The Expert and The Novice

The Expert

It was February, the weather had been fine for a few days and I needed to get the cobwebs out of the casting arm. I packed the gear in the boot of the car and headed for the local fishery. It wasn't one of my usual haunts as I prefer to fish the wild lochs for brown trout, but it was in easy reach, and more to the point, open.

I tackled up in the car park and went into the lodge to pay for the permit, ten pounds for the sporting ticket, I had no intentions of paying thirty pounds for four fish that I may, or may not, catch. The first things to catch my eye were the 'budgies' and 'parrots' arranged by colour and size all round the counter. After buying my permit the lad behind this array of multicoloured feathers tried to sell me some, he said something about the 'killing' pattern of the week. I declined and left him tying more 'parrots' to add to his collection.

I picked up my rod, which I had propped up against the side of the lodge door, and walked round to one of the wooden platforms that were dotted around the edge of the water. I got myself settled, pulled some line off the reel and had a few practice casts. I was rusty but after a few minutes I was beginning to get the rhythm back and the line and flies were going where I intended them to. Casting and retrieving began to become automatic and, even though I was getting the odd knock or two to my cast of wee flies, I wasn't really bothered if I caught anything or not.

It was a few hours into the day and my casting had improved; I even had caught and returned a couple of fish, when out of the corner of my eye I saw him come out of the lodge. Brand new waistcoat, new thigh waders not quite pulled up with the white insides flashing as he walked, new over the shoulder fishing bag, and clutching his new rod like it was his best friend. I smiled to myself. Santa had been good to him this Christmas; a new fly fisherman had joined the ranks. He scanned the loch like the intrepid hunter he now was. I carried on casting and retrieving. He paused, made up his mind, and settled on the platform two down from where I was perched.

For the next half hour he flailed the water to froth. 'Budgies' and 'parrots' flew back and forwards like rainbows after a storm. I slowly reeled in, walked off the platform, and headed towards the lodge. This of course necessitated in me passing this unfortunate gentleman who had obviously never held a fly rod in his hand before. I asked him how he was getting on. "Not too well." was his reply. I asked him if he wanted some help. "That would be great." he said.

Putting my rod on the bank out of harms way I asked if I could try his rod. Nothing matched. The rod was soft and whippy, the line was the wrong weight and as for the reel, he would have been better with a wooden bobbin and a nail for a handle. I told him this and he said the people at the tackle shop had made it up for him saying it was the best setup for a beginner. I advised him not to go back there except to return it and get his money back. Asking him to wait, and picking up my rod, I returned to my car where I had an old rod, line and reel that I keep as a backup. I returned to where he was and tied a small piece of red wool to the end of the cast, no flies yet I didn't fancy fly earrings, and pulled some line out and began to show him how to extend line till it loaded the rod. I cast a few times to make sure it was right then handed him the rod with the line extended out in front. He took the rod and I stood directly behind him. I asked him to hold the loose line from the reel in his free hand and I took the rod and his other hand in mine and started into a back cast. I could feel him fighting to control the casting but asked him to relax his arm and let me do the casting and for him to feel the effect he had to aim for. It took a few casts before I felt he could try himself. On his own it was a disaster, not lifting off quick enough, not high enough on the back cast, too quick on the forward cast and aiming at the water rather than the horizon. I went through it again with me holding the rod and after a few more casts he finally managed on his own to get the line out straight and no splashes.

Next was shooting line. I took the rod and cast a few times releasing line on the forward cast while he watched. This, of course, necessitated in me having to retrieve some line for the next cast. The piece of red wool was skimming the surface and every other cast a fish came up and took it. I thought it was hilarious, he thought it was 'magic'. I handed him the rod and he practiced shooting line, distance didn't matter, but he was shooting a few extra yards with each cast and on the retrieve the fish were still rising to the wool, which really seemed to make his day.

I looked at my watch, it had been two hours since we started and I decided it was time to leave. I picked up his rod, removed the 'budgie' and tied on a small nymph. He began to fish, getting a half decent cast considering the outfit, but now with an idea of what to look for when he replaces it. As I reached the lodge I looked back to see his rod bent into his first fish on the fly. That made my day more than the fish I had returned and was definitely worth the ten pounds.

The Novice

At last, I can finally get out and try my new fishing gear. I packed my new waistcoat, waders and fly outfit into the car and drove to the fishery a few miles along the road. There were one or two cars in the car park when I arrived so the place wouldn't be busy. I got myself ready and walked into the lodge to buy my permit. I settled on the four hour permit at twenty pounds which would allow me to catch two fish. The lad behind the counter then asked what flies I would be using and I showed him the small selection the tackle shop had sold me. He turned up his nose at them and suggested I bought some of the flies on show around his desk suggesting three yellows, three whites and a couple of rainbow coloured ones, flies of the week he called them, fifteen pounds. I didn't think fly fishing would be this expensive. I paid him and left.

I picked up my rod and walked round the lodge. I stood there at the waters edge and thought, where do I go? There was one angler to my left and he looked like he knew what he was doing so I headed in that direction but stopped a few platforms before the one he was on so I wouldn't disturb him too much. I watched him as I got myself settled, fly casting doesn't look that hard; this would be easy. Half an hour later I had caught my neck, my ear, the grass behind me and the platform. When the line did land in the water it was like an explosion with water and spray everywhere; this wasn't as easy as I thought. The guy on the platform up from me started to reel in. He's coming towards me, probably coming to give me hell for disturbing his fishing. "How are you getting on?" he said. I told him not too well as it was my first time fishing with a fly rod. "Can I help?" he said. I told him that would be great. He asked me if he could try my rod, so I handed it to him. After a few casts, and after asking me who had made up the outfit for me, he advised me to take it back and get my money back and to get someone who fly fishes to go with me next time, preferably to a different tackle shop. He asked me to wait where I was and a few minutes later he returned with another rod and line.

Tying a piece of red wool to the end of the nylon, the cast he called it, which was to simulate a fly without the sharp bits he said so that nothing could get caught anywhere, he pulled off some line and began to cast. He said to pull enough line off that would load the rod, like a weight does with a spinning rod, and that it was something I would get to know with practice. With the line lying out in front of the platform he handed me the rod, told me to hold the free line from the reel in my hand, and walked behind me. He reached over and covered my hand on the rod handle with his. Aye! Aye! I thought, but he explained that he would do the casting and this way I would be able to 'feel' the action better than he could explain it. After a few failed attempts he told me not to try and cast but to relax my arm, which I did, and then I could feel the rod bend as it lifted the line off the water, the pause at the top, the line pulling on the rod as it went back and the stop at the front as the line flew out in front of me. After a while he let me cast on my own. I tried to do as he had but it just didn't seem to be right and I just couldn't seem to control the line at all. He went through the process again, and when he left me to cast myself it was much better and the line was at least going out in front of me and landing without too much of a splash.

Next he said he would show me how to shoot some extra line to get a bit more distance. He took the rod and cast a few times releasing line from his hand as it flew out in front. Each time he cast he brought some line back in with his free hand, the retrieve he called it, which was used to 'fish' the flies but also so that there was just the right amount of line outside the top rod ring for casting, too much or too little would lead to a bad cast. As he retrieved line he began to laugh because there were fish coming up to the surface to get the red wool, which I thought was incredible but he thought was funny. He handed me the rod, and after a few attempts, I gradually got a little more line to go out. I started to retrieve this and I couldn't believe it when fish started going for the wool. It was brilliant. Here I was my first time fly fishing and getting fish without even a fly on my line.

"I need to go" he said. I turned and handed him back his rod. He picked mine up, removed the yellow thing that was there and put this little brown thing in its place, a nymph he called it. I thought, "What's that going to catch?" I thanked him for his help and advice and he said it was a pleasure and he walked off towards the lodge. I walked to the end of the platform and began to cast. I could see now what was wrong with my setup. The rod was too soft, the line just didn't work right and the reel was terrible. I could get a better cast with it now though and I thought I would carry on; I still had two hours left on my permit. On my third cast I felt a tug on the line and I was playing my first fish on the fly. I finally got it onto the bank and I looked for my mentor but he had already left so he didn't see that his tuition had worked. I carried on until my permit time had run out.

In the end for my thirty five pounds I had two hours tuition and my first fish on the fly, two eventually both on his 'nymph', I was well pleased. If it hadn't been for his time and help I would probably have packed up and never went fly fishing again, as it is I can't wait to pick up my new outfit and get out again. I might even try this 'wild' fishing for brown trout he was talking about.

©2008 Alexander Birrell
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