further. Mr Crabtree Goes Fishingremains a work of genius and awesome artistic merit. The unattainable benchmark for all that followed. Nothing else comes close.

Better still, Crabtree and son Peter are digital misfits. AI can’t touch them and Disney will never animate them. Although Aardman might: Wallace and Gromit go Fly Fishing … I’d pay to see that. And, sadly, author Bernard Venables is no longer with us. Another one bit the dust. And nor is Peter, who really was Venables’ son. He was tragically killed while riding his moped.

None of which advances the cause of this essay – the pursuit of a reading list with some fresh new talent to showcase.

I am haunted by dead writers – Hunter S Thompson is pictured above. I’ve always thought his essay The Great Shark Hunt was a deliciously snarky take-down of Hemingway’s obscene fishing habits (also dead), but not everyone agrees – including, perhaps, Thompson – and, anyway, it’s yesterday’s story. Does anyone under 40 care?

So there’s the living Matt Labash (some 5 decades in) whose works include Fly Fishing with Darth Vadar in which he flashes a threesome of braggadacious ticks for an ambitious writer: Social endorsement in high society, intimate fluency with a fly rod and, as the pièce-de, consummated wordsmithery. In no particular order that’s sex and drugs and rock and roll (are very good indeed) and a link to another magnificent wordsmith, the late Ian Dury – who I don’t think was a fisherman. What a waste (link below). Meanwhile, Labash has an air of post-coital smuggery, which is both very cool and aspirational. If you’ve got it, inhale.

I’ve also skimmed some great essay writers from other genres in the hope I would find some unsung fishing talent and so great fish writing. It’s not too surprising that Tom Wolfe (dead) had nothing fishy to offer. I should have left well alone. But I was really shocked to draw a blank on PJ O’Rourke (dead). He lived deep in rural New Hampshire where he espoused Republican causes and shot things. So surely he was a fisherman? Maybe not – it seems he tried, hooked himself and quit. How can anyone who wrote an essay titled How To Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed And Not Spill Your Drink not end up in a river? And now it’s out and on my desk, Republican Party Reptile has hijacked my best attempts at getting back to work. Genius. Maybe his friend Matt Labash can set me right on this?

You’ve probably noticed that there’s an emerging theme here. That’s because dead heroes are a symptom of ageing. They are the people we look up to when younger – so of course they die first. Aspiration doesn’t work when thrown down a generation because there’s a strong whiff of paunchy creepiness about mid-life people running after the kids.

Maybe I’m getting old? At least I can still raise a glass to Mr Crabtree, who was old before I was born. Cheers. And yes, I’ll have another – thank you.

So I’ll behave myself and stay in my generational lane (must I?). I came across writer James R Babb (alive) later in life, which makes me wonder what stone I’d been hiding under. While he might be fresh to me (I live deep in the time-warp of the Somerset Levels), he’s probably well-known to you. He shows me things I think I’ve seen but never properly noticed – and thus gives me the gift of hindsight. He writes beautifully and knows absolutely everything useful. Really. He can hand-brake turn a sub-clause and restore a beaver pond in an afternoon. Then catch supper.

So why aren’t non-fisherfolk queuing up to buy Babb’s books? Maybe it’s bad marketing by his publishers? On his behalf I’d like to find someone to blame.

And still – where is the young talent?

Good writing is mostly a craft skill that is best picked up young and practised – not unlike a teen strumming a guitar. You hope your fingers will learn to make a noise somebody somewhere likes. Sure there are a few late-starter keyboard warriors who, from the get-go, sprinkle digital faerie dust – but very few hit the page running, let alone with a comfortable niche (branding, you might say). John Geirach didn’t come out of nowhere. So I think great writers emerge, forged in battle with the subs desk (remember them?) and beating their heads against house style guides, editors, publishers and, if they get through all that, the bloody readers who are so willfully off-message – what’s wrong with them?

It’s the process that delivered many of the late-greatsand continues to deliver through the likes of Tom Davis, David Profumo, Babb and more. None of whom could have been generated by AI, or not yet and I hope never.

And have you noticed? In fishing, nearly all men. This is not true if you look in the op-ed pages of our great newspapers and the topical essay-fuelled magazines where female bylines thrive. Mostly the places where writing is curated, published and paid for – a tougher gig than the interweb. Women succeed on the river bank and in print – but are mostly too canny to mix them. Maybe this last point is, well, the point?

There’s an awful lot of self-published male drivel online, with more made possible by the arrival of DIY vanity publishing. Don’t tell me – I’m not listening (guilty as charged).

I can at least claim a publishing first – you’ve now met Mr Crabtree and Hunter S Thompson in the same sentence. And, hold onto your drink, Mr Crabtree is still with us.

So I’ll raise a glass to wordsmiths one and all, and wish a happy New Year to you and yours. Thank you for reading.

Tight lines (that’s an editorial diktat) from a journeyman hack and bankside duffer.

Giant flies. Of course. I knew that.
Mr Crabtree © MGM Ltd

And for those who, like me, think the late, great Ian Dury was the finest poet of his generation, here’s a reminder: What a Waste, What a Waste, But I don’t mind

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!