The managers of the larger clearing banks are seldom chosen
for anything other than their efficiency with money and figures,
together with an astuteness for appraising the likelihood of a
loan being repaid, but only after sufficient interest has accrued
to the balance outstanding. They are seldom chosen for their
hand and eye co-ordination or their skill with a fly rod. That
these would be desirable attributes has yet to penetrate the
skulls of the powers-that-be.
One day, some years ago, my bank manager engaged me in a not
uncommon conversation, and a somewhat one-sided conversation
at that. I had the money, he wanted it back! Modern business
in a nutshell.
Into this jewel of dialogue dropped the word "fishing." I
cannot tell why this had not arisen before, he knew well what
business I was in, guns and fishing tackle, and he must have
been aware of what half of my customers did as a pastime. Be
that as it may, on this occasion the word brought about a sudden
change. Like water into ouzo, everything was different. His face
lost the money-induced strain, his hands lost the grasping fidgets,
his eyes lost their close pecuniary focus and fastened dreamily
on something in the distance, or, as it proved, in the past.
"Fishing" he murmured, as if the word was Swahili, "I haven't
gone fishing for years."
This, coming from a man of financial mien, pin-stripe suited and
with clean, trimmed fingernails, altered the tone of our conversation
irrevocably. "Overdraft? no need to discuss that now, I'm sure you
will do your best. Remember, if you paid off your overdraft tomorrow
the bank would stop making money from and we can't have that, can
we? Ha Ha Ha. Let's talk about fishing, and call me Peter, won't
Not like a bank manager, not at all.
It transpired that in his youth and early days with the bank,
he had been posted briefly to a small town near the coast of
Wales and had served under a manager who fished, and who had
taken this promising youngster with him on a few occasions.
In response to a not very subtle hint, I asked him if he would
like to come out fishing in the (indefinite) future.
(After all, I knew him well enough to borrow money from, but
not quite well enough for the intimacy of fishing together.)
The ferocity of his acceptance startled me. Under that pin-stripe
beat the heart of a closet countryman, if there is such a thing.
He speedily arranged our next meeting with the efficiency and
alacrity of his more apparent alter ego. I was to pick him up
one evening in the not very distant future, at 6pm, at his
flat. All this with little or no contribution from myself,
I was somehow swept along on a tide of sudden enthusiasm
and found myself agreeing to everything. Nothing so far
had disturbed the feeling that I had disturbed a sympathetic
soul. The mistake may have been mine, you will judge.
We arrived at the river at 7 PM, and as we got out of the car
I realised he had not brought a rod. He had hefted a large
holdall into the boot but nothing long enough to be a fly rod.
As he alighted, he looked around, a look of puzzlement on his
face. We were parked in a wide part of a small country lane,
high trees on one side, low rambling rhododendrons on the other
so little was visible beyond the immediate vegetation.
Not for nothing was this man entrusted with millions of other
people's money, nor was he afraid to firmly grasp the nettle
of uncertainty. "Where are we going?" The undercurrents to
this straightforward question spelt out something different.
Something like "Are you lost? What the hell are we doing here?"
So I thought I would explain the lie of the land. "The river
is just across the field behind the rhodies, we have a two-mile
stretch of left bank to fish, the water is running off nicely
after a spate, the sea trout are in and darkness is just about
to fall. As you can see I was trying to condense all the
salient facts into one pithy, to-the-point sentence, just
like a bank letter. To no avail.
"River?" he muttered, "spate, sea trout?"
It now, somewhat belatedly, transpired that not only had I not
mentioned sea trout, but had mentioned that we would be driving
to, or towards, a well-known seaside village better known for
its holiday attractions and funfairs than its proximity to a
very well known (to anglers) river. It also transpired that
the fishing reposing in the rosy glow of his memory, and the
only fishing he had done, was trolling for mackerel behind
the senior manager's speedboat. That there were other, less
rudimentary forms of angling had never been added to his
terms of reference.
Nevertheless, in for a penny, in for a pound, as we say. He
now proceeded to drag from his holdall sandwiches, beer,
waterproofs, (yellow plastic jobs, more redolent of North
Sea oilrigs than game fishing apparel) and two very
dilapidated wooden handline frames complete with rusty
I now had the unenviable task of explaining, as if to a child,
the differences between the sweet science of fly fishing for
sea trout at night, which I thought he expected, and the rather
less delicate one of handlining for mackerel which he had so
enthusiastically anticipated. We had enough daylight left
for me to try to initiate him into the mysteries of basic
fly casting, made doubly difficult by the fact that he had
very obviously never held a rod in his hand in his life.
Luckily, I had a very old spare rod in the car, so with
great trepidation, I assembled this and put it into his hand.
I realised that night fishing was the last thing on which
to launch such a total beginner, but bewilderment had given
way to such enthusiasm that I could not bring myself to dampen
down his fires. "It can't be too different to catching mackerel,
can it?" I allowed this to pass with only a sharp, barely hiss of
breath between my firmly gritted teeth.
He was not an easy pupil, but after twenty minutes could just
about put out enough line to suffice, and in roughly the right
direction. With strict instructions drummed into his ears he
was placed at the head of a running pool, armed with one fly
only, a big one, a short strong cast, clear space behind for
even the most wayward cast and he was as ready as I could
The light had by now just about gone. I was torn between
staying close to help and encourage, and putting a great
distance between myself and certain piscatorial confusion.
I sat on a rock to tie up a cast and check what was in which
pocket, net on clip, torch on hook, hip flask to hand, all
those little details that the omission of only one can spell
disaster at night. As I rose to my feet and waded gently into
the first pool, already lengthening line, a shout of elation
shattered the quiet of the evening.
"I've got one - I think!"
I dropped everything and hared down to him. He had indeed "got one."
A spirited sea trout of about two and a half pounds had the stupidity
to attach itself firmly to his fly and make off with it. It
appeared to be so firmly attached that even the inevitable
slack line didn't have the effect it would most certainly
have had if I had been holding the rod and had the good fortune
to be connected to such a nice fish.
Hot instructions rent the night air. "Give him some line!"
"Take in the slack. . ."
"Give a little."
"By letting go of course - No not all of it!"
"Hold him now."
"For God's sake stop him, he's nearly over the weir. Now bring
him over the net - not like that! Gently or you'll break the
cast. Just lead him firmly this way, don't drag him."
Against all the odds the fish was in the net, a lovely fresh
fish, newly in from the sea and as bright as a new shilling.
Looking up, I saw a silly grin spread over my companion's face
(you have all seen it haven't you?) The awful truth dawned on
me, he was hooked, hooked as firmly as his sea trout. His next
words sealed my doom.
"That was fun, take the hook and I'll catch another!" He thought
this was just like catching mackerel!
I said nothing, contenting myself with removing the hook and
sending the new convert back to lashing the water to a foam,
moving out of reach, and I must confess, only just resisting
the temptation to push him in! It was somewhat of a relief
when the adrenalin subsided and relative boredom raised its
head. "Let's have a sandwich, they have all gone."
This, to a dedicated night fisherman faced with recent proof
that the fish were in, was nothing short of sacrilege,
but - home we duly went, I driving dourly, constantly repeating
to myself that there would be other nights and other fish. The
grinning schoolboy beside me was merrily making plans to buy
rod, reel, line and anything else needed to indulge freely in
this new sport, at which he was obviously going to be very
good, possibly even a natural!
My thoughts were on the avoiding the ethical decision which
now faced me. Will I ever get fishing by myself again, or do
I have to move my account to another bank? There was only one
other bank in the town at the time, and the manager there was,
I had heard was a golf fanatic. Golf? No way!
Many months of casting instruction and gradual angling
enlightenment lay ahead, but at least the overdraft was safe.
The things we do for a little financial security!
~ Jim Clarke
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, longer ago than he cares to remember,
and on leaving school went into his family's business - Gunmakers
and Fishing Tackle manufacturers. By the time he joined the firm
it had become more retail than manufacturing , though the history
and reputation of the company was somewhat patrician, which stood
them in good stead in the face of the modern, retail only,
fly-by-night businesses which proliferated in the fifties and
sixties in the climate of leisure time explosion. A few years later,
feeling somewhat stifled in a company run by father and two warring
uncles, he left to take over an ailing gun maker in Chester, England.
He was to stay there for thirty pleasant years, retiring some six
years ago, ostensibly to have more time to fish. He had given up
shooting, but in reality appears to have retired to garden, decorate
and construct THINGS in the garden.†He has, nevertheless managed to
fish in Ireland, Scotland Wales and England, with trips to Sweden
and Alaska thrown in. You will find more of Jim's writing in our
Readers Casts section.