Friday, 22 May 2020

Cowboys, sharks & trout


I’ve always thought Zane Grey to be a pretty cool name; in the annals of literature it belongs to the man who is the most read angling writer of all time. But, in truth, we could easily have never seen a single word of his in print.

He didn’t exactly have a natural path to literary fame. Born in Ohio, USA in 1872 he was christened Pearl by his dentist father, with whom he had a complicated and difficult relationship, most probably due to their similar character traits of being both irascible and antisocial. However, they shared some interest in dentistry as Zane was sent out on behalf of his father at the age of 17 to perform extraction house calls until the authorities intervened.

Zane was talented. Baseball – he could have turned pro having won a scholarship to Penn State. He swum for the university. Obtained a degree in dentistry which he eventually parlayed into a successful practice in New York City where he alleviated the boredom of his work by following his passion – writing. But the truth is he wasn’t very good at writing. He had yet to find what the publishing world like to call his ‘voice’, it finally finding full throat when he reached his forties around the time of WWI.

In 1905 Zane had married, the wealth of his new wife Dolly allowing him to chuck in dentistry and follow what were to be his three abiding pursuits for the remainder of his life: fishing, writing and mistresses. His son Romer estimates that he spent on average 300 days a year fishing, away from home for months on end. Dolly, who seemed to be unbothered by his chosen lifestyle, became his literary manager, the two splitting the proceeds of what was to become a considerable fortune 50/50.

For Zane Grey invented what we regard today as the Old Wild West. Cowboys and Indians. The wagon trains. The destiny of settlers spreading across a virgin America. Gunslingers. Bawdy saloons with swing doors. Horse and rider fording clear rivers, fringed with green pines with snow peaks in the distance. The huge open expanse of a nation barely discovered. It was largely a mythology of his invention based on his childhood love of history and mountain-lion hunting trips to the Grand Canyon with Jesse "Buffalo" Jones, a western hunter and guide.

He was a prodigious writer with prodigious sales. Over 40 million copies of his 90 books were sold. They were made into over a hundred Hollywood movies, not to mention TV series in later years. Such was the quantum of his output that writings found in his archive kept the presses rolling with new work until 1963, more than two decades after his death.

He was also a prodigious spender, largely on fishing. He travelled all over the world to fish, mostly for big game keeping the world abreast of his feats with numerous magazine and newspaper articles as he ticked off world records (11 in all) for marlin and all manner of billfish from Australia to Tahiti. He spent $300,000 on a bespoke boat; something around $5.5m in today’s money. Like Hemingway (they never met) he moved forward the sport of big game fishing, popularising it and also inventing the teaser, the hookless bait that attracts fish to the back of a boat.

So, why do I tell you all this? Well, Zane came to mind when I was fishing in Sunday. I’m a huge believer in using the rod tip as a disgorger. It takes a bit of practice and a certain insouciance to do everything you have ever been taught not to do but it works like a dream.

Once you have your fish within rod distance swiftly lower the tip, retrieve the line until taught at which point you have effectively pulled the barbless fly almost into the top ring. Then press the rod tip into the fish mouth. It usually takes a bit of a wiggle but suddenly you’ll find your rod will pop free. And a nonplussed fish will momentarily hang immobile in the water until it scoots off realising it is again free.

Now, for this method to work best play the fish hard and fast before it has much time to think about what is going on. But Zane, ever the thinker of what fish were thinking, practiced something a bit different with hammerhead sharks, rarely putting pressure on the fish, gently leading them to the side of the boat like a poodle on a lead. I tried this on Sunday and it really did work: instead of being goaded and furious the fish seemed just generally bemused.

Of course, with trout you don’t have quite the same post-capture issue. Zane’s unsuspecting sharks were roped at tail and nose before being hauled into the boat and which point their lack of exhaustion proved a great danger to those in the boat, with consequent injuries.

Did you rollover?

Did you rollover your booking to 2021? If you did, and now are going the fishing equivalent of cold turkey, don’t despair as there are still options.

I’m more than happy to try to ‘revive’ your original booking. Just ping me an email and I’ll lay out the options. Or if you wish to check out dates first for your particular booking click here to select your beat, then the red button for dates before contacting me.

Click & collect

It is strange how phrases evolve into common currency. A decade ago, the term click & collect was a bright new retailing idea. Not everyone in the industry thought it viable. Plenty of consumers had no idea what it meant. Or if they did, they doubted its utility. Today, boosted by the Covid crisis, it is as much part of our daily shopping life as a trip into the store and home delivery. 

It is even filtering down to the antediluvian fly fishing world. With our local Stockbridge shops closed, and the Royal Mail delivery service a bit spotty, you are welcome to collect your Fishing Breaks fly order from us.

Click & collect is available on request from Nether Wallop Mill, SO20 8EW. Please call or email prior to placing your order online. Minimum order two packs.

Fishing Cast No. 6

If you didn't catch up with the latest edition of The Fishing Cast it is still live.

We share the secret of our first post-lockdown fishing destination. Ponder casting into the Thames from the roof of the Savoy Hotel. The hackle trick to tying a good wet fly. And start the debate as to the best ever fishing film.

Listen to Fishing is back here.

It is not just about the trout

With all the excitement surrounding trout and the Mayfly we tend to forget about other fish in the river, but we are still in the spawning season for coarse fish.

Some, like grayling, do their thing early at the start of the close season in March, whilst others such as pike, are later.

Here’s a great photo snapped by our river keeper Simon Fields this time last year at Bullington Manor of two Esox lucius paired up, relaxed on a comfortable bed of starwort.

A bit of a cinematic theme this week but as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the page.

1)     What was the purpose of the original HOLLYWOOD sign?

2)     How many spaghetti Westerns did Clint Eastwood star in?

3)     What was the screen name of Marion Morrison?

Enjoy the holiday weekend.

Best wishes,

Founder & Managing Director

1)     A temporary advertisement for a local real estate development
2)     Three. A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
3)     John Wayne

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