Now, if that isn’t the ultimate throwaway line for any dinner party, I don’t know what is. Anyway, I’d said it before I realised that it might be taken as a bit of a name drop.
It put one in mind of some other throw-away lines: fly-lines, made of silk, that were thrown away when plastic-coated lines came in, about forty years ago. Strangely enough, they seem to be making a very strong come-back. You’d think it would be the old codgers who found the need to return to habits of their youth, in a last ditch attempt to regain their lost lives; but no, it seems to be many sided movement from folks with no obvious common purpose, other than catching the odd fish.
I was attracted to silk as a sort of practical exercise, when a nice little Allcocks fly-reel arrived with a glutinous mess within the space once occupied by the fly-line. The mess turned out to be a super-sticky, self-welded fly line of indeterminate vintage. I was going to cut it off, as I’ve cut so many off in the past, when it just occurred to me that I might use it for binding a net-handle, or something.
But as I poked around, it became obvious that under the glurp was something pretty amazing; a woven silk line, with proper tapers. I stopped poking, and looked at the possibilities for getting the line off intact. The answer, I found, was meths, and with some judicious prodding with a meths-impregnated brush, I soon had an amorphous bunch of coils on the carpet. I’d like to tell you that I then restored the line to its original perfection myself, but it was actually a chum of mine who whisked it away, and returned after a month or two with what looked like a new line. Being somewhat of an expert, he declared it to be a 1950s Hardy line. Such pronouncements are terribly impressive, although being ignorant of such matters, he could have said anything, and I’d have believed him.
In the 1950’s lines were graded by some fairly strange code letters, which only those in the know really understood: things like HCH and TCP ring a sort of bell. Fifty years on the line gave no clue as to what it might be used for, but it appeared to be a trout line rather then a salmon line, so I popped it onto a reel, and the reel onto my trusty old Hardy C.C de France, and took it off to the garden.
Well, I tell you, it’s all very strange, because although I’ve been a cane rod man for years now, it hadn’t occurred to me to try my rod with the silk lines that were made for them. They actually work very well. And why shouldn’t they? After all, anglers were catching fish on such lines for generations before plastic lines. The C.C de France tossed this old (but new) line ferociously. I’m no tournament distance caster, but even I could get the thing to cast well. Being thinner by far than the plastic new jobs, it shot like a rocket. And wonder of wonders, when I took it down to my little lake (40’ wide only) I found it floated like a cork.
Since the resurrection of the old line, I’ve discovered that silk fly-lines are quite the cult thing. The supply of vintage lines is a very uncertain business, and not all are long enough or in such good condition, that it is worth the effort to return them from the grave.
Amazingly, an expatriate Briton living in France has set up a new manufacturing base for silk fly-lines. Appropriately they are called Phoenix lines (risen from the dead, and all that). I understand that they have actually found some proper old line weaving equipment, so the lines they make are the same as the originals of yesteryear.
As you can imagine, they are not cheap, being made individually in a cottage industry, but by the Gods they are lovely things. Thank goodness, they (the makers) have decided against the old alpha system of grading their lines, preferring the usual American AFTM system. I ordered a DT #5 equivalent, which looks very thin for its weight; and discovered that due to demand from around the world had to wait about three months for it.
It arrived from France in a very Paris designer-type box, with instructions, and a supply of Mucilin Red flotant (which may take some of you back a bit). The smell of the thing is wonderful: just like a 1950 tackle shop. My wife caught me sniffing the line as though it was a pair of Julia Roberts’s knickers. Knowing she’d scored some sort of victory over me, and knowing as she does that I’m some sort of sad excuse for humanity, she just smiled and walked off: so I sniffed it a bit more, thinking ‘I’ll show her’.
In use these lines are very interesting. With the Mucilin Red well rubbed-in, they float for England. With the flotant rubbed off (with some turps on a soft rag) they sink quite slowly. So they are quite adaptable things. Having said that, it’s not quite so easy to get a line that you’ve had sinking all morning, to float, just with the application of the dressing: it really needs to be dried completely first.
Line drying: now there’s another old way to lift the spirit of older anglers. These lines HAVE to be dried after use, and sometimes, half way through the day; perhaps whilst the angler is having a proper, under-a-tree-type lunch… and that’s a habit that many an angler might adopt, with benefits.
And I’ve just realised why all this gels with me: it harks back to that time when we didn’t feel it necessary to catch a half-barrel of fish in order for the day to be complete. That’s the fishing I like. In the same way, my shooting. Just the other day, I spent five hours in a Scottish valley, with only a pair of mallard to show for my endeavours. Some shooting men might have thought that a very poor show, but I thought I’d had a wonderful afternoon. I’d seen a pair of buzzards wheeling above the moor that rose up to the north, a badger, and a lot of shootable birds that I’d decided not to ‘see’, as it were.
I know there are some real experts who have taken to using silk lines because they are in some way more efficient for some situations, but I think it really suits best, those anglers for whom it’s the day that is essential, rather than the vast haul of fish.
And to return to my first throw-away line about the Poet Laureate: well we did fish together last week, on the Tweed. Tabloid Press readers may need to be told that his name is Andrew Motion. Despite a clamour of people and cameras, we managed a few hours of peace in search of a salmon. This present writer caught the first, the biggest, and the only fish: a wee trout, which was nearly as big as the Fully-dressed fly I was using. Nae-mind, I’ll try again. And if the catching wasn’t grand, the day certainly was.
After dinner that evening, Andrew Motion read aloud to us his poem ‘A Severe Shortage of Fish’ – which was wonderful. I knew exactly what he was writing about. And, thank goodness, the severe shortage of fish didn’t seem to matter to him either.