The steamy quest for Cumbrian sea trout

English: A 60cm sea-trout caught (and promptly...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, so I’m sure it can get quite lonely in Cumbria’s open spaces, but is this really how sea trout fishing begins to feel to those who fish there? Or is it simply the presence of the BBC that drags everything into trouser territory?

For 13 minutes of Radio 4’s Night Fishing documentary, in which Grevel Lindop celebrates the life and work of local poet and angler Tom Rawling, against the backdrop of a night fishing session on one of Rawling’s old haunts, it is captivating fare.

Thereafter, things take a bizarre turn, as the angler accompanying Lindop through the nocturnal gloom alludes to a sensual dimension to the pursuit of their prey. As if relieved to discover that the drive north from London hasn’t been a complete waste of time, the presenter pounces on this titbit like an owl on a rat.

“That’s fascinating, because in the poems, Tom Rawling often talks about the sea trout as being female and there’s very much the sense that fishing is some kind of courtship…or seduction…”

Like two adolescents whose guard has dropped while sharing a copy of Razzle, there’s no stopping them now:

“She’s calling us…luring us back to the water…”

“Mmm, tempting…”

“The catching of the fish is the marriage.”

Her virgin scales cling to my hands…

All of this triggered by the quite preposterous statement at the 13:55 mark – “It’s almost a sexual thing, I think – flyfishing at night…”

I’m sorry, I’ve had some wonderful evenings with rod and line but never have I been even remotely tempted to draw this analogy. There are some things you say when you’re fishing with your mates and then there are things you say when fishing with a Radio 4 microphone under your nose, and this, I would suggest, is a Category 2 statement.

But then it could just be me. Why not make the same point next time you and the gang are wetting a line, with darkness closing in around you? Do let me know if the conversation goes any differently from this…

“I don’t know about you guys but this is starting to feel like a sexual thing.”

[SILENCE]

“You still there?”

[AN OWL HOOTS]

“Guys…?”

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Holly crap! Why fishing and literature should stay a rod-length apart

I try to stay out of debates on fishing and writing. I make a living from it and am therefore arguably too close to my subject to offer objective comment.

On the other hand, if I don’t get some things off my chest, my head threatens to burst.

In commenting upon Holly Morris’ stab at fishing‘s relationship with literature in the New York Times, I come from the angle that fly fishing’s literati have a rather higher opinion of themselves than is warranted by the evidence.

Still new to flyfishing when this first occurred to me, I kept my own counsel on the point until a fellow hack and salmon fisherman with rather more experience of the subject than I have, confirmed my worst fears.

“A lot of fishing books are rubbish,” he confided to me, as we discussed reviews one day, and my spirits soared, as they do whenever you realise that you may not be missing something, after all.

Now, I’m far from perfect here – self-indulgence is a pukepit into which every writer stumbles at least once in his life, so I offer the following observations to would-be angling writers, not from a lofty pedestal but from the same chastened Ground Zero occupied by most people in this business:

  • There is no such formula as fish + rural idyll + nostalgia = a rattling good read
  • Metaphors are like bowel movements: the best ones are unforced
  • Only one in every twenty mid-life crises is of any interest or entertainment value to complete strangers. That ratio is just as prohibitive as it sounds
  • Three words: less is more

Which brings me back to Holly Morris and the New York Times. Why a 1997 article is just hitting the newswires now is beyond me but as it echoes a lot of similar guff that I read on the subject nowadays, it remains worthy of comment.

That you have to register for a password to access the piece might be construed as an act of compassion on the part of the Times but those of you who really like to punish yourselves will be amply rewarded for travelling that extra mile.

Inch by inch, I waded through this rambling masterclass in self-absorption. You can always tell when a writer out of control is building up for a big one…

“The angling canon displays a metaphorical range and depth unmatched by any other sport: Sea Captain’s battle of good and evil with Great White Whale, Old Man battling Marlin in dignity and death, Brothers who learned to fish by dependable metronome, only to lose by loving too much”

Aaaand they’re off…

“Both fly-fishing and writing abound with foible and reward. Both offer fissures of clarity amid the ambiguity of everyday life. Both can give you hand cramps.”

As can masturbation, the written version of which, it would appear, is another of Holly’s great loves…

“As with a faint star in the night sky, one can better see the allure by looking indirectly, by examining the residue of moments. Birth, Death, Poetry, the Moment of the Take (that dashing instant when a sleek cutthroat takes a wispy Montana nymph) are all inexplicably compelling – time collapses into itself, leaving only the pulse of the complete present”

Cold shower for Ms Morris, please…

“Fly-fishing and poetry are proper bedfellows. Each is the purest strain of its respective endeavor; each is grounded in rhythm and meter.”

And to finish, the big one…

“Fly-fishing and writing are entwined in a desire to unlearn, to be brave enough to engage the ineffable, to digress, and tango in the ether of passion”

By now, some of you must be wondering what on earth this Holly Morris looks like. This photo, I think, captures her best side.