Most people I know sooner or later get wind of the fact that I´m a fly fisherman. Very often there follows a little exchange of words that seems to follow a pattern that is becoming increasingly familiar. The chances are you will recognise it too.

It´s almost as if the two of us are each delivering lines from a script with which only one of us is familiar. I know more or less where things are leading but the non-fisherman just ad-libs. First up there is the assertion that, whoever it is that I am talking to, just wouldn´t have it in them to “sit around” all day fishing; “I just wouldn´t have the patience for it!”

I´m ready for this! I have my own lines ready. This is when I point out that fly fishing, at least in the form that many of us do it, is really an active pursuit and involves a lot of walking, wading, stalking, casting, mending, retrieving, observing and so on.

Next up comes the question that everyone asks sooner or later: “what do you do with the fish that you catch?” I´m on again: “I just put them back!” A brief moment of silence follows this as the other participant in our little exchange tries to figure out why on earth some clown would wander off to the river to catch a fish only to go and put it back again. I enjoy this bit. You can see the furrowed brow and that expression of vague bemusement. A natural pause in the conversation occurs now. I don´t say anything. It pays not to rush things.

That unspoken rhetorical question about the clown at the river needs to be resolved in the mind of the person who asks it. Now, remember the clown question was never actually voiced and you are not supposed to know about it but it lingers like a fog between you.

Of course there is more than one possible answer to it and the way they resolve this little conundrum reveals quite a lot about the person you are talking to.

The way many will see it you really are an idiot and carry out this futile activity because you are too dumb to know any better. Fair enough! That seems perfectly reasonable. We fishermen might well have a similar feeling about people who play golf which, let´s face it, is little more than an excuse to spend a few hours walking around in silly trousers.

Others see another solution to our little clown problem and decide that maybe you are NOT an idiot at all and have a perfectly sound reason for going off fishing although, for the life of them, they have no idea what it might be. If the person I am speaking with falls into this camp, there will follow even more pauses while they try figuring out what the hell the attraction might be. Some of these breaks are so lengthy you might just as well go and stick the kettle on.

Eventually they come up with some answers all by themselves without any help from me. They begin to bang on about the value in just “getting away from it all”

and of “solitude”, of respite the “stresses and strains of modern life” and all of that kind of baloney.

The odd thing is that the kind of person who sees this particular solution as the answer to the clown question, and begins extoling the virtues of fishing, suddenly holds me in highest esteem. Instead of a clown I am a reflective, visionary philosopher seeking solace in nature and privately re-discovering my place in the natural order. And so I end up looking more and more like that fat bloke with his legs crossed. Damn. What´s his name?? Oh yes! Buddha!

So there you have it. You tell someone that you like to cast a fly and you end up becoming a mystic….

….or a mug.


Published in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly – September 2018


Here I am fishing with Paul Reddish. Who is the mystic? Who is the mug? Maybe we are both a bit of each!