Over the last couple of years, I’ve done almost all my fly fishing with an English fellow, Nigel. We’ve shared the same waters but almost always attack those waters from different angles.
I charge in, throwing the largest streamers I think might fit between the jaws of a fat brown while Nigel often drifts perfect drifts through the deep holes with perfect nymphs tied on #16 or smaller curved hooks. My mind is on the next two miles of water while Nigel’s seems to be on what’s right before him, certain that there is a trout there, whether visible or not. The contest for Nigel is to outsmart each of these individual trout while my contest perhaps has more to do with making sure that all of the trout in the stream see my gaudy offering at some point today.
Some might think I’m describing a conflict of visions on the water but I think we’ve come to see our methods as complimentary, a way to learn from each other by noting successes and failures of each – same water, same weather, same fish (it’s always a well controlled study). It’s been an outstanding cross-cultural cross-pollination.
A year or so ago, Nigel handed me the book Chalkstream Chronicle by Neil Patterson. I’ve been savoring it in bits and pieces over the course of the year, learning tidbits from a real flyfishing professor/practitioner and trying to divine the author’s overarching message. I knew there had to be one hidden somewhere in the bracken between The Back of Beyond, Lady McFarlane’s and The Hollow.
This is the first time since childhood that I’ve attempted a chalkstream read. I’ve never been inclined toward sight-fishing to well educated trout. The whole setting and whole process has seemed a bit over-civilized for my blood and I’ve seen little application for the English methods here on American waters though this only shows that I haven’t taken enough time for them. My greatest angling influence from across the pond remains Beatrix Potter’s Jeremy Fisher. Nevertheless, I read on. There was something compelling about the author’s local forays, his observations, something microcosmic about the little world he’d putter about, split cane in hand.
My appreciation for the fine points of hackles and Ephemeroptera grew as the volume drew me in. Mr. Patterson forced me to think about details of the life of a trout that I’d scrupulously avoided in my often headlong rushes downstream, in my quest to see all the water. This author might claim that I’d really been seeing very little of it.
Finally, a few days ago, I came to the crux of it all, I think – just in the terminal pages, where a lot of us authors like to hide the good stuff.
A new character is introduced here, recognized only with one of the author’s typical appellations, applied to protect the innocent.
‘Ask any creative person,’ I said. ‘Look at the circumstances that have resulted in some of this century’s most creative thinking. The narrower the guidelines, the more imaginative the solutions. The Pheasant Tail nymph was born on chalk.’
Picasso looked at me in disbelief. ‘You don’t find the chalkstream code restricting?’
‘I find it challenging. The more things are alike, the more interesting their differences become. And the greater the challenge.’
Even if nothing was to change – even if we were to get trapped in a time warp, stuck with the same old rod, reel, box of flies and tactics, it would still be fun. Flyfishing is something you can never totally learn. Even though you’re still flyfishing when you’re ninety.
I remember an old back-of-the book article in an In-Fisherman magazine during the nineties on the tsouriburis of Tokyo. These were essentially in-ground swimming pools stocked with fish where one could rent time with a fibrous rod and line to tempt coi. And folks were more than happy to pay for the privilege. Perhaps the wisdom of Mr. Patterson is universal.