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The Odd Couple

By Jim Clarke

George L. and David C. were a strange pair of angling companions, but close friends they were and remained so for many years, fishing for trout in any or all of Ulster's streams and rivers.

David was, if anything, an aesthete, a man of quiet and gentle mien, borne out by his looks. He was tall, thin and slow moving, a reader and thinker. He could expound, quietly but authoritatively, on any subject under the sun, often with an unorthodox but seemingly reasonable slant. A man of fair but not robust health, he worked as the attendant in the billiard room of the leading gentleman's club in Belfast. I say "leading" with tongue in cheek for there were at this time two such institutions in the city. One, the oldest, catered for, and was frequented by, the "gentry," the country aristocrat and the tweeded wealthy. Fusty, cobwebbed and staffed by "retainers," this club was "old money."

The other club, which today we might call "nouveau riche," was the bastion of a membership composed of businessmen of varying degrees of financial success. That is not to suggest that any members might be suspected of meager success, the fees saw to that, but the qualifications ran from very rich to very, very rich. The atmosphere was one of relative bustle. Staffed by stewards and waiters if you please, orders for food or drink arrived eventually (this was Ireland) instead of being forgotten. The décor was fresh, if not modern, clean if not sparkling, in total contrast to the older establishment, which appeared to have been decorated when built in the mists of time, and apparently never since. In the easy atmosphere of the original club David could let his mind wander over the vast range of his interests and his sole physical pursuit, fishing, comparatively undisturbed by the demands of the members. They were more interested in fox hunting, salmon fishing and the exorbitant modern prices of strong drink than anything as active and cerebral as billiards.

George was a plumber. It is not enough to call George a plumber. He was the archetypal plumber, the essence of all plumbers.

Sartorial elegance had passed him by without noticing him in the passing. The thought of style or "dressing up" was as foreign to George as the surface of Mars. He was a comfortable man! A man whose pockets sagged and bulged, whose cap showed signs of having been frequently pushed back from the forehead to more easily facilitate head scratching, and moreover had an interesting variety of scorch marks on it. In the heat of the moment one has to hold a hot soldered pipe with something!

Jacket and trousers bore evidence of hawk white and flux, and although they did the job for which they were intended, keeping George warm and decently covered, even their owner would probably have admitted to their being a trifle past their best.

You can now imagine my odd couple, one neat, and tidy, quiet and, by nature apparently, well dressed (if that makes anything but Irish sense) the other, scruffy, bordering on the downright disreputable, uncaring. A rumbustious character with building site tastes in food, reading matter and language.

You can probably almost see them on the riverbank. Yes? Forget it!

When these two fished together, as they did as often as possible, at least once a week, the role reversal had to be seen to be believed. George proved to be a well dressed, almost natty model angler, clad from head to toe in "what the discerning fisherman wears." He indulged himself in clothing and tackle of the best, and was a beautiful sight to behold. Though no-one ever had the temerity to tell him so to his face. He was a devoted follower of Alexander Wanless, the father of light line spinning.

This should, to anglers of my generation, suggest threadlining or light line fishing with tiny devon or quill minnows, a la Wanless. George used a Hardy split cane Wanless rod in the 4lb. Class, with a Hardy Altex 1 reel, at that time the prince of spinning reels. He was totally impervious to the slighting comments of his fishing acquaintances, fly fishermen all, saying "I fish my minnow like a fly." Indeed, in the lightest water he could take fish as well or better than most.

David, on the other hand, was as aesthetic in his choice of tackle as in all other things. He habitually used an 8'6" Hardy Featherweight Perfection, a delicate wisp of a thing in the days when trout rods were of 9'6" or 10'. His angling apparel was, however, somewhat redolent of George's working garb, past it's best. In fact it is difficult to imagine such a collection of clothing ever having had a "best." Old tweeds, suspected of having been "hand-me-downs," a common euphemism for thrown out but thought better of, and regathered "just in case." When this lot got a good wetting it was hard to say if the smell of great age or the reek of past fish was in the ascendancy, but like George's working gear, they kept him warm and decent, and as David also claimed the natural colours of the ancient tweeds were an acceptable camouflage on the river. Like George, he was a comfortable man.

David tied his own flies, and things of beauty they were. A mixture of Clyde style and traditional Irish, these wisps of art would deceive a swallow as readily as a trout, so lifelike were they. When he tied lake or sea trout flies they were spare and light, sparkling with the "against the light" translucency so essential to Irish patterns and so beautifully described by Kingsmill Moore in his classic book A Man May Fish.

These two made an engaging, if odd, spectacle on the river. George, sartorially splendid, spinning upstream with small half or three-quarter inch devons, always blue and silver, David following close behind and still taking fish on his wisps of flies and the lightest of casts.

They argued, oh! how they argued, David professed a contempt for those who would sink to spinning, calling it "organ grinding" and worse. George dismissed flyfishing as "namby-pamby" and fussy. Both however, and it was clear to everyone else, had a profound respect for the other's skills, and would defend them aggressively to all outsiders.

Strangely for those days, they returned all they caught. Neither would eat trout! Their fishing trips were always carefully arranged so that as lunchtime approached, lo and behold! There just happened to be a pub within easy walking distance.

This surely is the epitome of the art of trout fishing, and should serve as a salutary example to all modern anglers. The sport and the challenge were everything, and if the discussion of the day's activity grew a little heated over the evening's Guinness, then that only added to the overall pleasure.

Both are gone now, but wherever they are fishing they will be arguing but still catching fish and putting them back. They remained inseparable companions for many years, fishing with other anglers, but always together, truly an attraction of opposites! ~ Jim Clarke

About Jim:

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.

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The Odd Couple - By Jim Clarke
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