Art Lee – farewell to another muse

WP_20180809_09_37_35_Pro I did it when Lesley Crawford died, so it’s only fair I give a mention to Art Lee, whose death two weeks ago would have otherwise passed me by.

A fact of working life when you’re a writer who happens to fish, rather than a fisherman who happens to write, is that you must ride on the shoulders of giants when attempting to breathe fresh life into instructional topics already covered countless times in your magazine’s 40-year existence.

While Crawford paved my way into the Features Editor role at Trout Fisherman with her Trout Talk dictionary, which explained all the technical stuff I didn’t already know, 12 years ago, Lee was one of several American writers I kept going to back to in search of an international slant on certain flyfishing techniques, with a view to adapting them for a UK audience. His book Lore of Trout Fishing quickly took its place in the Dream Team of books promoted from the TF bookcase to a permanent place on my desk, for ready access.

In a tribute that’s hard to imagine being echoed for any angling luminary this side of the Atlantic, he was given an expansive obituary in the New York Times, from which it is gratifying to learn that piscatorial nit-picking is not an exclusively British trait…

“…the protagonist of the book, Tying and Fishing the Riffling Hitch, is not even a fully formed knot, but a technique of adding an extra couple of loops, or ‘hitches’, before cinching a knot tight.

“The hitches go behind the eye of a standard hook or through the thin plastic tubes that make some salmon flies resemble minnows. If tied just right, they make the fly ‘riffle’, or skitter along the water’s surface, leaving a V-shaped wake that taunts salmon into striking.

‘You should have seen the angry letters [Lee] got about that,’ Mr. Mercer said.

“Some anglers, he explained, felt that Mr. Lee had contradicted Lee Wulff, an earlier revered Catskills angler, who made the riffling hitch famous but tied it on the other side.”

Like hell, though, am I leaving you with that slice of navel-gazing as possibly your only taste of Art Lee, for the man who could base an entire book around a single knot, was also capable of these closing lines in Lore of Trout Fishing

“…a part of me was tempted to take more, to keep taking for no more complicated reason than the little trout were so easy to take. But there was another part of me, the part, I’m sure that could hear a chain saw working a ways off yet, perhaps beyond the next ridge, that could recall the whine of our outboard motors on the big pond, remember the honking of horns in Manhattan, the clatter of factories in the heartland, the hollow cries from men in despair, pleading , ‘No, no more,’ and so instead I had rested my rod against a tuft of grass growing from a lump of black turf and had set about cleaning the three trout quickly and neatly and certainly lovingly. Now they were almost ready, swelling and glistening with butter, to flake in my fingers; the firm golden meat I would lift to my mouth to savor and swallow, to make part of me forever, there where the stream bulged about halfway up the meadow around the bend above the head of the small pond, in Maine, at the center of solitude.”

This is why you never throw out old fishing books…

pile of books

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You tend to see most fishing tips going in this line of work, so anything you haven’t seen before always comes as a pleasant surprise.

Looking for information on tadpoles last week, I discovered a book in the depths of the TF library that I had no idea was there – Introducing Fly Fishing in South Africa.

It was penned 44 years ago by English-born John Beams, who has been described as “one of South Africa’s legendary fly fishing pioneers”. Among the section of general tips with which he closes the book were three new ones on me, although I accept that could just be because I’m woefully under-informed:

“When crossing a swollen river use your rod to give you balance. Hold the rod out and submerge as much of its length as possible just under the surface. This will act as [a] stabiliser…

“…when crossing fast water, don’t put one foot in front of the others you do when walking. Having found a good foothold with one leg bring the other level with it, using the static leg as a shield against the force of the current.

“If, when wearing waders you get a footfull of cold water, don’t empty it out. It will be warmer to retain the trapped water until you reach your car or home.”

Enjoy Bosnia, Slovenia while you can, anglers

pexels-photo-921913.jpegWe highlighted growing concerns over the spread of Balkan hydropower projects in our News page of TF506, but as always, the voices of those affected hit home far harder than any statistics.

The nuts and bolts are here, the people who must live with them, here.

“Then they finished the war, I don’t have nothing and I start from the bottom…and, I don’t have anything again…”

Trout, pike and the search for balance

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Pic courtesy of ReflectedSerendipity

It’s a common misperception among those on the outside of the magazine industry – “How do you fill all those pages every month?”

On the inside, the question is routinely turned on its head, with “What the hell do we leave out?” being easily the more common question as press day approaches.

The dilemma tormented us once more last month, as my investigation of the hottest potato in Irish angling at present had to be shoe-horned into some 900 words in TF issue 503, out today.

Anyone who’s been asked to précis War & Peace will understand my frustration. Doing justice to an increasingly rancorous dispute over the balance of power within Ireland’s western loughs is likely to call for much more newsprint in the months ahead.

At its heart is a dispute over the viability of trout co-existing alongside pike in these showcase waters. To quote from our article:

“In one corner, trout anglers insist that unchecked pike populations will lead to the demise of brown trout in the loughs. In the other, pike anglers insist that Mother Nature has managed this balancing act for centuries and should be left to get on with it.”

For a summary of the pros and cons, you’ll have to read the article, but I received further input on the debate from two other sources for which there was simply no room on the printed page without diluting what was already there. Taunted By Waters, therefore, steps into the breach.

Firstly, I heard from Conservation Section of Oughterard Anglers [OACS], based on Corrib’s southern shore. They reject any claim that pike are indigenous, explaining that, “Officially under the EU Water Framework Directive pike are still classed as being non-native/non-benign to Irish waters by the IFI [Inland Fisheries Ireland]. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) still class pike as being invasive to Ireland.

“If pike were native to Ireland they would be found in every watercourse in the country just like brown trout but this is not the case.”

They also reject the notion that pike, however they got there, have acquired any kind of ‘squatters’ rights’ in Irish waters.

“We know from extracts from the book, The angler in Ireland: or An Englishman’s ramble through Connaught and Munster, during the summer of 1833 by S. Belton, that Lough Corrib was ‘infested’ with pike and that trout fishing was extremely poor,” they told me, citing the following extract from the book in support:

“Salmon are taken in Lough Corrib, as also some very large trout; but the Lake, being infested with pike, no great sport can be expected; and few are caught, except by cross-fishing.”

The OACS point out that the Corrib Fisheries Association (CFA) was set up in 1898, with the aim of restoring Lough Corrib as a trout fishery, a project based on pike control and  stream enhancement.

“Within a few years of the CFA establishment, trout fishing dramatically improved,” they said. “Ever since, pike have been culled on the Corrib and trout stocks have flourished in spite of other pressures such as the roach introduction, zebra mussel introduction, lagarosiphon introduction, loss of spawning habitat, climate change etc.

“No scientific evidence has ever been either produced domestically or internationally, which shows that pike have a benign or positive effect on salmonids.”

Instead, they argue, biologist Dr Ron Greer, in his 1995 book Ferox Trout & Arctic Charr, described as “…part of the mythology of the pike anglers’ sub-culture that pike are some kind of ecological balancing act. This is simply not the case in small, shallow charr and trout lakes.”

Greer’s book touched upon another issue that resonates among Irish trout anglers, 22 years on: the unlawful introduction of pike into waters where they previously weren’t.  OACS claim that Ireland’s  Owenriff system, a Corrib tributary and a major salmonid nursery, was “destroyed” when pike were illegally introduced there approximately 10 years ago. This theme also arose in Scotland in the early 2000s.

One man who has gradually come round to the idea of active control of pike numbers is Larry McCarthy, who runs Corrib View Lodge & Angling Services with his wife Michelle.

By-laws introduced in 2007 cut the number of pike to be retained by anglers in Ireland to just one a day, provided it was  less than 50cm in length, and McCarthy believes this led to a key shift in the ecological equilibrium.

“Foreign tourists were taking many pike up until 2007 and many of them just stopped coming over after that,” he explains. “That was a big controlling factor gone and so, while I was all for leaving Nature alone at one point, I believe things have now tilted too much in the pike’s favour.

“I don’t want to see pike eradicated and the argument that trout anglers kill too many fish is valid, but the loughs should be afforded care as a true wild trout fishery. Any way we can protect it, we should follow it.”

The outcome of a review of existing pike control measures by Inland Fisheries Ireland is expected next year. Never have the words ‘watch this space’ been more pertinent…

There’s no ‘sea’ in ‘bass’

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One Brit who won’t be giving up the ‘sea’ word. [pic courtesy of gordonramsaysubmissions]

It’s not really the done thing to name-check one’s competitors but what the hell; credit where it’s due to Fly Fishing & Fly Tying and their letters page contributor David Pilkington, for at least trying to drive a stake through the heart of the redundant phrase “sea bass”, when used on UK soil.

Unlike the USA, the only type of bass we have here is of the marine variety, so the “sea” prefix is unnecessary, although I feel both magazine and their correspondent are wide of the mark when they attribute the usage to political correctness or the power of celebrity chef-driven media.

It happens because Britain, sadly, is increasingly incapable of thinking for itself, let alone analysing its speech. Americans say it, so it must be right, goes the thought process of the average Brit couch potato because, essentially, we are a nation which can be divided into two camps: those who enjoyed Friends, and those who were devoured by it.

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Maybe hunters and fishermen are different…

I’d always thought the hunt bound us together, even if our choice of weapon was so different, but this article on designing your own trophy room, in Sporting Classics Daily, left me scratching my head in my effort to find an angling parallel.

Whatever your view on catch-and-keep fishing, I think you’d concede, at least, that we give our prey a decent burial, be it in the gut or in a taxidermist’s cabinet, designed to recreate the thing in its pomp and natural environment.

But this? As gorgeous as that wood panelling is, I’m struggling to get my head around the idea that there are people out there who line up an elephant in crosshairs while thinking, “…and that’s my pool table sorted…”

Mating belongs to all – you read it here second

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Pic courtesy of t.germeau

It’s a prime example of life being unfair: you have a really good cause to promote, but jazzing it up to appeal to media and the wider audience can be sooo hard.

Congratulations, then, to those behind a Finnish campaign to highlight and help the plight of migratory fish, that will see grocery firm K Group join forces with WWF.

“K Group and WWF Finland will jointly map different parts of Finland to find obstacles in migratory fish spawning grounds and in a spirit of cooperation with local landowners, local K-retailers and volunteers make the spawning grounds once again accessible for fish. The aim is to generate more awareness of and discussion about Finland’s endangered migratory fish populations”.

All of which seems destined to meet that same wowless factor fate, until you read that the campaign slogan is ‘Kuteminen kuuluu kaikplle’, and even more exciting in its English form – ‘Mating Belongs To All’.

Now you’re talking.

I’m in no position to prognosticate on the fate of Finland’s migratory fish, but I can hazard a more qualified guess that if the campaign starts pitching Mating Belongs To All sweatshirts to the nation’s young adults, it may not lack for funding.