Communing with old Izaak Walton
Walking through either the garish sports sections of large department stores or visiting those hallowed specialty halls of genteel commerce devoted uniquely to providing for the puritan angling devotee, one can only be impressed and enraptured by the amazing variety of lures available to today’s fisherman. They range from finely-crafted, hand-painted, and hand-carved wooden plugs (as have been made for centuries and of which Izaak Walton makes mention in The Compleat Angler, his fine book which throws such wonderful glimpses on early seventeenth-century life in England ) to modern electronically-energized high-tech lures capable of emitting flashing lights and pulsating sound. Others range from shiny plastic diving plugs and whirling metal spoons of gold and silver, and nine-inch-long by two-inch-wide bright metal flashers for attaching to the line a good three feet ahead of the actual lure, to the most realistic rubbery replicas of insects, frogs and invertebrates.
In fact, add to these the varied jars, cans and packets of preserved and live organic baits, plastic bottles of salmon jelly, power baits, scents and attractants, and the modern angler seems to have as great a selection of fishing lures to choose from as there are different living fish in all the ponds, rivers and seas the world over.
Also available, and made by artificial-fly fishermen since days of yore, are swarms of delicately-built and wonderfully true replicas of the streamside insects observed to be the favourite foods of fishes. Alongside such works of art, as many of them are, there are also myriads of cheap and gaudy mass-manufactured flies that bear little of no resemblance in appearance to any to be found in the wonderful insect array of the natural piscatorial world. Nevertheless, it is still a moot point as to which flies, the genuine quality imitations (a colourful oxymoron if ever there was one) or the garish, false psychedelic creations, which result in attracting more fish.
I bring up this debatable point as I have taken fish with a motley assortment of artificial flies and lures, some violently overdressed in screaming colours, others worn down by long use and left with but the merest trace of dull, wispy feather remaining and even at rare times with just a bare hook stuck through the merest scrap of coloured or uncoloured cloth.
In fact for all the mystique and devotion of the dedicated fly-tiers associated with the art I would venture to advise that as good an artificial fly for sport fishing can be instantly produced, for practical purposes, by simply winding an inch or two of pipe-cleaner around the shank of a good (barbless) hook and using it as is, with no more ado. This is especially so considering the wide range of colours in which pipe cleaners come. Or did some few years ago. Some are even two-toned, with red or blue spots dotted along their lengths. And having a thin wire core makes their utilization a snap. There is no need for a fly-tying vise, reels of thread, scissors or snippers, and the other paraphernalia of the art. Just hold a hook in one hand and twist a piece of pipe cleaner around its shank with the other hand. An operation easily undertaken even at the lakeside with bare hands freezing in an arctic breeze. And that’s it. No need to tie it on or make it secure with fancy knots and whippings. Its wire core will stay put for a fortnight or a season of active and productive casting.
A couple of packets of pipe-cleaners together with a box of hooks and a small reel of monofilament should be in the emergency pack of every bush pilot and other person who ventures far into the wilderness. A twist of dark brown pipe cleaner mixed with a twist of yellow and hey presto—one has a fair imitation of a mutated wasp, bee or beetle. A double or triple twist produces such an eye-catching appearance of a fat, though admittedly outlandish, exotic, juicy, appetising and furry, gourmet fly, as to catch the attention of even the most educated game fish. Especially those fish who happen to be feeling adventurous or curious that day. Yes, I know. The method used or patterns obtained are not likely to be approved by the purists, but if the fish go for it —who really cares.
As an added bonus they, the pipe-cleaners —not the flies — can be used by real fishermen for actually cleaning their pipes. (Also, as I can well attest, for tying up tomato plants). I’m sure Izaak Walton, (1593 - 1683), author of that classic angling book: The Compleat Angler, published in 1653, would have spoken well of them if they’d been around in 1653. But, in his time, three hundred and fifty years ago, tobacco had only been in use in Europe for about seventy years. He probably used something just as cunning for cleaning out his clay pipes, (and tying up his tomatoes which were themselves a newish novelty of that era) and for making jury-rig streamside fishing lures. Anyway, Izaak Walton’s clay tobacco pipes, he records enjoying in those bygone days of yore, were reported to be so cheaply mass-produced as to be thrown away immediately they became chipped or too blocked to draw. Real fishermen probably set off for a day’s angling with half a dozen in their pockets. And of course, there would be piles of free clay pipes for their customers’ pleasure in the nice country taverns Walton seemed so happy to regularly visit between his hours of angling and dalliancing with buxom milkmaids by the riverside ( Yep! I really admire that man. A really Real Fisherman — and one whom I hope to meet up with to share a tankard or two, and perhaps scrounge some of his Elizabethan tobacco, when I reach that big riverside tavern up in the sky — a probability not too far distant now).
Note to self:
I must remember to take old Izaak some coloured pipe cleaners.
Note to all hands:
This blog contains several other yarns appertaining to fishing and angling from the Persian Gulf to the Canadian Arctic. They are stuck randomly and higgledy-piggledy throughout its meandering, undisciplined length.