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The Artist

By Jim Clarke hbicton@andj.fsnet.co.uk


Tom was a fitter in Harland & Wolff's shipyard in Belfast. He was also a trout fisherman of sorts, a drunk by habit and a fly tier of pure genius.

I was brought up to appreciate and eventually sell flies by Hardy. In their heyday, Walker - Bampton, Alex Martin, and Ogden Smith, the last three now sadly gone, even Hardy's a shadow of their former selves. The flies produced by these companies, when compared with today's often third world offerings, were miniature works of art. Every wing, wet or dry, was identical to it's fellows, set at the perfect angle. Every hackle was beautifully flared at the throat, each body tapered as were all the others in the box. Order a dozen flies of this quality and they could not be told apart. Dry flies were perky and buoyant looking even before use and were above all, lifelike in the extreme.

Even against this standard of quality, Tom's flies stood out like diamonds among dross. Things of beauty and life, the interpretation of patterns inspired by who knows what quirk of personality lurking in the shell of a common man.

To illustrate with but one example, Tom's Iron Blue Dun was unlike its commercial fellows in their drab slate-grey mufti, with the obligatory scarlet tip to the woollen body. Tom had decided that his Iron was to be tempered. The body was pheasant tail, a seldom used material in those pre-Sawyer days, dyed a blue-black, the colour of document ink. The wing was the dark blue mallard feather used on Butchers, matching hackle and whisks. To suggest the red body tip, there were two turns of red among the pheasant tail. This gave the merest, but noticeable, suggestion of the red body end of the natural insect to such effect that one picked up the artificial with care, as if it would crush.

Everything this amazing man tied was like this. A Michelangelo of the tying vice. Tom's weekly wages, paid on Friday night, might last till Sunday. On the other hand they probably would not. Belfast has more pubs per head of population than any other city in Britain, and Tom lived within easy reach of too many of them. Come the early part of the week and the ends would have great difficulty meeting. Tom would appear in the shop offering a few dozen of his exquisite flies for sale. We would always buy anything he offered because, as you can imagine, they found ready customers.

On many occasions we suggested that a more constant and predictable supply would be welcome, and might supply a little extra income. We also frequently asked Tom to tie a dozen 'specials' for a customer who appreciated such beauty. To no avail! The flies never appeared. When he tied the few flies we did manage to purchase from time to time, (no one could work the timing out), but appear on occasions they did, and illuminated their surrounds like lights in the darkness.

Pink Wickham
I still have a few in my pigskin fly wallet, itself my grandad's. Heckham - Peckham, Defiant, Woodcock Red Spinner, Le Fanu, Fenian, all the old patterns which have been superceded by the flashy modern monstrosities. It cannot be that trout have tired of the old flies, it must be the angler who has become disenchanted by the Pink Wickhams and Black Spinners in favour of Dog Nobblers and Cat's Whiskers.

I know I exaggerate, but that is the way I feel today, comparing the delicacy and fidelity of yesterday's flies with the modern offerings for jaded palates. We no longer seem inclined to coax the trout to feed on our suggestions, more to bludgeon them into taking the gaudy examples of an ad-man's imagination. The producers of angling magazines these days seem to feel an obligation to invent (or encourage their readers to do it for them) new flies by the dozen for every month's issue.

The thinking, artistic tiers of days gone by must be spinning uncomfortable in their places of rest.

Trout still exist on the same food they have eaten since time began. I sometimes dream of leading a crusade to reinstate beauty into flies and fishing, and to teach the modern angler that there is so much more to trout fishing than catching fish. ~ 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.


More Fly Fishing in Europe:
Zulu's - By Alan the Highlander
Teal Blue Variant - By Alan the Highlander
Green Highlander - By Alan the Highlander
North Donegal, Ireland - By Arthur Greenwood
Marble Trout in Slovenia - By Tomaz Modic
Red and Cinnamon Sedge - By Alan Goodwin
Rogan of Donegal - By Arthur Greenwood
Bug Tank Benefits - By Peter Lapsley
River Piddle, U.K. - By Paul Slaney
A Day on the River Test By Mike Pratt
Ladyís Fish Finder Fly By Mike Pratt
Cast Again? - By Mike Pratt
Just Good to be There - By Mike Pratt
Why Fish? - By Mike Pratt
The pleasure of anticipation . . . - By Mike Pratt
A Pleasant and Surprising Day - By Mike Pratt
Donít duck the issue! - By Mike Pratt
To Russia with Love - By Ron Gras
Just Simple Pleasure - By Mike Pratt
Rich - Beyond the Dreams of Avarice - By Mike Pratt
The Good Place (Ireland) - By Jim Clarke
The Elusive Lake - By Jim Clarke
The Big Rod - By Jim Clarke
The Bank Manager's Fish - By Jim Clarke
Catch and Release . . .or not - By Jim Clarke
Fish On Half a Rod - By Jim Clarke
Sockeye the Easy Way - By Jim Clarke
The Odd Couple - By Jim Clarke
Fly Fishing Scotland - By Franz Grimley
The Artist - By Jim Clarke
One to Remember - By Jim Clarke
The Italian Secret - By Ralph Shuey
Opening Day on an English Chalk Stream - By Roger Ellis
Kolpakova River, Western Russia - By Rob Merrill
Fishing in the Czech Republic - By Tim Baldwin
2004 Fishing Season in the Czech Republic - By Tim Baldwin

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