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First bass on the fly

Written by David Hall

My introduction to fly fishing came nearly 25 years ago via a neighbour. It was through his cajoling over a couple of pints that I eventually agreed to accompany him, an experienced angler, on a boat on Bewl Water in Kent to fly fish for trout. My only previous experience of angling had been as a 10 year old kid catching roach and perch on maggots.

It was soon apparent that this was going to be different. With a drogue trailing behind the boat and the wind pushing our boat broadside on across the water, Grant showed me how to cast a fly and retrieve, dabbling the fly on the surface before lifting off to recast . Whether it was his tuition, the cans of beer we had brought with us, or a combination of the two, something clicked and I was able to occasionally flick the fly out far enough in front of the boat to retrieve some line before our stately progress across the water overtook my fly.

David Hall - First bass on the flyNow and then a fish would show on the surface, making the prospect of catching something somehow less remote than I had predicted on our drive down. It wasn’t too long before Grant was into a fish and seeing it burst from the water and fight all the way to the net was great encouragement and I looked forward to the moment when my line tightened and the water exploded with a leaping trout. It didn’t happen that day. Nor the next trip, nor the one after that. But undeterred by my lack of success I parted with a large amount of cash on a Bob Church rod, reel, floating and intermediate lines, leader material, a box of flies etc etc. I had all the gear but no idea, as they say in footballing circles. Now all I needed was some ability and some luck.

Fortunately the luck arrived first and on our fourth trip my hamfisted casting miraculously failed to spook every fish in the vicinity and eventually following a bit of half hearted thrashing about a hapless one and a half pound rainbow trout found its way into my landing net.

Having lost my fly fishing virginity, I quickly became a tackle tart, mugging up on all the equipment and poring over the articles in Trout & Salmon and Trout Fisherman. Armed with this ‘knowledge’ and the greater experience of my fishing mates, trips to hill lochs and vast lakes to capture brown trout were planned and executed with varying degrees of success but always with a great deal of enthusiam.

A job move which took me from the South East to Lincolnshire in the early 90’s slowed the number of fishing trips to a handful. The occasional boat taken out on the big reservoirs at Grafham and Rutland interspersed with visits to some fairly joyless gravel pits in the fens added up to some fairly mundane “stockie bashing” experiences. These experiences, combined with starting my own business and the demands of having a young family dampened my interest in the sport.

Fast forward nearly ten years and the family are settled back in the south of England. Now the time I spend travelling on business is far less than when I was in Lincolnshire. One day while clearing out my loft, I came across my fly fishing gear. Unused for the best part of a decade, it brought back vivid memories of fishing trips to Scottish lochs and the rivers and lakes of Wales.

A few months go by and a mate suggests we go fishing together. Mick’s an experienced coarse fisherman. I say I’ll go but only if we fly fish and that he borrow some of my gear. After some false starts and cancelled trips because of bad weather we finally arrive at the waters edge of a West Sussex lake stocked with Trout. It’s a pretty enough spot and it’s good to be casting a fly again. But… I don’t feel the same thrill I felt on those first trips over 20 years ago. Why is this? Looking at it objectively, we’ve each just paid £28 for the privilege of catching up to 4 fish from what is in effect an overstocked pond. These fish might not have names as in some Carp lakes but it’s not the challenge I was after.

Later that summer we took a family holiday in Cornwall. Always in charge of packing I made the last minute decision to take a fly rod with me. A few days into the holiday I remember the rod, still in the boot of the car. As the rest of the family crashed out in the late afternoon sunshine, I set out with the rod and a small box of flies for a sheltered cove we’d walked by on the coastal path a few days earlier.

As I arrive at the cove, I’m surprised and relieved to find I’m its only visitor. I’m acutely conscious that I don’t know what I’m doing and the last thing I need is an audience. The tide is receding making it possible to leap from rock to rock as they slowly reveal themselves on the ebbing tide. Standing on the pinnacle of the farthest rock I set up my fly rod with an intermediate line, 10 ft of 8lb leader and the charmingly named white woolly bugger on the point. A few false casts and the fly plops into the calm dark water in the middle of the bay . Fishing here seems like an escape from the world, but I know that's hard to find anywhere. Just as I start the retrieve that unexplainable sixth sense tells me I’m being watched. Turning my head I see a sturdy, red cheeked women of the shires and her black Labrador rock hopping towards me.

“Are you fly fishing?” she demands with equal amounts of incredulity and contempt in her voice. “Er… yes.” I reply. “I’ve lived here for twenty years and I’ve never seen anybody fly fish here before. What on earth are you expecting to catch?” “Well, I don’t know. A bass or mullet maybe.” “I doubt that very much.” she says witheringly, “ But nevertheless good luck to you.” And off she goes. Her huge backside wobbling as she vaults inelegantly from rock to rock back to the beach.

I cast out again, my spirits dampened. Just as I hear the sound of her heavy footfalls crunch into the shingle, I see a bow wave homing in on the fly. Hardly able to believe what I’m seeing I continue a steady retrieve and then a fish porpoises over the fly and shakes it head violently as I lift the rod. The commotion in the water alerts my ruddy-faced new friend on the beach.

“Have you caught something?” “Yes” I say trying to sound casual while I still have this alien fish jagging from side to side in the water in front of me. I feel like playing the fish with the rod behind my back or retrieving with my teeth Hendrix-style just to show her.

“What is it?” she asks as I bring the angry bar of silver onto the rock. Its dorsal fin is erect and bristling and its gill plates like razor blades which cut my finger as I unhook it.

“Ow, f*** it’s sharp.” “A shark?” she guffaws.
It lays there looking at me defiantly – it’s a handsome fish. “ Well whatever it is, it’s going back” I mutter as I slide it back into the water without further bloodshed.

As I watch my first Bass swim powerfully away a sudden realisation washes over me: I have found the reconnection with the sport I was looking for.

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