Looking back over a lifetime's fishing, I realize I started at a very early age,
and wonder how my father found the patience to teach a six year old to
handle a fly rod, as later in life he was not noted for his patience with fools.
Be that as it may, the art was nurtured by father and grandfather, both
professional and accomplished flycasters. With this early start and an
inbred desire to do "better than Dad" it was reasonable to assume that with
the addition of fair to middling hand and eye coordination, I might end up as
a passable caster of a fly. There are not many of these in the tackle trade
as one might expect. It so happened that those customers who noticed the
assurance in casting brought about by years of experience rather than by
any personal brilliance, should seek to avail themselves of my tuition. I can
only say that my strong point has always been in the appraisal of faults and
subsequent suggesting of cures, rather than the ability to cast a fly out of sight.
I have been content throughout my fishing life to put a fly where I want it
with the minimum of effort.
It so happened that some years ago my advice was sought by one of our most
eminent local surgeons, who had decided that trout fishing appealed to him and
his newly adopted lifestyle. I am not being bitchy. He had arrived at the stage
of life and eminence in professional life where further medical and financial
success would be meaning less. (I should be so lucky!) He had purchased
a house in the country to replace the "consulting rooms with apartments over"
in the city.
It was therefore arranged that I would go there one Wednesday afternoon
armed with a selection of rod and reels etc. for demonstration and tuition.
I was looking forward to an hour on the lawn casting wisps of wool at
I arrived at the house, a beautiful one just outside the limits of suburbia,
a "gentleman's residence with extensive gardens." Greeted cordially and
taken through the house to the back garden, I was somewhat surprised to
see a half acre of water beyond the tennis court. My host explained the
previous owner had this dug out to exploit a little stream which flowed
through the grounds. "Very pretty," I said, "perfect to put a few trout into
should you decide to take up fishing."
"Oh! There are some in it already. They left them there rather than try to
take them all out. That's what made me want to fish, seeing them rising
all over the place at dusk."
It was as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud. The fairly dull afternoon
I had anticipated now receded from my mind to be replaced by the usual tingling
excitement familiar to all fishermen. The imagined ball of fluff was mentally
exchanged for a Pheasant Tail and perhaps a small Buzzer. You will see
that tutorial considerations were disappearing at a high rate of knots.
The proposed initial suggestion "Let's see you cast, and if there are any
faults perhaps I can help correct them" that I frequently used, was in great
danger of becoming "Stand back, watch me."
I overcame my base desires long enough to coach the man in basics (with a
wisp of wool) and a formidable job it was! This was a surgeon of great manual
dexterity, indeed his reputation had to a great extent depended upon it. He
could tie knots with one hand, probably tied behind him and in total darkness.
I am sure his sutering and stitching had to be seen to be believed, in fact I had
been told so by one of his medical colleagues, a younger doctor in awe
of the great man.
In all other things, however, he was handless. Totally uncoordinated. He
would never have made a ball player or a juggler. The most elementary
motion of fly casting. Efficiency, that as the right arm rises and travels
backward listing line off the so water, so the left hand moves downward,
shortening and accelerating the line while also preserving physical stability,
was as Sanskrit to him. He just could not do it!
After an hour in which gentle suggestions degraded to barely disguised snarls,
he could not do it. He couldn't wind the line on the reel with his right hand,
something I feel is a natural movement. He couldn't feel the change in timing
needed when the line lengthens in the air and alters the rod movement from
a continuous reciprocal to a definite one-two.
His interested waned. There had to be something wrong with the tackle. "Use mine!"
"Let me see you do it again, I am sure I am doing it right, it just doesn't work."
By this time I had yielded to temptation and put on a little Pheasant Tail, purely
in the interests of making everything more natural understand. No fish had shown,
the way the water had been aerated, any fish still not concussed should have
voted for early migration and found the feeder stream to ascent. However
in order to make things as close to actual fishing, I had deferentially (sneakily?)
attached a fly.
Now it so happens that I show off a little to pupils on occasion. It impressed
them no end and makes me feel superior. If they cannot increase line length
or lose control too soon, the tackle comes in for some doubt. At this point,
I step in and say grandly "When you become experienced you will be able
to cast farther than that with half a rod." In answer to the raised eyebrows,
I indulge in my party trick. I take the tip off the rod and leave the butt with
the reel attached on the ground, pulling sufficient line out between tip and
butt. I then, to gasps of amazement, proceed to put out 10 to 15 yards
of line with the tip section alone. While this looks quite impressive to a
beginner, I find that sometimes pride goes before a nasty shock and it
all goes wrong!
On this occasion however, my surgeon friend had no chance to express his
admiration. As my fly hit the water, with a bit of splash - you can't expect
too much - a fish came from nowhere and took a very strong fancy to it!
A rainbow of about two pounds, was attached to me by a very light cast of
dubious history and condition, and a fly taken from the box without examination
of point or barb, and me with only a rod tip in my hand!
The fish took line, (he would) and I realized the full predicament I was in.
Without a cork handle you cannot hold a rod very comfortably, it is very
difficult indeed. A top by itself is not very flexible and lacks a lot of spring
and shock absorbency which the whole rod gives. I attempted to put butt
and top back together, only to find that about 15 yards of line spilling out
at the joint was out of my reach. There was nothing for it but to discard
any thought of reuniting the rod sections and to play my fish on the top by
hand-lining. That the fish was eventually landed was due more to good
luck than any great skill, but I felt in the circumstances, he had to go back.
My companion had been capering about on the bank like a Dervish during
this performance, and his first words assured me of a customer for many
years to come.
"Jolly exciting. What! Let's catch another."
Curbing the initial desire to push him in, I duly coaxed and cajoled him until,
in the gathering gloom of the evening, a fish duly attached itself to his line.
A fisherman for life! My rather tattered nerves took somewhat longer to
recover. I now make very sure that loose tops are connected only to balls
of wool and aimed at the tradition saucer. I tell myself that such a
demonstration is not needed in fly casting tuition and rely on more
conventional teaching methods. I do miss the gasps of disbelief though!
~ Jim Clarke
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, longer ago than he cares to remember,
and on leaving school went into his family's business - Gunmakers
and Fishing Tackle manufacturers. By the time he joined the firm
it had become more retail than manufacturing , though the history
and reputation of the company was somewhat patrician, which stood
them in good stead in the face of the modern, retail only,
fly-by-night businesses which proliferated in the fifties and
sixties in the climate of leisure time explosion. A few years later,
feeling somewhat stifled in a company run by father and two warring
uncles, he left to take over an ailing gun maker in Chester, England.
He was to stay there for thirty pleasant years, retiring some six
years ago, ostensibly to have more time to fish. He had given up
shooting, but in reality appears to have retired to garden, decorate
and construct THINGS in the garden.†He has, nevertheless managed to
fish in Ireland, Scotland Wales and England, with trips to Sweden
and Alaska thrown in. You will find more of Jim's writing in our
Readers Casts section.