STOP PRESS: Luke will be reading from Blood Knots tonight at Holkham Hall – Stable Cafe, Norfolk. Also on the bill are fellow Caught by the River contributors John Andrews, Charles Rangeley and David Profumo.
Originally published in the London ES Magazine October 10, 1998.
There’s a scene in Bertrand Blier’s film Les Valseuses which has always irritated me. Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere play a couple of petty thieves bumming their way around small-town France. They pick up a girl played by Miou-Miou, and one day she drags herself out of the communal bed and finds the boys fishing on a canal. This being a French film, however, they are fishing without hooks or baits, just trailing bare lines in the water. As a piece of pseudo-metaphorical whimsy this takes some beating, but what makes the scene all but unwatchable is that you can tell the fishing would be wonderful. It’s one of those still, dewy, grey-green mornings that makes you long to swing a quill float and a pinch of bread-flake under the far bank and see what happens. But they don’t of course. They just arse about. What it’s part of, other than sheer wilful Frenchness, is this whole business of it not mattering if you can’t catch anything – that just being there is enough. But it does matter. Saying that it doesn’t is just blah, like an 18-year-old leaving a nightclub saying it doesn’t matter that he didn’t score because he enjoyed the lager so much. I put all of this to the test, as it were, the other day. I was fishing near Stockbridge, and found a wild brown trout of about 3lbs in a very slow, gin-clear water under willow. Conundrum: if I used a superfine leader, which I would have to do so as not to spook him, he would probably break it; if I used a leader strong enough to hold him, he would most certainly refuse the fly. In the end I put on a tiny dry fly, broke off the point of the hook with pliers, and cast it out on a one-pound-breaking-strain leader. The fish rose, engulfed the fly, tasted the steel, and spat it out again. Intellectually, I’d had him. Was it a zen moment? Reader, it was not. Call me juvenile, but I still need to score.