Off-Season Lessons

It’s late August. In less than a fortnight, depending on where you stand on matters of law, the revitalising benefits of self-imposed abstinence, the rights of a fish to enjoy a respectable measure of conjugal privacy or simple convention, we can again fish our rivers.

Opinions on the necessity for a closed-season vary. In many parts of the world a closed-season is not observed and regulations may even differ between provinces of the same country. This is something that you really should check before planning a trip. In a turn of events that I swear to you is true a friend recently wrestled himself free from the horrors of international air travel to find himself, waders up, on the South Island. At eleven time zones from home he was quite nearly literally on the other side of the world – during the closed season.

The same seasonal rule does not apply on the North Island, as he now knows and really should have checked before leaving. Assuming that regulations are standard within a country is potentially fatal and while the indigenous place names over there may all be fairly confusing to the touring angler (the Fish and Game website for all the world appears to have been designed by a well-intentioned and, it appears, largely successful member of PETA) it’s the sort of oversight that can drive an otherwise stable man of balanced temperament into a dark, vast abyss of despair and self-loathing.

In my group of friends a schoolboy error of this kind would have not too improbably resulted in his either being abandoned on the side of a deserted road to die or with his brutal murder at the hands of his companions. I don’t pretend to know how many blows with an aluminium rod tube a man needs to receive or where they need to fall before he expires from blunt force trauma, but I’d expect that it’s rather a few and that they would continue until long after it was absolutely necessary. One can only dream to live in a world where justice and common-sense prevails and where before a jury of their peers his tube-wielding companions would be found not guilty on the grounds of “the bastard bringing it on himself“. It’s not a judgement that I’d rush to take on appeal either; but then I like a bit of Old Testament style justice as and when a point needs to be unequivocally made.

In the Northern Hemisphere, where winters are miserable bloody things with lead-grey skies punctuated by frequent squalls and frozen rivers, anglers have this season of idleness a lot easier than do we in the south. For the average pasty Northerner spending as much time as possible indoors seems a little less like a spell of incarceration and more like a pleasantly cosy form of self-preservation. Sure, confining a person with a love for the outdoors will, given time, most likely drive him crazy, but I believe that nothing is harder on a stream fisher’s spirit than walking around during the closed-season in short trousers and a tee shirt while his diary is uncongested and there’s river not much more than an hour up drag. (When I say “walking” understand this to mean moping about and muttering swearwords under one’s breath.)

As a pious monk repeats a well-worn mantra I’m doing what I always do at this time of the year – phoning and messaging people who live on or near our rivers for updates on prevailing conditions. Apparently, for example, today saw a berg wind in the Kamberg that a local farmer and good friend tells me will result in the perfect rate of melting of the recent snow that still covers the surrounding peaks. I’m not even sure that I can comprehend what constitutes the perfect rate for snow to melt, or that it even has one, but I’ve learned something new to ask in future off-seasons. To get my head around the concept I asked my friend to hike up and perhaps video it for a few minutes for me but he instead suggested that I indulge in a bit of sex and travel.

It has for me indeed been a winter of learning. I learned, for instance, that draining a great many free craft beers and then mischievously trying to drive up the bids at charity auctions (it was a great cause and there was the not so insignificant influence of the aforementioned ale) is a great way to leave the party with an expensive new vice, a blinder of a hangover and a lot of explaining to do when you get home. The vice stood in my cupboard for weeks and when I could no longer stand what I took to be its constant judgemental glare I gathered myself and set about trying to tie some flies.

My education from that point accelerated as I went on to learn that modern fly patterns are not tied with the same materials that I bought back in the summer of ’91 and which are largely still in their original unopened wrapping. With the names of a few vogue materials scribbled down on a list, I went shopping. Stopping by a few tackle shops and grabbing a couple of bags of stuff that claimed to be everything from glow in the dark to having a relative density higher than the current crop of American voters and what amounted to, at best, a few milligrams of hooks I learned another valuable lesson – fly tying materials today make the purchase of a 1kg brick of premium quality cocaine feel like handing loose change to the homeless guy at the traffic light. I’ve done the maths and the seven flies that I’ve tied thus far each work out to roughly the same price as a small but discretely renovated French chateau.

In between their own hours at the vice my friends spent the winter in a single-minded quest to see who can amass the most tackle. Two in particular have drawn the unwanted attentions of customs officials, so frequently do parcels from foreign lands arrive at their doorsteps. Between them they’ve driven the market in collectible tackle to stratospheric heights. Just listening to them talk is enough to drive you nuts. Reciting those names makes them sound as though they’ve stepped out from the pages of a Tolkein novel and are leading an army of Dwarvish soldiers in a rousing battle song.

Megoff, Saracione, Ballan and Zwarg.

Hart, Bogden and Mohlin.

Fix them onto a Garrison or Payne,

Up the rivers a’strollin’

Right now my small circle of closest stream fishing buddies is active on a chat group that is beeping incessantly from where my phone lies at my left elbow. This distraction is causing me lapses in concentration and is resulting in some truly atrocious poetry.

The discussion is varied. Everything from how fishing nymphs in favour of dries may very well determine your sexual orientation, the minimum creature comforts necessary in a decent fishing cottage and an all-out no-holds-barred pissing contest on who caught the biggest / prettiest / most or strongest fish last season has ensued. Photographs posted prove or are intended to disprove wild assertions. Shots have been fired and the wounded are being mercilessly bayoneted where they fall.

The lads are restless. I empathise deeply.

If I have to explain to you the excitement of what waiting for the season to open means to a fisher of streams then you are not, in any sense of the term, a fisher of streams.

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