I am aware that the word above is a strange one to
anyone born outside Northern Ireland, but its meaning
will be explained in due course, but first I will ignore
it and shoot off at a tangent as in most good fishing
Some few years ago a customer had a humbling experience,
although being him, he possibly didn't really notice,
you will judge.
Charles had been a business neighbour and acquaintance
for some time, an accountant with an office in the building
next door. So far as we were aware he had never engaged in
any field sport. Charles had probably never been in a field.
This man of figures walked into the shop one fine day and
announced to all and sundry---"I have decided to take up
A bombshell! Charles fishing? Charles in the open air? Charles
not in a pinstripe suit and without a calculator in his hand?
But Charles was adamant.
Sir Thomas X was a very successful and wealthy businessman,
and had recently become a client of Charles', in a small way.
He was also a dedicated fisherman and had the fishing bug
quite badly--- full set of rods from Hardy's, stretch of
water in Scotland, fishing parties in Ireland for favoured
friends and business acquaintances, etc. You get the idea?
Charles had decided to launch himself into this deep
commercial end. He would join the club. He would catch
fish with Sir Thomas (Tom) He would grace fishing forays
into the depths of the far-flung regions of the country.
He would be known as the fishing accountant. Just like that!
The fact that Sir Thomas (Tom) might also put a little
more of his valuable business Charles' way, was obviously
not important, ----but if it so happened--- then one was,
after all, an accountant. . .
To give Charles his due, he took casting lessons first.
I was invited to Sunday lunch but the casting demo and
lessons did not materialise. Things got in the way. One
was a phone call from Sir Thomas (Tom)! On the next Sunday
came the casting lessons and Charles proved to be a not
impossible pupil. In his garden, on a large lawn, he was
quite quickly laying out respectable line with a trout
rod and getting a grasp of the other essentials, casts,
flies, retrieves etc. "Oh! I like this, I feel I am going
to be good at this."
Next day the shop was mobilised like a military operation
in aid of Charles' projection into fishing society. Every
conceivable item of trout fishing tackle was produced. Rod,
reel, spare drums, lines - floating, sinking and intermediate,
net, flies, fly boxes, casts and spools of cast making material,
scissor pliers, tweezers, priest and containers for everything.
Finally Brady's biggest bag was supplied as a container for
Suddenly, a hitch. Clothing! Charles had forgotten the
outdoor equivalent of the pinstripe suit. Fishing apparel
must be organised. And it was. Moleskin trousers, Tattersal
shirt, wool tie with a salmon fly embroidered thereon,
tweed stockings, the essential French rubber boots with
the leather lining and the zip up the side (like Tom wears).
Finally a Norfolk jacket was judged quite dashing (in a
somewhat outdoorsy way) and duly purchased. Topped with
the regulation deerstalker and clad in the regulation
Barbour jacket, Charles was complete! Possibly the most
elegantly turned customer we had ever sent on his way.
Even we could think of nothing else he needed, quite an
admission for the tackle trade!
Now this may be where we went wrong, or perhaps it was
inevitable. Charles had sense enough to agree when we
suggest that a little preliminary practice and experience
might be a good, nay essential idea, before accepting
the invitation which was bound to come shortly, especially
now that a box of dry flies was prominently displayed on
Charles' desk where customers, and Sir Thomas (Tom)
could hardly miss it.
We suggested a local put and take Stillwater where enough
of the water was within reach of a casting beginner not
to discourage him and the clientele was not known to be
too fussy who they fished shoulder to shoulder with.
Our hero duly presented himself at lakeside early one
morning. The preliminaries were negotiated. Rod assembled,
reel attached, line through rings, cast on end and fly
on end of that. Charles was GO!
An hour passed, nothing had happened, no fish had the
courtesy to attach itself. Disillusionment lay lurking
around the bend.
To make matters worse the chap on the next casting platform
had caught fish! Three, to be precise. This individual had
worked out that the fish were taking buzzers about nine
inches down and had adapted his tackle and technique
accordingly. He was a fairly scruffy chap, black wellies,
jeans and a blue donkey jacket of the type supplied to
their workers by one of the country's larger building
companies, in fact their name was emblazoned across the back!
Curious and envious glances were cast in his direction
until at last Charles could stand it no longer. He sidled
over (accountants do seem to sidle rather well) and struck
up a conversation.
"You've been lucky."
"What did you catch them on?"
"Yus, greased floating fifteen foot leader, six inches
sinking on t' end and size sixteen black buzzer."
This was as ancient Greek to our hero, and by now it
was apparent that some lack of conversational sophistication
was about to curtail this blossoming friendship. This may
well have topped up the pressure on Charles to some degree.
Be that as it may, it was now that Charles uttered the phrase
which he was never to live down and ultimately brought his
fishing career to an end, branded, as he was about to be,
as totally unsuitable to be a fisherman.
"You caught all those fish on that little thing?"
"But-but-you don't even look the part!"
Now to take you back twenty five years and in the passing
explain "tatterdemalion" to all and sundry.
Raymond and I had four days arranged in Donegal. We were
staying in Inver and were going to fish the Eanymore, our
favourite river, based at our favourite hotel. This was
the archetypal Irish fishing hotel. A large old manor
house that had seen better (much) better days, but yet
displayed and seemed proud of its seedy glamour. The leather
armchairs were cavernous, no matter that copious quantities
of horsehair were escaping with enthusiasm from every joint,
the beds were bottomless, the drinks were large, the meals
The bar was in the cellar, dark and mysterious. Many aged
bottles hid themselves on the old oak shelves and had been
there for ever, or so it appeared. Here were sold Guiness
and Bushmills whisky for proper drinkers, and sherry was
available for the occasional lady who might brave the wilds
of Donegal in the company of a fishing husband.
Breakfast, the fisherman's meal, was traditional Irish.
Porridge, followed by kippers, and then "Will two eggs be
enough with your bacon, sir" and "Will you be all right
for toast, sir? We've sent out for another couple of loaves."
We had the hotel to ourselves this weekend, the season
having barely opened. No rising at the scraik of dawn
for us. A leisurely breakfast, heavy on the bacon, eggs
and toast, two or three pots of coffee and then a gentle
sally to the river. Not that we weren't keen, far from it,
but we had the whole day before us, and most of the night
too if sea trout were in evidence. Between a full day's
fishing and a night foray lay a dinner fit for giants. We
saw no reason to deny ourselves anything except possibly
a formal lunch. Beer and sandwiches by the river would
have to do.
The Eanymore, in the stretches where we liked to fish,
was heavily overgrown in places, clear banked in others.
Murphy's Law decreed that the best pools were surrounded
by trees, bushes and thorns, the clear banks seemed to hold
little delight for our quarry, they avoided these areas
like the plague.
As with the hotel, we had the river to ourselves, it really
was too early in the year, but so what? Hope springs
We pulled the car into the side of the lane, put up the
rods and sallied forth.
There was an angler there! In our favourite starting spot!
There before us!
We had never seen anyone here at this time of the year,
not here, not in our pet spot.
What to do? Go elsewhere? Push him in? Approach him
and make ourselves thoroughly objectionable so he would
move in self-defence? We lurked in the undergrowth and
"Gosh!" said Raymond, that was a lovely cast."
The shock wearing off, we began to take in other facts than
this interloper's mere presence. That his casting was superb,
smooth and effortless was immediately clear. A soft split
cane rod was wafted ( the only word ) in the air, the line
followed as night follows day with no visible application
of power. It just flowed. We were watching a master at work.
Other things soon became apparent. Irishmen are not noted
for their dedication to sartorial elegance, Irish fishermen
even less. This character broke even those rules. You will
have seen the round balls of tumbleweed which feature often
in Western films to suggest an air of desolation. He looked
a bit like one of those with a hat on. Short, rotund, legless
in the proper sense and hairy, those were the first impressions,
followed by the realisation that he was dressed in the hairiest,
most dilapidated set of tweeds I, for one, had ever seen. He
was a short man, short legged and bullet headed. The overall
look was of a little hairy ball with a fly rod sticking out of it.
We watched, fascinated. The rod put out a beautiful upstream
cast, almost of its own volition, and three flies landed on
the water like a maiden's kiss. A pudgy left hand pulled line
back smoothly and a fish broke water as it took. Just like
that! It was as if the fish had been expected. There was no
shock, no excitement. No incredulity. Just a tightening then
a controlled playing of a spirited sea trout of about three
pounds. We realised that this fellow knew where the fish
were, unlike us, he didn't just fish the water, he fished
for a fish, and it seemed as if he usually caught it.
We became aware that our trespasser (or so we considered him)
was knee deep in the water, contributing no little to the
round hairy outline. The fish, played out, was brought to
the hand, unhooked and gently released. Released! In
those days we did not release fish. We ate fish. When we had
enough fish for the next two meals for ourselves and immediate
family we stopped fishing.
This man released fish. This was a man with principles we
didn't understand. Why fish if you were so disinterested
in eating fish? Years later we both understood and indeed
practised catch and release but at that time it was strange
We drew back as the figure in the stream turned as if to
come our way, we popped behind a hedge as if we had been
doing something wrong. Peeping out a few moments later we
saw our angler proceeding upstream to the next run. He
really was the untidiest fisherman we had ever seen. He
carried no bag, so every pocket bulged, no net and his hat
had seen better days, probably years! Old fashioned double
texture waders adorned his legs. Waders that were more
patch than wader. Not patches of the same material mind
you, that almost universal beige material of the past. No,
these patches were of red rubber and black rubber, rubber
that had come from inner tubes and cut roughly, very roughly
to shape. The leather brogues normally worn with waders had
given way to heavy hobnailed boots, one black, one brown.
The whole was surmounted by a hat, a hat in hairy Donegal
tweed. For those of you not acquainted with Donegal tweed,
it can be very hairy indeed. It was liberally covered in
flies. Flies of every size and colour, old flies and very
old flies, flies that had been there forever. The jacket
was indescribable. It had sleeves and reached the top of
the waders. Nothing else could be said about it.
The man was a tatterdemalion! Defeated morally and territorially
we slunk away, deciding on this occasion to start elsewhere,
leaving the stranger to practice his consummate art in peace.
That superb casting was on our minds all day and if nothing
else put us in a self critical frame of mind. "Surely I could
reach that stone." "Perhaps a little less effort is needed."
"Oops! The fly hit the water a little smartly that time" Such
acknowledgement of one's faults is bound to be the first step
in their elimination.
We sat down to dinner that evening in a sober frame of mind.
We had been taught a few lessons that day, together with
the fact that we had caught no fish. Dinner would be steak,
breakfast would be bacon and eggs again!
We asked John, the hotel proprietor, if he had heard of
a strange untidy sort of angler on the river. "There is
no-one else here at all, except maybe the doctor might
"Doctor Humphries. He has a bit of a cottage up on the hill
yonder and comes down from the city now and then. He fishes
like a mad thing when he's here, fishes at all hours of the
day and night. He's a great fisherman altogether."
Still the penny did not drop. "What does he do in the city?"
"He is a professor of something in the university and writes
books and stuff."
"What sort of books?"
"Och! Dry old stuff about ancient ruins and so on, and
a few about fishing and the like."
"Humphries! Frederick Humphries! Just the foremost angler
and writer of his day, that's all. The author of three or
four standard reference works on trout and sea trout fishing
in the west of Ireland. A casting champion of repute. He
even almost had a Hardy rod named after him, to join the
ranks of Halford, Bridgett, Grey, Kieth Rollo and many
other famous brothers of the angle, but declined the honour.
We had watched but failed to appreciate what we were watching.
We had missed the opportunity of talking with one of our heroes.
What pearls of wisdom might have come our way had we not
mentally dismissed the man as a poaching tatterdemalion,
and not to put too fine a point on it, one who didn't even
look the part! ~ Jim Clarke