Funny Friday - Fly Guys

This tale is not my proudest moment, but it certainly brings home the truth in the statement “you’ve got to start somewhere”. Now after being a die-hard coarse and match angler I decided to venture into the world of fly fishing at the tender age of 15. Being from Leicester there were many Midlands trout reservoirs to go at and I had been brought the complete fly fishing tackle setup for Christmas (thanks mum and dad).

I had a good friend who used to fish a particular medium sized reservoir in the north of Leicestershire. He had been going for a while and even had casting lessons. Spring came around and after various chats, texts and phone calls between us and parents we had finally co-ordinated a trip where we could go together.

Having never been before and with all my new gear I was so excited I literally couldn’t sleep the night before. Instead I tied leaders and reorganised all my tackle. It’s worth saying at this point I had never cast a fly rod in anger and was pretty confident that it would just come to me naturally.

We arrived at the most stunning picturesque reservoir and both stood in the car park ready to catch us some rainbows. We met the fishery owner, paid for our 5 fish tickets and he kindly pointed out the best areas on the map of the inland sea (as it appeared to me at the time) that was the reservoir. He even suggested flies and retrieves that would work for us. We head off to get in our boat purely in a world of excitement and with enthusiasm at an all-time high.

I had assumed my mate was an expert in a boat as I had never rowed a boat in my life. We both stumbled into the boat and were suddenly struck with the fact that neither of us knew what we were doing in terms of rowing or controlling the boat when we were out on the reservoir.

I took the helm and was almost about to set off when I realized we didn’t have anchors, and there was no drogue. My mate hopped out and grabbed a couple of anchors that were at the end of the boat jetty and were neatly rolled around wooden boards.

Off we set rowing off towards the areas where 1000’s of rainbows waited for us. It turns out my mate had only ever been out in a boat once in all the time he had lessons and the instructor had done all the rowing.

We made very slow hard progress against the slight wind up to the middle of the reservoir where we were told to start. The rods were rigged, flies tied on leaders and they waved tantalizingly in the wind. I couldn’t get over how hard rowing was especially as I was training twice a day and running at the early stage of my tennis career.

As we passed a few boats I made sure to give them as wide a breath as possible, I didn’t want to annoy anyone, each boat seemed to laugh and mutter to themselves and it wasn’t until I finally reached the middle bowl of the reservoir that another chap in a boat revealed the reason for my red face, blistered hands and pouring sweat is that I had been rowing backwards for the past 30 minutes. Lesson learnt, never again. I thought people were laughing and commenting on the fact that I was wearing Adidas tracksuit bottoms and a Nike hoody with a fly vest over the top but fly fishing fashion was the least of our howlers that day.

Needless to say, the fishing was almost impossible, we swung round in the wind causing our casts to go everywhere, double cross and tangle each other’s lines and all the time trout after trout rose up and sipped the surface.

After an hour, we had drifted completely out of the middle bowl area and were speedily being blown into the bank. By the time I reached for the oars we had smashed against the bank causing my mate to fall over board and get a trainer full of water.

We rowed back up and repeated this process some 6 times before we decided to try anchoring. We deployed two anchors and seemed to stop perfectly in “trout ally”, surely now we could catch a few. As the anchor ropes pulled tight we left the wooden boards the ropes are attached to on the floor of the boat. The boat swung and held perfectly with the wind pushing over our backs meaning that we could cast all of 15 yards for the fish time.

After half an hour, all of a sudden, there was a massive splash of my mate’s side of the boat and we started to swing round like the start of some Alton Towers ride. Now as I looked over I could see the wooden board that held the anchor on the surface of the water and the board unravelling like an H block marker. Oh no we had lost an anchor and with what could only be described as beginner’s rowing I couldn’t get near it to grab it.

We decided just to drift and keep rowing back to the middle but hopefully avoid crashing into the bank. As we drifted, still fishless and with decreasing hope and enthusiasm I noticed the wind had picked up. This meant our drifts were so quick, we had about three casts where the fish were before we were off.

Boats were now gathered over the middle bowl and we saw fish after fish being caught. With this much traffic before long the inevitable happened, we drifted smack bang into another boat. Not just any boat the only disabled wheelboat that was on the water at that time. The anglers were shocked but actually very understanding and managed to finally push us away from them as we continuously apologised. It turns out these same anglers picked up our missing anchor from the water later! Thank you guys and I still feel bad about it to this day.

We zig zagged all day catching nothing and feeling lower than a pair of rattlesnake’s bellies in a wagon rut. At around 7pm I had pretty much exhausted myself and felt like I couldn’t run the drifting lottery of some fly fishing battleship scene again and rowed as far up the reservoir away from the other boats as I could.

We sat there not really even casting resigned to the fact we weren’t going to catch and me trying to summon the energy to row back to the jetty some 45 mins away. God knows how I would get the boat into one of the space on the jetty but I couldn’t concern myself with that yet. We were already a laughing stock so we had nothing to lose.

Right then the wind dropped and it was a still beautiful overcast spring evening. We had to be in by 8pm so for the last 15minutes we sat and chatted not fishing at all just enjoying the calm and the relaxation of having no boats around.

As we sat I kicked my rod in the boat and the fly landed three inches from the side of the boat. At that moment some suicidal, pity taking rainbow engulfed the hopper and made its way off. My rod hopped over, and fluorescent spaghetti poured from my reel. I picked up the rod and held the line pulling the fish back to the boat. My heart was thumping and the feeling of amazement and relief made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (still even now thinking about it). I was so happy I remember saying to my mate that if I died now I would die a happy man.

The 1.5lb stockie rolled near the boat and I shouted for the net. Of course, we hadn’t taken a net. For the next 5 minutes, me and my mate frantically tried every kind of hand lifting technique, which this poor trout escaped. Not wanting to lose my first trout and after a truly punishing day I couldn’t lose this saving grace. I dropped the rod and two handed scooped and flung the fish into the boat. I instantly cheered so loud everyone thought I must have broken some record.

As I tried to compose myself my mate unhooked the fish and asked for my priest to dispatch the fish. Obviously, we didn’t have one of those. What a nightmare. I felt awful as the poor fish sat there. Not having the heart to use an oar to do the deed and having never killed a fish I decided to quickly release the fish that swam off in double quick speed after its most disrespectful treatment.

I rowed back in on a high, parked the boat perfectly without a care and made our way to the car park where our mums were waiting to take us home. The fishery owner had obviously heard from the other boats we had been struggling and asked how we got on. We said that we had caught one but that it had escaped. He bought it or at least took pity on us and then passed us both a tuition card for his casting and fly fishing school.

We laughed and headed off to the cars with the story of our epic first session fresh in our heads, even if the details were edited a little lol.

I never did have casting lessons but went on to fly fish all over the midlands in matches as well as for pleasure. My mate now lives in America and has caught tarpon and permit on the fly. We will never forget that first trip and as I said before anglers all have to start somewhere but what a crazy starting point that was.

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