Category: Published fishing writing

Hooking Up

One afternoon, on the Mataura river, I spent a half hour or so carefully stalking a rock. Seen through the drifting film of water, it had disguised itself cleverly as a trout and its dark streamlined form faced expectantly into the current. Its broad back suggested it was a good one too. I figured it would go two and half pounds certainly, maybe even three. This is a good trout in any river and quite exceptional in many. In retrospect, it is good that I didn’t know its true weight. Had I then known that it was at least twice my estimate I would have been reduced to a quivering bundle of nerves and my casting technique, shaky enough at the best of times, would have completely fallen apart. Continue reading

Pearls of Wisdom

I have been alive now for 50 years, give or take. During this half century I have tried to keep my eyes open and to process and assimilate, in some way, the information surrounding me in some vague hope that I might procure some modest degree of wisdom.

So what do I have to show for my efforts? What advice can I offer to those following in my footsteps to help guide them along life´s meandering path? What pearls of wisdom do I have? There are only two. They are small pearls, both of them, and neither is very shiny. For the record, here they are:

Continue reading

Wasting Time

My wife thinks that I am an idiot. She has, over the years, shown herself to be an excellent judge of character and so I have no reason to doubt her. Continue reading

There is a Lough half way up a mountain where my brother and I spend a day or two each year. It’s not easy to reach. The climb, over the sodden ground, saps the energy from our legs and makes us pause every now and then to catch our breath. Continue reading

Nodding Off

Having trouble sleeping? Well, you could try counting sheep. But, personally I don’t recommend it. I tried it for years but it just doesn’t seem to work very well. Sheep can be very frustrating. For one thing they tend to move around a lot. This makes it very difficult to decide if the sheep you are counting has been counted already. Continue reading

Real Men

The world is more complicated than I thought. Long ago I reckoned I knew the difference between a woman and a man. It was obvious really. Men were sort of, well, manly. They went out from time to time shooting rabbits, ploughing fields or fighting fires. Women, by contrast, married them, fed them and generally attended to their various needs. And the TV confirmed that it was so. While Tarzan was wrestling crocodiles in the swamp, Jane was at home taking his loincloth out of the tumble drier.

Now, before anyone starts ripping my head off, let me say that this all happened long ago. Those were the thoughts in the mind of a boy. I have since grown up and discovered, as I say, that the world is complicated. For one thing there are now more men who are hair stylists than fight fires. Apparently some men wear aftershave, condition their hair and look in the mirror… Continue reading


You might think that surrounded by soothing waters, my mind is emptied of its worries when I fly fish. But this is not so. When I fish, I am tormented by demons. There are several and, over the course of the years, I have come to know them pretty well. And, even though they are familiar companions at the waterside, I have never given them names or introduced them to anyone else. Today I will. There are five and they may well be strangers to you but, I suspect, you are already acquainted.

Among them there are two pairs. Like couples who have bitterly fallen out in the past each resolutely disagrees with the other. It is almost as if this is a matter of principle. There is simply no common ground. I shall christen the first pair Nymph and Dry.

Nymph has clear instructions it wants me to follow: tie on a nymph and drift it near the river bed. He argues persuasively that there are no signs of fish at the surface and points out that fish predominantly feed close to the bottom. If I don’t believe him he reminds me that analyses of stomach contents of trout overwhelmingly suggest that most of what is taken drifts or scurries on the river floor or close to it. Under his influence I reach for my sinking flies and rummage among the hare’s ears and pheasant tails. And, just as I am about to make a choice, his nemesis appears and yells into my other ear.

“Forget that crap!” Dry has climbed up onto his soap box. “You know what’s going to happen. You are going to snag your hook on the bottom! Okay, so no sign of surface activity – big deal!” Dry is a purist, but he argues convincingly too. A dry fly may well draw a good fish to the top even though no rise appears to be underway. And prospecting new water can be done quickly. Takes are easy to spot. Drag is immediately obvious. And nymphs, he tells me, should often move more slowly than the water surface because of drag created by the river bed and it is hard to make this happen in deeper water without getting closer, maybe too close, to the fly. And those takes can be much more difficult to detect.

While these two are battling it out the other pair of demons shows up. Let’s call them “Fast” and “Slow”.

Again they act antagonistically. Fast tells me to keep moving, explore new water, to see what’s around the next bend. Slow tells me to get a grip. “Be stealthy” he says, “Cover the water slowly so as to spook as few fish as possible, and keep low.”

Now the problem for me is that all these demons are experts and each has proven himself a useful guide in the past. But they agree on nothing. In the end, the day’s fortunes, whether good or bad, are simply the compromise reached after their interminable bickering.

The last demon you have surely met. We all have. Let’s call this one “Stay.” He just wants me to stay at the river. Forever! And why not?  It’s peaceful there. Stay convinces me to break my promise to make this one my last cast, to fish into the dusk, or even into the night. Maybe of all the demons I should fear him most. After all, that extra cast rarely produces and I can never find the car in the dark and, of course, my wife will be pissed off with me again. Unlike the others, who have an opposite to check his capacity to dominate, Stay and I must fight it out between us. And he wins. Always.

Published by Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly, April 2011

Honesty is a character flaw that besets too many of us and it is wise to keep it in check. Of course politicians have known this for some time and are adept at steering away from the dangers of truthfulness. This, presumably, is the reason we elect them in the first place. As fishermen, we are widely assumed to be economical with the truth by those who choose not to fool around on the riverbank, and it is reassuring to know that others, who know very little about what else we get up to, can at least acknowledge this shared attribute.

No other activity I can think of provides such rich opportunities to inculcate among its followers the traits of dishonesty, duplicity, trickery and corruption. And long may it continue! After all, we spend much of our time alone in wild and desolate places, often in that murky and distorted world where the day merges with the night. Nobody can see us, and if we return with tall tales of triumph they just have to take our word for it.

And of course the prevailing catch and release philosophy is a terrific asset. Now we can claim to have taken heaps of good fish without the need to produce any physical evidence whatsoever while, at the same time, pretending that we care about ethics, value conservation and are remotely interested in the long term health of our fisheries. We’ve never had it so good!

You are probably reading this fine publication because it provides excellent guidance and tips by acknowledged experts with diverse areas of specialism. They can tell us how to cast with tight loops, improve the timing on our double haul, tie delicate posts on tiny dries, identify hatching insects, and so on.

Now I don’t want to play down the contributions that these guys make. They really do know their stuff. But don’t worry too much. You can continue to tie rubbish flies, fling them into nearby branches, wade clumsily, put down every fish in the river and still promulgate the myth that you are an expert. There are many ways to do it but let’s start with a technique which is easy to master.

Imagine that, after a day of fishing, you come across another fisherman. Inevitably there will be an exchange of pleasantries and each will want to know how the other got on. My tip here is to ask the other guy before he has a chance to ask you. When it’s his turn to ask, you simply state your own results which are similar, but of course a little better than his. Don’t overdo it. The intention is not to humiliate him but merely to imply that you are a more accomplished angler than he is.

Here is an example of how this might be done in practice.

Angler A: Hi there, how are you?

Angler B: Hello. I’m very well

Angler A: Any luck?

Angler B: It’s been okay. I managed a couple on a sedge.

Angler A: Excellent. Well done. What kind of size?

Angler B: Nothing special, but one might have been a pound and a half. How about you?

Angler A: It’s been pretty quiet really. I think I had four in the end. Like you say most were pretty ordinary. Best was just about two pounds.

Game, set and match.

Published as “The Fine Art of Lying” Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly, April 2012.

Fishing Camp

Let me tell you about our fishing camp. My brother Sean and an old friend Mark convene each summer to fish some of the great limestone loughs of the west of Ireland. If you live a life of squalor and misery, you might picture our camp easily. It’s pretty upmarket if you normally sleep in a cardboard box under an embankment. But, if you are accustomed to snuggling under quilted eiderdown in a sumptuously appointed log cabin, you might want to look away now, or, if courageous enough to proceed, to have a stiff drink in your hand.

We set up camp on the shores of Lough Mask. This is remote and desolate country. The trees are sparse and the winds can be fierce and unrelenting. Weathered limestone bedrock breaks the surface and yields reluctantly to the shallow soil. It is hard to push a tent peg fully into the ground here. More than anything else, though, this country is wet.

In Ireland the boundary between the water and the land is as disputed as the one between the water and the sky. It is in this hazy and indistinct world, blanketed by drizzle, we appear each July and set up our two dome tents. For as long as we can negotiate absences from families and work, this will be our home.

One evening last year we returned to our tents to find them ringing wet. This surprised us because the day had been unusually breezy and dry. It turned out that cows had been pissing on them. While we were away pulling teams of wet flies before the noses of indifferent trout, cattle had come across our lodgings and decided that these would provide a convenient latrine for the entire herd.

It is easy to forget that chancing upon these unusual structures in their barren world may well have been the most exciting event that had ever occurred in the lives of these ponderous herbivores. I can only imagine what they might have said to each other.

“What the hell are these things?”

“Christ knows. I’ve never seen anything like them!”

“Are they alive?”

“They don’t seem to move or to make noise”

“What shall we do?”

“Let’s piss all over them!”

Of course we have learnt to be philosophical about such things. There are a number of methods for becoming wet and, over the years, we have mastered most of the techniques. In Ireland this is part of our cultural heritage and a primary reason we shun umbrellas despite the certainty of rain. But having our encampment saturated in such a novel way greatly increased our respect for these lowly animals.

I am very tempted to pour myself a drink now and tell you all about what we do and say at camp. But such reminiscences create a tremendous yearning to sit once again around our camp fire with a glass of wine in the company of those seasoned bullshitters. I will therefore desist. For the three of us, this is a treat which is strictly reserved for the summer.

Published under the title “Cowboys” Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly, June 2011.

Naked Trout Fishing

Nudism isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Why a bunch of people want to wander around buck naked is a bit of a mystery to most of us. Playing volleyball on the lawn on a sunny day may well be more pleasurable without the encumbrance of clothing but I suspect that may not be true of walking through nettles, climbing over electric fences or wading in icy rivers which, let’s face it, is the kind of thing we tend to get up to. You don’t need me to tell you that, as anglers, trying to get over a barbed wire fence could be difficult. And nobody wants to arrive at the riverside with their tackle scratched.

So it is tempting to think that naturists are all simply nutters who have collectively taken leave of their minds as well as their kit, and I have never heard of any convincing argument in favour of conducting our lives “au naturelle”, except for one. And here it is; when we remove our clothes we also remove the labels that define us and we can become, in a sense, equals. One person looks pretty much like another and, as you may have noticed, most nudists look like animated prunes.

I mention all this because fly fishermen really ought to be thinking of ways they can reduce to a minimum the number of things they need to cart around. Coarse fishermen win first prize in the amount of kit that is deemed necessary for a day by the water. Fly fishermen, by comparison, travel light. And, to me at least, it seems that the more accomplished they become the more they feel they can dispense with. First to go is the fully laden fishing vest which, in time, is replaced by a single box of flies and a couple of spools of tippet material. The net is gone too. Every item of equipment needs to argue a strong case in its favour to be included in a shirt pocket or two. If we can do without it why carry it around?

The only down side is that with less stuff it becomes harder to impress your friends with flash gizmos. Have you seen my new waterproof, digital camera? It has an inbuilt photoshop facility which allows you to effortlessly engineer images so that you can simply paste, onto a picture of your outstretched arms, the picture of a ten pound brown trout. You don’t even need to catch the damn thing! And I’ve had a robotic arm welded to my titanium fishing suit! This thing casts all day for me so my hands can be kept warm in my fur-lined hand warmers. They had to club a couple of seal pups to be able to make these but, boy, was it worth it! And of course it’s cleverly designed to allow me to slip my hand out to access to the inbuilt mini bar.

The funny thing is, I suspect, I may not actually need this stuff. Maybe the old nudists have a point after all. Maybe we should dispense with these things and make our lives less complicated. From now on, as far as I’m concerned, less is more, and nothing at all is the very best. I’m going to start going fishing naked. I won’t even carry a rod. My trout will all be caught by tickling as I lie on the stretches riverbank where the nettles are few and far between.

Naked Tout Fishing – published by Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly (July 2010)