Friday 11 June 2021

Fly Fishing on the Tyne


The power of television advertising for my generation can be seen by the associations it makes. 

The River Tyne (which runs just a mile and a half from where I write) is famous both for heavy industry at its estuary (coal exports from Medieval times, ship-building later); and for salmon fishing in its scenic upper reaches (before, and now after, the era of heavy industry).  

The sight of a man in waders, standing in midstream, casting a fly for salmon; is one of the most iconic country scenes hereabouts; as elsewhere. As Thoreau wrote in a favourite passage from his A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River:

I can just remember an old brown-coated man who was the Walton of this stream, who had come over from Newcastle, England, with his son,—the latter a stout and hearty man who had lifted an anchor in his day. 

A straight old man he was who took his way in silence through the meadows, having passed the period of communication with his fellows; his old experienced coat, hanging long and straight and brown as the yellow-pine bark, glittering with so much smothered sunlight, if you stood near enough, no work of art but naturalized at length. 

I often discovered him unexpectedly amid the pads and the gray willows when he moved, fishing in some old country method,—for youth and age then went a fishing together,—full of incommunicable thoughts, perchance about his own Tyne and Northumberland. 

He was always to be seen in serene afternoons haunting the river, and almost rustling with the sedge; so many sunny hours in an old man’s life, entrapping silly fish; almost grown to be the sun’s familiar; what need had he of hat or raiment any, having served out his time, and seen through such thin disguises? I have seen how his coeval fates rewarded him with the yellow perch, and yet I thought his luck was not in proportion to his years; and I have seen when, with slow steps and weighed down with aged thoughts, he disappeared with his fish under his low-roofed house on the skirts of the village. 

I think nobody else saw him; nobody else remembers him now, for he soon after died, and migrated to new Tyne streams. His fishing was not a sport, nor solely a means of subsistence, but a sort of solemn sacrament and withdrawal from the world, just as the aged read their Bibles.


However... Whenever I see a fly-fisherman, my mind returns to a TV advert from 40 years ago which became a kind of obsession, a folk-reference, in Britain for a while. 

The sweet old ham actor who played the book-seeker in these ads even earned himself national obituaries on his death.  

Thus the human mind functions. Yesterday I observed a lone figure far from shore on the Tyne near Wylam, turned to my wife, and enquired: "JR Hartley?".


Mark In Mayenne said...

That's a nice piece of prose.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MiM - The Thoreau? Yes, indeed.

Sam C said...

I've never seen a fly fisherman at this end of the Tyne (the city) but often around the gravels at Corbridge.
Fishing flies are miniature works of art, and far more intriguing than the sport for me!

Nicholas Fulford said...

I never mastered the art of flying fishing, but I always appreciated the poetry in motion that it is.

It has a rhythm, a swirl, a gentle and thoughtful pattern, and an understated beauty that appeals to me far more as an older man than it did when I was young.

When I retire in a few years, I may have to take it up again. I doubt I will master it, but I may at least gain a competency in the practice which I have seen performed by those who turn it into mesmerizing art.