Fly Fishers' Republic

Good Friends

November 21, 2006

by Peter Smitham

Good Friends

That prolific angling writer and carp angler, Richard Walker, once announced that the friends he fished with were at least as important as the fish he caught. While I wouldn’t quite go that far, I would claim that they are vitally important on a slow day! It’s also of great importance that you have at least two fishing acquaintances, one who is a better angler than you and one who is utterly rubbish but lucky! (You can learn from one and teach the other). I count myself fortunate to be blessed with both of these!

The first chap is that hirsute editor of Fly Fishers’ Republic who I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with, on and off, for nigh on thirty years, (Some days it seems longer!). Raif Killips was but a teenager when we first ventured to Tittesworth reservoir near Leek one April morning. It was the first day of the season, cold, wet and foggy. In fact so cold I soaked my fingers in chicken soup to defrost them. Raif was quite alarmed when I then proceeded to drink the soup! Needless to say we caught nothing.

Our first away mission was a camping trip to Rutland Water for ‘Trout that surrendered at the wave of a fly rod’ according to the angling press of the day. Tent erected and fishing dues paid we headed for the bank. Weed for a hundred yards greeted us, along with sun, wind and waves. Not a sign of a trout! We gave it best for an hour. I was wondering whether this was to be our ‘lot’ for the rest of the week when Raif announced that his dad, who’d been evacuated to Rutland during the blitz, used to fish a river quite close by when he was a lad.

The ‘river’ in question turned out to be a wide ‘ditch’ winding its way quietly through the countryside. ‘Stuffed with fish!’ announced Raif. I was more than sceptical as we put up our spinning rods, but true to his word the ‘ditch’ was indeed stuffed with fish. Pike, Perch, and Chub in quality and abundance fell to our Ondex spinners and River Runt plugs. Raif ended the week with a double figure Pike taken, last cast, on a tiny Mepps No.2 spinner. It caused much mayhem before we squeezed it into the far from adequate landing net.

A trip the following year, with a larger net, saw Raif again catch the biggest fish (last cast!). A 6lb Chub on a fly. A size 8 Red Tag tied to a pound and a half tippet, if memory serves me as it should.

This was the beginning of a friendship that has stood the test of time, motorbikes, girlfriends, working in America, and driving lessons in my old Citroen 2CV. He recently e-mailed me with the thought that he ‘enjoyed fishing with me as it stopped him taking it all too seriously’! I’ll take that as a compliment Mr. Killips.

Like most relationships it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Raif has the irritating habit of always catching a fish, no matter how hard the day is. Many times I have been unloading the boat and loading the car with our gear, my mind already thinking of supper and a warm bed, when Raif, who has been having a ‘last cast’ off the boat dock, suddenly announces that he has hooked a fish! Infuriating!

I met Kevin Wright 10 years ago. He had recently moved into the sheltered housing unit attached to my place of work. Although his new flat was originally meant for an older person to reside in, Kevin had been granted occupancy as it was the only place that the council had available with the necessary adaptations for a younger wheelchair user.

I really got to know Kevin when I found him in a slightly inebriated state trying to dump his fishing tackle box in the refuse bins! My first thoughts were ‘free fishing tackle!’ which is always good news. I later spoke to him at some length about his decision to quit carp fishing. (As if anyone needed an excuse!) His past fishing pals had all promised to take him fishing even though he was now in a wheelchair, but one by one they drifted away. I suspect they thought that Kevin would be too much trouble.

That was a great mistake on their part as in the following years I couldn’t have asked for a more amenable, good humoured, readily available, if slightly useless, fly fishing companion. Years of carp fishing with twelve foot rods and 2 ounce lead ‘bombs’ had taken their toll with Kevin’s casting ability. Trying to make the mental leap from ‘dambuster’ to ‘fluff chucker’ caused him major problems and me a major headache! No amount of coaxing, coaching, diagrams, paid instruction or threats of violence will ever make this guy a proficient fly caster! I’ve almost given up (until next season perhaps?).

Kevin’s saving grace is two fold. Firstly, he always produces the sandwiches and flasks of strong coffee made exactly to my specifications on each of our sorties. Secondly, as a wheelchair user we now have access to a ‘wheelyboat’ which in mark two form is similar to a Dunkirk landing craft and a far more useful fishing platform than the sea going boats supplied to the rest of the angling world. This craft enables us to spread our equipment and ourselves out in great comfort without the ‘line traps’ and nooks and crannies of other boats which swallow and digest all manner of small but essential items of kit.

This relatively new acquaintance of mine also has the unfair ability to procure luck. Something that all fishermen need at varying times during their career but which eludes me totally on most days. In spite of his casting inadequacies Kevin can usually be relied upon to produce at least one decent trout when the going is hard. At our regular haunt on Carsington reservoir in Derbyshire this can be quite some feat, as it is often one of the ficklest of places in which to drown a fly.

New horizons are beckoning Kevin and I as we plan trips to Rutland water and Toft Newton in the coming year. I also have a plan to teach him to tie his own flies. Am I mad or what? No, I’m just sick of him using mine to catch the biggest fish!

On the days when the fish are absent it’s good to have a like minded lunatic to while away the time. To re-kindle past conquests, and plan expeditions for the future. I feel privileged to have two of these ‘lunatics’ with which to share my failures and successes, and my dreams for the biggest fish yet to be caught.

Would I give either of these pals up for a twenty pound rainbow trout? Of course not, although I might be tempted to swap one for the day!