By Don Grant
Forget about the rod, the reel, the dizzying array of dry-flies, a priest, landing net, nippers, zinger, hat, sunglasses and forceps, the most important piece of the equipment on any fishing trip is a corkscrew. The most important thing about fishing, after all, is the picnic.
Check list: one bottle of chilled Mâcon-Lugny (in a sleaver from the freezer); one bottle of Provençal rosé (as before); one bottle of Gigondas (or any other big Rhône, as one may be able to grab a few lower case zzzz’s under the tree, when the fish take their siesta at around about the same time); half a dozen Peronis (to be opened only in an emergency, usually at about eleven o’clock); olives (a mixture of French with anchovies and Greek with herbs, previously from an Italian deli on the Fulham Road, the most expensive shop in London, apart from Jack Barclay); mixed salted nuts (M&S Luxury, pretty much the best); a mélange of salamis and proscuitto di San Daniele; plum cherries, celery and salad, with basil and rocket; cheese (lump of Montgomery, slice of Vignotte); fruit (whatever was in season).
Nowadays, I tend to do a one-stop shop at Waitrose. If anything is forgotten, or left behind in the fridge, there is always a chance to stop off en route to the river. I like Stockbridge, and the wide old sheep drover’s High Street reminds me of those Western towns, with horse rails outside the saloon. Today, it’s all 4x4’s. The Grosvenor Hotel, with its Georgian facade and grand porte-cochere, stands elegantly in the middle of the town.
There is an excellent deli, Thyme and Tides, which sells a variety of fresh-baked bread and even better olives than those thieving Italians. One is also tempted by a pork pie, something which only feels right on the riverbank, and pickled onions. There’s a Thermos of coffee, with rich, dark chocolate for accompaniment and a hip-flask of Talisker for those awkward moments when a long way from the hut.
Also in the hamper are enamel plates;,cutlery, napkins, table-cloth, sharp knife, small chopping board, rubbish bag, plastic glasses (if that is not a contradiction); another corkscrew (even though one was put in the kit-bag, there is always the potential danger of a malfunction); aquarelle pencils, Shmincke water colour box and Arches water colour block (these are possibly the most important items of the whole trip – well, apart from the food, wine, corkscrew and fishing rod).
The first time I was taken fishing on a chalk-stream a few years ago, I took my painting equipment, just in case I didn’t catch anything, and I could slope off and do some sketching. Wet-in-wet, English pastoral watercolours, with willows trailing their fingers into the slow-moving stream, that sort of thing.
My friend and tutor Robert was most patient in trying to teach me how to cast, unhooking flies from blackthorns on the back-cast, untangling the most intricate knots that no-one couldn’t have tied blindfold in pitch black and and gave me the best piece of advice about casting; this was to imagine there was an apple stuck on the end of my rod, and I was trying to flick it over to the other bank, keeping my wrist absolutely rigid, with the minimum of effort.
In between watching the river and casting, we were grazing and sipping the rosé. Then it was time for lunch. The rosé done, the Gigondas did what it said on the label, and, as there was no activity on the river, we both dozed in the dappled shade of a beech tree. It was late afternoon when we ventured out along the bank, and immediately noticed some activity on the far side of a pool under an elder. On about the third or fourth cast, a fish came up quickly from the shadows and took my mayfly. I am not sure who was the more surprised, the fish or myself. Robert was delighted, but somewhat nonchalant, as he continued to instruct me as how best to land it, keeping it out of the reeds, not pulling it in too fast, letting it go downstream, but all the time, keeping the pressure on.
I had landed my first ever catch, a beautiful brownie. There it lay, twitching on the grass, a sleek, shiny, one and three-quarter pounder, all cadmium oranges, burnt yellow ochres, dark purples and browns with red dots. It juddered when I whacked the poor thing over the head and then it lay still. I filled my water holder from the stream, took out my pad, and knelt on the bank where I arranged the fish just above it.
I quickly drew the outline life-size with a fine water-based Pentel pen, then laid on some colours, dark at first, letting the pen bleed into it, and quickly building up the streamlined shape with body colour, leaving an iridescent reflection along the length of its body. I then let it dry, and added more detail of the fluted fins and tail with the pen, and again smudged it with more water, to give it a ‘fluid’ look. I then annotated the drawing with the weight, the fly with which it was taken, the beat and the stream, and the date.
My friend caught two more, but mine was to be my only catch. Then it was too dark to fish, or paint, so we took our catch home. I sketched his second fish in the kitchen, prior to gutting it, and was amazed to see how dull it had become, compared to the one I painted on the bank fresh from the river. I had the paintings framed, gave Robert one he caught, and sold the other two. Pricing was not a problem. I would charge by the pound; a hundred pounds a pound was a bit of a conceit, but that would do for a quarter of an hour’s work. At least, until I land a twenty pound salmon, and then I might have to re-structure my pricing.