Rivers and streams change constantly. Gravel and sand shifts, even large rocks are moved in time. Banks are eroded. Floods change the way the river bends and flows. Some features though, seem to be almost permanent from year to year.
When I first saw it, on my first visit to the new water belonging to the club I had just joined, the bush was bare, its branches looked gaunt and naked, and the tangle of roots at its base was also lacking the cloak of weed which would cover them in summer. It was early spring, and a solitary fly hanging forlornly from one of the low branches, gave the lie to my idea that I might have been the first visitor to the water this year.
Beneath the bush, was a short gravelly run, and immediately below the thickest roots, protected by the low branches, a deeper pool had formed. This deeper run had obviously been the target of at least one other angler this year. I tried a cast to the head of the run, and promptly hung up on one of the branches. My tippet wrapped around the branch, and try as I might, I could not free it.
Wading over, up to my waist by the time I was able to reach the branch, I removed both flies, and waded back to the bank.
Quite a number of times that season, I tried the run again. Leaves now hung on the lower branches, which brushed, or even dangled in the water, occasionally collecting various debris. On a number of occasions, my casts were crowned with success, and I even managed to get my fly to swim down the run without a hang-up. Several rimes I even caught a fish. Usually a brown, about a quarter pound or so. The run was obviously attractive to the fish, but I never got anything of any size out of it.
At the beginning of July, the bush was in full leaf, and the underwater roots completely covered by weed. There was a lot of water in the river and quite a few of the lower branches were actually under the water. Standing alone, on a long, fairly level stretch of the stream, the bush, and the run below it, were the only real features on this particular stretch.Two larger pools, which were excellent for seatrout, were several hundred yards further down the river, and one passed the bush in order to reach them. I had often watched others simply walk past the bush on their way to the other stretches, and occasionally, somebody would try a cast.
Practically every time I passed the bush, I tried a cast or two, and I left quite a few flies hanging in its branches. Most of which I retrieved by wading across, and thus ruining the run for the nonce.
On the eleventh of July 1983, exactly one month after my birthday, I was late getting to the river. It was already 21.00 as I climbed the fence at the beginning of the stretch, and hurried down the bank, tackling up as I went, wishing to take up position on one of the larger pools, and wait for full dark. Even after all these years, and untold numbers of trips, I am still incapable of curbing the impatience which overtakes me when I see the water. It is a wonder that I have not broken a rod, or worse, long since, as a result of it.
On a whim, and because I often had a “practice cast” at the bush run, before moving on down to more productive water, I stopped and tied a fly on my leader, one of my favourite “start up” night flies, a size 8 Connemara Black.
Extending line, and using a very low sidecast, I cast obliquely up towards the top of the run below the bush, and luck was with me. The fly and leader snaked in under the overhanging branches, and landed at the top of the run with a slight plop. The three lead wraps underneath the seals fur body caused it to sink immediately, and I threw an immediate upstream mend into the line, allowing the fly to sink well, before the line again began to form a belly, and then I allowed the fly to start accelerating out of the run towards me, being moved ever faster by the ever increasing belly in the line.
“Not bad for a practice cast” I congratulated myself, as the fly came more or less level with my position, and was about to start retrieving some line, when the water almost at my feet erupted, and my line shot away in the wake of a large “V” somewhat reminiscent of a large carp on the surface, but a lot quicker!. I had no time to strike, and it was unnecessary in any case. The fish was well hooked, and rushing upstream at a fair rate of knots. The sudden jerk as the last loop of loose line shot through the rings, and jerked the reel spool into motion, almost pulled the rod from my grasp. The old click and pawl reel started whining rather angrily, as the spool revs increased, and a dismaying amount of line disappeared upstream into the gathering darkness, without a sign of slowing.
My half fly-line shot away, in an incredibly short space of time, and the backing started peeling off at a dismayingly rapid rate. Gently, and with some trepidation, I palmed the reel a little, without making any appreciable difference to the speed at which it was revolving, and simply putting a rather awe-inspiring bend in the rod. I palmed a little harder, and the rod bent even more, and still the line shot away.
Feeling rather hopeless, I watched in horror as the last few yards of backing spooled off the reel, there was a hell of a jerk, as the knot was reached, a terrible commotion commenced somewhere about a hundred yards upstream, and then everything went dead. Despite carefully and slowly retrieving, I could feel nothing at all. The fish had gone!
Extremely disconsolately, I started reeling in my line. It seemed to have wrapped around a snag or two, as it drifted back downstream towards me, and at each little tug, or slight resistance from such a snag, hope sprang anew that the fish was still on. It was only snags though.
My heart was still in my mouth, and the adrenaline still pumping through my veins, as I continued reeling in with shaking hands. All the backing was now on the reel, and the flyline now came in without any further resistance. With less than a yard or so of fly-line out, plus ten feet of leader, I realised that I was snagged in the roots of the bush, and jerked the rod a little, in the hopes of freeing the fly.
Once again the run exploded! and history seemed to repeat itself, as once again my line shot off upstream at high speed, and my knuckles got a bashing from the reel handles. Dazed and bemused, I simply hung on, palmed the reel again, and hoped for the best. The fish was unstoppable, and exactly the same thing happened again, all my flyline disappeared at an alarming rate, my efforts to prevent it doing so proving totally ineffectual, and my backing arbour knot was once again severely tested, as the reel stopped short at the end of the backing, there was another massive jerk, a hell of a commotion upstream, and everything went dead.
The same thing happened twice more in the space of the next ten minutes or so, and I seemed to be caught in some weird moment of space time, doomed forever to repeat what I had already experienced, accompanied by a whole gamut of extremely violent emotions, ranging from massive elation, to searing disappointment, as each time I thought I had lost the fish, and then it was there again when I reeled in, sitting in the run opposite me. I was beginning to think I really must be dreaming, when I finally managed to get a little control of the beast on the end of my line.
He ran again, once again straight upstream, but this time taking only the fly-line and a little backing. Eventually I managed to get him back down into the pool, and he leapt several times, showering me with water, and frightening me half to death each time. Only adding to my by this time rather distraught state He sat then for a minute or two in the fast water, immovable, despite fairly heavy pressure from my rod, shaking his head violently, and then, with no warning whatever he shot straight across the stream, my rod sprang vertical, the fish hurtled past me, and leapt up on to the bank behind me, and started thrashing around in the grass!
After a short while he lay still, and I scrambled up on the bank. There he lay, a magnificent fish, all of twelve pounds, and as bright as molten silver in the now very rapidly fading light.
I am not a catch and release fisherman, and I very rarely release sizeable fish, in fact normally never. But for some unknown reason, which I am still at a loss to explain, I came to the immediate conclusion that I had not won fairly, and did not deserve the fish. It had fought magnificently, but that was not the reason, it was a beautiful fish, but that also was not the reason. I just thought it had not lost fairly.
Removing the fly, and laying my rod down on the bank, I carefully cradled the fish, and carried it back to the water, I slid down the bank, held the fish for a moment or two in the fastish water at the edge of the run, and it suddenly flashed away into the deeps, with hardly a disturbance.
I stood for quite a while in the darkness, listening to the rushing water, and the sounds of gathering night, staring at the impenetrable surface of the dark water flowing past. There was no sign that anything at all untoward had occurred. The only sign being the slowly subsiding pounding of my heart. Then I turned, scrambled up the bank, collected my gear, and went home.
For sixteen years I fished that spot, always one month after my birthday. I arrived at 21.00 and essayed my first cast at exactly 21.10 my notes reveal that I caught fourteen seatrout under such circumstances, eight of them on the first cast, and on one memorable occasion two almost identical fish of six pounds within a few minutes of each other.
Apart from when the seatrout were up, and at various other times of the year, I had a cast at the bush run every time I passed it, even in winter, when after grayling, but only ever got small browns. On other occasions, I also got a few seatrout from the run.
At the beginning of the season in 1999, I was unable to fish the stream in early spring, business and other commitments prevented me from doing so. Indeed, it was already early July before I managed to get the time to fish this stretch. I decided to wait until the 11th, and have my usual belated birthday seatrout bash.
Climbing over the fence, I looked at the water, and tackled up while walking down the river. It was quite light still, and I had no problems, although my eyes are no longer what they once were, especially in twilight.
Scanning the water as I went, I approached the bush. Unfortunately, there was no bush. There was a large long gouge in the bank, where the bush had been, but there was no run, just flat sand, and the pool which had been there had disappeared.
Rather shocked, and not a little confused, I checked up and down the bank, and then decided to go home. I did not even try the pools lower down. I had no confidence in them. Not like I had had in the bush.
Enquiries among club members, revealed that the farmer who owned the field had pulled the bush with very considerable difficulty, using his tractor, earlier in the year. Nobody knew why, apparently he just felt like it. It may have interfered with the barbed wire and electric fencing he used to keep his cattle out of the river. I meant to go and ask him why, but I never did get round to it. Most unlikely that he would understand why I wanted to know, in any case.
Unfortunately, I never got a picture of the bush. There was never any need, it was always there, and did not seem remarkable enough to warrant taking any special precautions. I never really thought about it much. It was just an ordinary “run of the mill”, bush. I can still see it perfectly in my mind´s eye of course. Even in pitch black darkness, one could sense it, looming over the bank, (don´t ask me to explain how!), and the fish I caught there. But I would still have liked a picture. It is an awful shame that I am a totally lousy artist, or I might even try painting it.
Nowadays, people often wonder when they see some of my “fishing” photos, of perfectly nondescript rocks, trees, bushes, and the like. Although I have a few pictures of fish as well.
I still fish every year on the 11th of July, and I try to get there at 21.00. Indeed I have caught quite a few seatrout in other places since. 21.10 was always a “magical” time for me, and for my elder brother, as far as seatrout are concerned, but that is another story.
I really do miss that bush though.
About Mike Connor
I had the honourable pleasure to get to know Mike Connor while he lived in Germany close to Hamburg. I visited him several times and learned a lot about fly tying, fly fishing and life in general from this most humble, warm and kind man.
He also gave me a lot of his books and also a very nice creel, which is now hanging on the wall here at Skålestrømmen. I used it over several years until it started falling apart. He gave all these things away as he was moving back to England. I then lost contact with him and even after years of research on his whereabouts, I was not able to find him again. I spoke to several others who knew him and we all tried getting in touch with him, without luck. He sort of “vanished” and I really would like to know what happened to him. Really sad as it was always a pleasure talking to him.
Mike has written numerous articles about traditional techniques and methods. These have been published on various websites before, but can mostly not be found anymore without significant effort and the use of “back in time of the internet” services. Back when we had frequent communication I saved most of what he sent me on my hard drive. That was in those times when was not “online” permanently and the internet was still steam powered.
I believe that this material needs to be saved from disappearing so I take the freedom to publish it here so interested flyfishermen and outdoor enthusiast can enjoy Mike´s work. I do not claim any copyright ion this material of course and do not seek economic gain from keeping these texts alive.
Have fun reading.
Cheers & tight lines,
P.S. – Please feel free to get in touch via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) should you know Mike as well.