Over a late lunch pint or three I’m discussing fly fishing with a couple of other self appointed gurus. I’m celebrating catching my best river brown trout at 19″ and arguing about whether that matters.
Inevitably, we start to discuss the four levels of fly angler development. Do not be tempted to think there are five or three, for we have already agreed there are four.
Naturally, we all conclude that we are each at level four, the highest attainable order of angling. It is obvious to us and besides we only have to convince each other, a diminishing task with each round of drinks. This afternoon we are judge and jury.
We conclude that the developmental levels of the fly angler do not necessarily correlate with any acquired skill. Thankfully, the duffer can enjoy the same progression without fear of exclusion.
I do get the sense that none of us is being entirely honest about where we’re at. I for one, suspect I’m increasingly talking bollox.
I hear that at level one, when we start our fishing journey, we are happy just to catch a fish, any fish. More than anything we want to avoid the big B.
We develop anxiety over whether our 8ft rod is good enough and would we catch more with an 8ft 6″. We worry about what our tippet is made from, the optimal length of a dropper and why no one will tell us what green mucilin is for. We are obsessed with the “what” and “how” of doing, so we search the net for tips and advice and keep quiet when we learn that watercraft is not a type of dinghy.
Trying not to look at either of my friends in particular, I conclude that level one can last a longtime (or is that lifetime).
Next, our new found confidence pushes us down the quantity route. At level two, we want to catch a lot of fish, we keep count and get upset when someone else catches more. It’s extraordinary how many anglers at level two think that 5+1 = 8.
We learn to change flies in a nano second and buy “tactical” gear so that no trout can escape our onslaught.
We know our high sticking from our euro nymphing, the subtleties of the Czech and Spanish styles and why they are all happy to use a French leader. Some anglers perfect carrying multiple rods and can cast with either hand to maximise fly time in the water. Klink and dink becomes second nature. We are comfortable using the in-line sighter but know to draw the line at using split-shot – an unsavoury American habit.
Now some of us are ready to progress to level three and evolve to become the specimen hunter. Quantity is now a mugs game, big fish are what we chase. I’ve a friend who is a slave to level three and will no longer go fishing without the chance of a seriously big fish.
We perfect the ability to sit and watch the same square foot of water for hours and stalk our prey for weeks on end. We only carry one dry fly pattern because we know precisely what the specimen will be eating, before it does. Only when enough time has elapsed and the stars have aligned do we deliver the perfect cast, dropping the fly on the nostril of the unsuspecting monster. We are master of the grip and grin.
Finally, we are ready for level four, when apparently we ascend to another level of consciousness where we exist in a state of mindfulness and inner peace – at one with the river. At this stage we are content to simply be there, where casting the fly (or not, if we are too busy observing a beetle) is the destination itself. Catching becomes so ‘last level’…
After levitating across the stream so as not to create a disturbance, we return home in ecstasy having seen no fish at all.
It occurs to me that when I’m sat on the bank, head in hands, the casual observer might think I’m in a level four meditation, when in reality I’m pulling my hair wondering why I can’t catch an ‘effing fish.
I’m happy to confess that I catch my new PB trout whilst having a level one day out!
They say mixing fishing and alcohol is a bad idea and can be dangerous, but I think we’ve proven that as long as you stay in the pub it’s safe.
Next time, the three of us have decided to discuss aquatic entomology in great detail and the finer points of when you should swap a large brown one for a smaller green one.