Darjeeling’s guide to untangling the fankle, or a guide to survival

A thankless fankle?

The absolute classic fankle plays out something like this: you have through a combination of stealthy reconnaissance, clever water craft and shameless interrogation of more competent anglers, located your trophy fish holding up in a difficult lie.

I would love to see a slo-mo of one of my more extravagant creations forming in the air. How the fly tucks around and through great loops of tippet to form new and wondrous knots must truly be a marvel (with pike flies, on occasion, I’ve even done it with the fly line itself). Sometimes a tree or a bush lends a helping hand in the creation. Other times the excuse is more elemental.

But in truth the real reason is of course operator error. The best ones happen when you are in front of a good fish. If you are lucky, you haven’t put your fish down and it’s still there when you finally untangle the fankle. More commonly when you look up triumphantly from those hands whose clever fingers just unpicked that seemingly impossible birds nest, your fish has pissed off.

The absolute classic fankle plays out something like this: you have through a combination of stealthy reconnaissance, clever water craft and shameless interrogation of more competent anglers, located your trophy fish holding up in a difficult lie. Spending some time creeping into position undetected, all is going to plan. The problems start when, with a quickening pulse you attempt that sneaky little sidecast that will flick your best fly (and last one of that pattern) under that old willow branch and onto the nose of your fish. The cast is seemingly perfect and time stands still as it unrolls and you anticipate the gentle plop of your fly splatting down. Except that the gentle plop doesn’t come and the line doesn’t touch down because your fly is in the woodwork. Never mind because you planned to overshoot your cast anyway. A gentle pull on the fly line will drop the fly from the overhead branch as gently as a natural terrestrial bug falling in. But as you pull you are met with a stubbornly springy resistance as the hook bites deeper into the branch. Now you must pull for a break or wade across to retrieve your fly. Either way it’s game over. One last pull and, wonder of wonders, the hooks slips free of the branch but is catapulted back towards you at the speed of light itself. If it’s a bead head it will probably crack you one on the forehead. If it’s a lovely hackle fly that can’t cause you any real damage it will instead zip harmlessly past to festoon itself twelve feet up in the tree behind.         

What is it in the human condition that (sometimes) you would rather spend considerable minutes sorting out a tangle rather than simply accepting defeat, breaking off the fly and putting on a new tippet, which could be accomplished in a fraction of the time? I think it’s all about not admitting you could be a teeny bit wrong in some way. You can style it out, it’s no big deal. And once you’ve invested a certain amount of concentration and time in unravelling this linear conundrum you may pass a kind of point of no return, whereby you are now in so deep that you must see the thing through to the bitter end, come what may. You may now, through such focussed concentration, attain a higher level of consciousness, a kind of zen nirvana, when the outer world falls away around you. At such times you could be speaking to your friend only to find when you look up that he has gone home half an hour ago.

In my experience, there are fankle days. It’s nothing to do with the weather or other atmospherics, nothing to do with the terrain/the rod/the line/your hangover – ok maybe that last one could be a factor.  It any rate has everything to do with you. Today, for some reason, your chi is not flowing, your chakra are misaligned and karma is dealing you tangle after fangle. For they often travel in groups, hovering around in some existential other place, waiting to visit themselves upon you one after the other, at the most inopportune time.

Now let’s be honest. The fankle that would bring you dark feelings of despair, self righteous injustice and bouts of petulant ill temper, instantly becomes an event of silent mirth when visited upon your friend. And if a second fankle should strike them in quick succession you are permitted an audible chuckle followed by (an insincere) comment or two of support. All the while, secure in the knowledge that you are enjoying a fankle-free day and feeling a little superior and somehow a little more expert a fly fisher today.

So let’s hear it for the fankle. There are so many original and self expressive ways to create one that it really should be considered as an Olympic sport, or at least Performance Art. A phenomenon to be celebrated and embraced, for it tells us so much about ourselves.

Writing & Image Darjeeling – Buckinghamshire 2022