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.”

They still advertise like this…?

Every now and then, my assumption that western civilisation evolves at a more or less even tempo receives a jarring wake-up call. Today is one of those occasions.

Somewhere in Ohio, apparently, it is still 1978.

How the years slip away and Benny Hill’s face moves into crisper focus, as I watch someone called Joe Jordan and R&R Bait & Tackle combine their promotional efforts around  a single theme. And fishing.

Joe at least, might just have got away with his part of the deal, so willing was I to extend him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the bikini’d young woman who opens the clip is his wife or girlfriend. On reflection, he may feel that the part where he has to check what her name is should never have survived the first edit.

This, however, pales alongside the advertising intermission at the 33-second mark. It’s not the body of Bikini Woman number 2, holding up an ‘Open Seven Days a Week Sign’ in the floats aisle, that lingers in the memory, so much as the body language.

This is either a model, slowly coming to terns with the fact that she’s drawn the day’s short straw down at the agency, or else a long-suffering staff member mentally calculating  before our eyes what ‘taking one for the team’ will cost her employer in bonuses and free bait.

We return to Joe and his associate, reeling in bass and pike in northern Michigan, before popping back to R&R at the 4:47 point, where a young woman in hot pants (probably the accountant) wants to tell us that you can’t go wrong with Weld-craft fishing boats. Lest there be any doubt on that score, the camera cuts to a photo of the said vessel, with another woman in a bikini draped across its back end, clearly savouring every second aboard “the most reliable, durable boat on the planet”.

All told, this peek into Joe and R&R’s parallel universe runs to almost 12 minutes, and even as you hope that there might yet be some ironic, self-aware punchline that makes everything all right, the clip blindsides you once more, closing with a quote from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians – I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.

Whether it’s Joe or the proprietors of R&R Bait and Tackle whose strength needs occasional replenishment isn’t entirely clear.

Mike Roden

There’s nothing informs quite like the Internet but it has no sensitivity filter.

One minute you’re scrolling quietly through Twitter feeds – the ‘rods for sale’, ‘caught this yesterday’ and ‘my mate’s stupid hat’ mundanity of it; the next you’re sitting bolt upright in your chair.

“Just received details of Mike Roden’s funeral…”

I think I met Mike Roden twice, both times at the charming Curley’s Fly Fishery, one of those rare in-town waters where flyline routinely soars against the backdrop of a passing bus and where, on a clear day, you can turn away from the reservoir on the dam wall and see the Irish Sea glinting beyond Southport in the distance.

If it’s not the only fishery in the land with a baby grand piano in the lodge, I’ll be astonished.

Mike was in charge of tuition at Curley’s the first time we met, and running the venue’s fishing operation the second. We shot some instructional video with him on the latter visit and were so impressed at the confident ease with which he imparted information in front of camera, we christened him ‘One-take Roden’ in the car going home.

Friendly and helpful, some people you only need meet twice to warm to them.

Thank you and God bless you, Mike, and my condolences to those you loved.

Climate – something’s not right…

Halstead tucks in, on a mild night in downtown Beverley... After a hard day’s fishing with an upcoming issue of the mag in mind, Trout Fisherman stalwart Nick Halstead and your equally-ravenous correspondent  called in at a chip shop in Beverley, East Yorkshire, for as good a fish supper as you could wish for.

Excuse the camera-shake (tear me away from my food and I’m never at my best) but pictured is the very-beautiful Mr Halstead himself, tucking in.

Outdoors.

On November 14th.

At night.

Be assured, there is no posturing machismo involved here: the temperature was just a few degrees shy of ‘balmy’.

We are beyond ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ now. We are well and truly in the realms of ‘funny weather’.

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Pic of the Day

There comes a point in a fishing guide’s life when he’s good enough to let himself go

Gary McFadden is there.

Seriously, if a guy who looked like he does came out of nowhere and offered to help you with your fishing, I doubt you’d know whether to run or hand him some  kind of helpline number.

Such is the danger of being swayed by image before you’ve assessed the substance behind it.

The hirsute McFadden is in fact a fishing guide of such repute on Alaska’s Kenai River that he has just been voted into America’s Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.

“He’s kind of an icon. I don’t know if you’ve ever met him, but he’s kind of like the wizard, he’s like Gandalf almost,” Harpe said. “He has those qualities about him and there is something to say about that.”

He has quite way with words, too. The end-of-season river, full of trout sulkily moping around with sore mouths, is a word picture that will stay with me for the rest of the day…

Jim Hardy – no flowers, just buy the DVD…

Jim Hardy will no doubt have been remembered for many remarkable things since his death at 85, earlier this month. The one I will remember him for is that his epitaph was up and running a full four years before he died.

If you haven’t seen The Lost World of Mr Hardy yet, I urge you to do so. Nothing like the corporate puffery I expected, it is rather a moving tribute to an era lost forever, played out against a musical score that tugs at every nostalgic fibre in your body.

In a modern era bloated with self-aggrandisement, there are many who witter on about their ‘legacy’, far fewer who genuinely leave one. Jim Hardy – the moustachioed gentleman last seen poignantly disappearing round a corner in the following clip – takes his place firmly in the latter category.