Day the salmon fishers got revenge

We never stop learning, as Roger Beck discovered when he went fishing on the banks of the Skirfare.

Photo by Stephen Cheetham

As regular readers will know, whenever the opportunity arises, I always poke a bit of fun at the salmon fishers. Kilnsey Show gives me the opportunity to take the Mickey en masse; this year was no exception.

Salmon anglers take themselves very seriously and have a nasty habit of unnecessarily complicating things. There is a simple method of moving the fly line around on the river. Normal people call this roll casting. Salmon seekers insist on giving the name Spey casting to exactly the same procedure.

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Standing in the Wharfe with a 14-foot double-handed fly rod, I talked my audience through the ‘double Spey’. As I swept the rod from my left shoulder to the right, the butt collided with the buckle of my belt from whence my microphone transmitter hung. Electronics and water do not mix so the instant that the little box of tricks hit the water, all went silent. It was probably just as well; otherwise a lot of people would have discovered all radio microphones are born out of wedlock. I scuttled up the bank to calls of “retribu-tion” from the salmon fishers.

The following morning, Richard and I cautiously made our way downstream by the River Skirfare. Screened by the trees, I could see the occasional rhythmic movement of a fishing rod. A beautifully formed aerodynamic loop of line lazily and repeatedly penetrated the bank side obstacles to land in the gaps under the trees. I knew immediately that I was observing a very skilled angler. I also knew who it must be.

Michael, then in his 80th year, now in his 81st, is an angler of consummate skill. His speciality is catching the fish that other people have given up on; he employs only flies that emerge from his own vice. To him, a proper trout never saw the inside of a hatchery; it was spawned in the very river wherein he wades. Keeping well below the skyline, Richard and I seated ourselves on the river bank, taking care to keep out of Michael’s back casting zone. Incidentally, in compliance with the local rule, I wore only thigh waders, so within moments of nestling into the grass my backside was sodden; more retribution?

Soon, Michael took a rest from his piscatorial pleasures, and joined us on the bank. This is when a little age and experience tells; Michael sat on his coat. We passed the time in reflection, as fishing friends frequently do. In a gentlemanly kind of way my companions reminded me of the previous day’s performance. The whole scene would not have looked out of place in an episode from Last of the Summer Wine. After a little while, I noticed that Michael’s eyes were focussing somewhere over my right shoulder.

“There’s a fish rising about 20 yards upstream” he announced; “been at it for the last five minutes, you can go and catch that one” he informed me. No pressure there then. “You’ll need one of my flies; those fancy things of yours are no good.” Michael handed me the fly and I tied it to my leader without taking my eyes off the rising trout.

I slowly manoeuvred into casting position and dropped the fly two feet upstream of my target. Lazily, without hesitation, the fish simply ate Michael’s fly. After a spirited display of aerobatics, it slipped over the rim of my net.

It was as I removed the little barbless black morsel from the corner of its mouth that the elegant simplicity of the fly struck me. “Have you a name for this fly?” I enquired. “No, it’s neither nowt nor summat,” he assured me with a twinkle.