The addiction of the fly fisherman is both a collector and a philosopher – fish sometimes appear and make the fly fisherman a mere angler.
London: Author Izaak Walton has called fly fishing “the leisure of the contemplative man.” And Walton was right. While a decent cigar can be smoked for about forty-five minutes, one can fly fish for hours and then days. Contemplation is inevitable. To be one with nature, to hear and smell the water of the river, to gauge the changing parameters – the flow – of the conditions of this day is edifying. Much more relaxing than watching the test at Lord’s and, these days as an Englishman, much better for his stress levels.
To the outsider, few things look so ridiculous. We probably look like eccentric men (invariably we are fishermenMen) in silly clobbers often standing in the river and casting and then recasting our line like kids launching kites. Yet to the fly fisherman the shore is a cathedral – its larvae act as helpful, guiding inscriptions as if etched in stained glass windows changing shape with the light of the seasons, its rocks and viewpoints advance like pulpits and altars from which springs of faith are made. Fly fishing might as well be a religion. The river is the Holy Spirit, pure, omnipotent and sometimes good. The fish are his Truth. Men cast their lines while others offer holy petitions – on a wing and a prayer. Fly fishing is high church fishing – the rest, dare I say, considered somewhat coarse.
Often there are days when the fly fisherman returns home empty-handed, but he had a “wonderful day of fishing” and only he knows why. The settings in cricket can be many – the settings in fly fishing are endless and require multiple lifetimes to absorb and master. I’ve been fly fishing for a while now and always take John Goddard Guide to the Water’s Edge: An Angler’s Pocket Reference to River and Lake Bugs with me in my fishing bag.
For the uninitiated, the main difference between fly fishing and casting or bait fishing is that in fly fishing the weight of the line carries the hook in the air, while in casting and bait fishing, the weight of the lure or sinker at the end of the line gives the casting distance. But there are other key variations – the larvae tell their changing story, the river can be fruitful in one place at one time of year and then barren in another, while there are certain flies at certain times of the day at certain rhythms. The permutations are endless, that’s the bewitching appeal of this sport. The addiction of the fly fisherman is both a collector and a philosopher – fish sometimes appear and make the fly fisherman a mere angler.
And what is the fly, I hear you ask?
Artificial flies are an imitation of aquatic insects that are the natural food of the target fish species that fly anglers are trying to catch. Artificial flies are formed by tying flies, in which fur, feathers, thread, or one of many, many other materials are attached to a hook. I have an Irish friend who had great success with strawberry chew pieces attached to one particular fly. However, for the more orthodox, flies fall into about five categories: dry flies, wet flies, streamers, poppers, and saltwater flies. After centuries of making artificial flies, there are so many flies that a list is endless and therefore unnecessary. I made the mistake of inheriting a collection from a fly fisherman with many more years and experience than me, and I have no idea where half the flies go.
Fly fishing is not a new hobby. Many attribute the first recorded use of an artificial fly to the Roman Claudius Aelianus around the end of the 2nd century who described the practice of Macedonian fishermen on the Astraeus River casting flies. However, fly fishing as a documented sport did not appear until the 15th or 16th century in England. The first English poetic treatise on angling by John Dennys, said to have been a fishing companion of Shakespeare, was published in 1613, The secrets of angling. In it is the first mention of the phrase “throwing a fly”:
“Trout gives the most courteous and easy sport of all, if you fish with an artificial fly, a line twice the length of your rod three hairs thick…and if you have learned the casting of Fly.”
And of course the British brought fly fishing to all corners of the globe. North Americans fly fish for trout, salmon, rainbow trout and bass, but they tend to be more into the numbers game than us Brits, who love the sport for what ‘it is rather than a means of production. The British traditionally fly fish for trout and salmon too. In India, the British fished for the Himalayan golden mahseer with fly rods and fly spoons in the days of the Raj and today India’s fly fishing grounds are plentiful, scattered across the mountainous regions – mostly cold water streams and rivers. in the Indian Himalayas have wild brown trout. You have to travel to the borders of India and Nepal to fly-fish for golden mahseer – mahseer fish are a type of carp that live in the glacial rivers of the Himalayas.
If you’ve never been there, try fly fishing. There are many courses available in the UK. For lessons in India, the myriad of glacial spring-fed rivers and lakes of the Himalayan region are the place to go.
US President Herbert Hoover best described the lure of fishing and his words I think ring true for the high art of fly fishing, which is very unassuming and welcomes beginner’s luck if you try:
“To go fishing is to wash your soul with the pure air, with the flow of the stream or with the twinkling of the sun on the blue water. It brings the gentleness and inspiration of nature’s decency, charity to the makers of tackle, patience to the fish, a mockery of profits and egos, an appeasement of hatred, a rejoicing that you do not don’t have to decide anything until next week. And it’s discipline in the equality of men—for all men are equal before fish.
Happy fishing, my Indian friends. And remember, happiness is a big fish, and a witness!
Dominic Wightman is a British businessman and political adviser. He is the editor of the popular Country Squire magazine who launched an indian edition Last year.