A neophyte writes . . .

My Dad


When I was 8 or 9 years old I started fishing with my dad. We float fished (never understood ledgers) mostly for roach in local pits around the Fylde. Half a pound was a good fish.

My dad was a conservative type. He learnt his fishing in the 1920s and 30s and saw no reason to change. As I used a lump of white fibreglass he stuck with split cane. Although generally he preferred the old ways sometimes something more modern would capture his thoughts and the old alternative would be cast into outer darkness. For example on his car he hated the electric windows but other gadgets were deemed essential. He really liked something called a ‘lambda sond’- whatever that may be. Does anyone else have one? So it was with fixed spool reels. The cane rod was matched with a Mitchell fixed spool reel. Never mind that we were lucky if the pits we fished were half a dozen rod lengths across. The tradionalist in him would have loaded the Mitchell with cat gut if he could. We made our own floats from quill bought at the local pet shop.

When it came to rod and reel I was the other way round. For several years my relatively modern glass stick carried a wooden starback that I had salvaged from the bottom of the tidal creek at the end of our road.

Towards the end of the 1960’s hollow glass came to my notice. I bought a second rod in the form of a 7 or 8 foot Daiwa hollow glass spinning rod. It was the latest thing. At least in my book. I had no real interest in spinning and I think I bought it just for the beauty of the thing. I am not sure it ever caught a fish.

My dad carried on in the same way until his demise at the beginning of this century. As is the way with youth I drifted away from fishing in my teenage years.

‘Dad fishing on Loch Lubnaig 1990s’ 


That was it for 20 years or so until I started doing a bit of sea fishing in the tidal Ribble with my good friend Andrew Lanigan. Lanigan had a variety of small boats. We fished for mackerel and other smallish fish.

As well as fishing with boat rods Lanigan bought a small trawl. On its first outing we caught a dozen or so fish of which at least two or three would have made a reasonable tea each on their own. We thought we had cracked it as trawlermen but we hadn’t. That was our biggest ever catch.

Sometimes while lounging about in one of Lanigan’s boats I would mention a vague wish to take up fly fishing when retire. I didn’t expect it to fall into my lap at all never mind as it did- as is so often the case due to Lanigan’s generosity.

Just before I retired Lanigan invited me to spend a day fly fishing on the Ribble beyond  the tidal reaches. There I met Martin James. I had no idea then that Martin was a celebrated angler and teacher.

Martin spent the day trying to show me how to cast a fly with I am afraid little success. At the end of the day Martin said ‘I will get you a fish’. Out went the line and to my astonishment a fish immediately attached itself. Martin handed me the rod and under his guidance I landed a brown trout of about a pound.

Martin James

The following year Martin and I started meeting nearly every week. We spend a day together talking, putting the world to rights, watching the fish and other wildlife, doing odd bits of jobs but mostly fishing. Well me trying to fish under Martin’s guidance.

Anyone reading this will already know that Martin is a top of the range angler, teacher and fund raiser. They might not know of his amazing patience and generosity. Another of Martin’s stand out features is his eyesight. I do not give it special credit for spotting fish. That comes from a lifetime of observation. But untangling a knot in a one pound tippet can only be done with eyesight like the proverbial – especially under gloomy northern skies.

Martin’s catchphrase as he watches me cast is ‘too far back’ referring not to the local gentry but to the tip of the rod. To prove his case he occasionally points to a ring of ripples behind me where the fly has struck the water.

Fly fishing for perch anyone?

When a fish is hooked Martin goes into overdrive. ‘Lift the rod, keep the rod bent, let some line out, no no line in, line in, rod down, down, lift the rod, let some line out, lower the rod, bend the rod, keep the rod up…’. I always do my best to comply. Of course because I want to land the fish but also to avoid Martin’s look of disappointment when a fish is lost

Hooks are always barbless or debarbed so it is easy to lose a fish. Martin has been known to claim it is to make it easier to remove hooks caught in clothing etc. Anyone who knows Martin knows the real reason is partly to avoid damaging the beautiful creatures that are our quarry and partly to make catching the fish more difficult.

Marilyn Monroe

A late spring morning, little wind 50% cloud, the river low but not too low. Perhaps not perfect but on any view a great day to go fishing. Martin and I waded into a pool. I cast my line downstream the nymph landing just above the lower end of the pool where the fast running shallow water started.

Second cast as soon as the fly landed there was a strong take. The fish no doubt surprised by this unexpected turn of events so early in the morning allowed me to get her a few feet upstream before she took charge of my light tackle and drove herself downstream into the fast water.

Maybe she still didn’t quite have her wits about her because she soon allowed me to haul her back upstream. Now she realised her mistake and determinedly headed downstream back into the fast water.

There she stayed twisting, turning and arching. Dappled sunlight striking her as she broke through the ripples of the fast flowing water. Her back shimmering gold with black spots. Truly the Marilyn Monroe of fish. And three pounds if she was an ounce. A big fish for me.

Gradually as she tired I worked her back upstream. Martin though not exactly silent was unusually sparing with his advice. He knows a special fish when he sees one. Slowly she came closer. Close up every bit the looker she had seemed at a distance. Success seemed inevitable. She was about four feet from me and little more than a foot from the outstretched landing net when… well you know what happened.


Writing Neophyte – Images Neophyte & Martin James Summer 2021