A matter of perspective
Fishing is at times a complex pastime full of paradoxes’, dilemmas and moral issues that can stimulate passionate debate. Fly Fishing by its nature is perhaps even more prone to this than other forms of angling though I say this in part because this article is aimed at the Fly Angler. As an all round angler I am far from a fly fishing purist and resist the elitist view that fly fishing is somehow superior to other forms of fishing. Many hold fly-fishing in esteem as a more worthy style of fishing when compared to bait fishing or lure fishing. But where does this view come from?
As a young boy I fished a tiny stream and caught plenty of wild brown trout with buttercup flanks and crimson spots. My chosen technique was a wriggling red worm or pinch of bread flake. It was beside this tiny stream that I learned to read the water and develop that knack of knowing where to cast. Sadly that wonderful stream of my youth is devoid of fish but that’s another story.
As time went by I learnt to cast a fly and find fly-fishing an invaluable string to my angling repertoire. On its day it can be a very effective way to catch fish and on most days I would expect to catch more trout from a small stream armed with a lightweight fly rod than with a pot of worms. It is true that the worm might tempt that big trout living deep in a shady pool or one that has grown large as a result of cannibalistic tendencies but in general the delicate fly fisher will out fish the bait dangler.
When I developed a love for angling literature I delved into classic tomes that told of chalk streams and water meadows. In classic books such as “ A Summer on the Test” by John Waller Hills or “The Book of the Dry Fly” by George A.B Dewar these authors and others of that era were of course members of the upper classes who lived privileged lives that enabled them to cast into the almost sacred waters of the Test and Itchen. It was in these waters where the dogma of Halfords Dry Fly Purist attitudes where born.
I fished the Test once several years ago and whilst it was a costly days fishing I enjoyed every minute of it. I caught on both dry fly and upstream nymph. It was a privilege to fish from manicured banks and tread the path of those with more money than I. I almost used the word wealth at that point but held back for money and wealth are different. The fishing was very enjoyable but in truth not as challenging as I had expected. These were not wily wild fish but stockfish in what has become an artificial fishery like many small Stillwater fly fisheries.
Trout waters are many and the trout within them varied. Each river, lake, loch and reservoir has its own peculiarities and it is this rich variation that gives fishing its fascination. There are different approaches to trout fishing and we as anglers contrive to introduce a complex web of rules and values.
Modern trout fishing has many parallels with society reflecting morals and desire. The put and take trout fisheries that emerged in the late seventies brought an expectation amongst many to get their limit of big trout. As a result prices were driven up as fishery owners tried to cater for the demand for big trout. Anglers measured their success with the size of the fish they caught a plump 10lb or even 20lb rainbow being the dream.
Sadly as time has passed by many anglers have developed unrealistic expectations and have lost sight of the true essence of fly-fishing. Fortunately I see a slow change as many are now seeing the value in wild fish in tumbling brooks and streams. A fishing world in miniature where it is not the size that matters, more the beauty of the quarry and the natural surroundings from which it is caught. The brief admiration of a jeweled trout before it is slipped carefully back into clear water.
There is undoubtedly a place for well-stocked artificial waters and at times it is fun to catch a big stocked trout. It is also exciting to catch stocked rainbows from reservoirs using modern methods but it is surely that moment of delightful deception that is equally thrilling from a rambling brook especially if the whole act can be witnessed in clear and healthy water.
The measuring of fish by sheer size is perhaps that reflection upon society where we want it all bigger better and now. Surely utopia is a day of fishing ahead where there is no rush and all that matters is to momentarily connect with the pulsing life in that world beneath the surface. To put it in monetary terms where lies the best value? A full day wondering the stream for priceless spotted jewels surrounded by natures finest or a dash to catch a limit of stockies in a well kept stew pond?