I looked forward to my first day of fly fishing eagerly. My dad and I had spent many, many days fishing the local rivers and lakes with float tackle and ledger rig ever since I was a small boy. I took my first fish, a 3/4lb Perch with my second ever cast, using a built cane float rod, from The River Wharf at Kirby Sands. Parental pride went out the window pretty quick that day. “You jammy bugger! I fished every night for 3 weeks before I caught anything.” It was alright. I loved my dad all the more for his honesty. Indeed, the bond that grew between us as we fished more and more cannot be over stated.
I would spend hours, I’d like to say in the shed but the truth is the old man kept his rods in my bedroom, admiring his fly fishing set up. An Allcocks Ariel reel and a Mytre Hardy – the less expensive line – rod. I was fascinated by the line, the flies, dry and wet, even waders. I loved it all and I longed for the day when I would be judged ready to fish with it. In truth, I felt that fly fishing was the only true form of fishing. I could be a right little pretentious sod at times and I’d read all the fishing books in our local library, most more than once.
When the big day finally arrived we’d been holed up on a rain soaked caravan site in the Lake District for the best part of a week. The sun had broken through early and dad said he thought today was as good a day as any to learn. I’d cast with the rod before. I was blessed to be brought up in a house that had a really big garden and while the other kids kicked a football around I’d take out my old man’s rod and reel and cast around above their heads anytime Mum and Dad’s shifts meant they’d both be at work together and I was left home. I wasn’t bad at casting; they both worked a lot.
My dad had been given the heads up on a short stretch of river from a local he’d befriended over pints in the village pub and we followed the directions written on the back of a cigarette pack, the old man monitoring the tenths of a mile ticking off until we came to a gate at the side of the road to our left. “This is it lad. Get out; open the bloody gate before anyone sees us.” There was nothing unusual in this; we were always doing things he didn’t want anyone to see. Our garage was stocked with tools that would make the local council blush. Our garden walls built with fine old cobbles from when they tore the roads up near the hospital, all acquired under cover of darkness, after I’d done my homework.
We turned off the road, locked the gate and drove a short way down, out of sight from the road. I could already hear the river. We were traveling light; just the one rod and we made it down the steep bank to river edge. The old man took note of what he termed ‘the lay of the land’, pointing out the debris high in the tree branches left over from the rain induced high water. He picked a spot out in the river at the edge of the fast water, selected a fly, waded out and then put on what I thought was a master class in fly fishing. His casting appeared effortless and almost silent save for the seductive sound of line cutting through the air. He placed his fly in the same spot time and time again. His face a study in concentration and the spark of mischief I loved so much dancing in his eye. He pulled back firmly on the rod sending it up right into the air. Then the tip bent and the fight was on. He let the line run out as the fish speed first up river then down. “Rainbow,” he said with an air of authority, then he cracked a smile. I loved that self-depreciating humour he had. Two minutes later I held a Grayling in my hands. “What’d I tell you son? Grayling.”
I returned the fish to the river and watch him cast again. “Another five minutes and it’s all yours.” His next cast got hung up in an overhanging branch. “I can get it dad, stay there.” I crept down the bank mindful to hold onto the branches as I went. I felt my foot sink then the sky went black.
“Jesus! Get under the bloody water!” I felt his hand pushing down on my shoulder and then the river enveloped me. I gulped down a lung full of water as the current took me downstream. I tried to swim, unsure what was going on. I stood up on a gravel bar. Looking back up the river I could see my dad, about 25 feet from me packing up his gear standing on the bank. Beside him an angry cloud of wasps circled, oblivious to his presence.
In the car driving back to the caravan we surmised I’d managed to put my foot through a wasp nest, they’d immediately swarmed around me and dad, far from trying to drown me, had saved me by pushing me under and down the river. Amazingly, I’d only been stung twice. Later I learned it could have been much worse. Dad speculated that the wasps were probably drowsy as a consequence of the river flooding and probably covering their nest. I never forgot my first day fly fishing.