Everybody can think back and isolate moments in time, that for one reason or another, where when ‘it’ happened or clicked. At the time you probably did not realise the significance of the event .
In the realm of fishing it is much the same. Sitting here now I can think back and isolate three or four crossroads on the fishing track that define how I fish and how I feel about fishing.
Alexander Fox probably dose not realise it but he was responsible for getting the journey started. I was six years old and he must have been around 17. I was sent off fishing with Alex whilst the adults remained in the shade drinking beer. Furnished with a stick , 6 feet of mono , a single hook and a home made float we headed out to the river ( obviously he had been instructed to avoid crocodiles since we actually fished a series of stagnant pools along one side of the river bed)
To this day I can recall with absolute clarity the feeling and smell of dried ougali on my fingers ( polenta like bait), the smell of the bright green river grass that covered the sand around those dark pools and the feeling of the small Yellow Fish we caught. I also remember my younger brothers tantrum for being left behind ( he was three or four).
At the age of seven or eight we started fishing with fly rods for trout. At the time this was considered by us as secondary to the real thing which was obviously fishing for tigerish ( I still have some of the home made rigs – wire and flying treble hooks in every direction).
The annual trip to the Mathioya River in central Kenya was the main annual trout fishing trip where we would stay in a series of dilapidated fishing cabins surrounded by moth eaten, stuffed leviathans and photos of moustached men in plus 4s. In the evenings we would read through the catch records and dream of catching really big ones. There were lots of us cousins and friends and uncles and aunts and the full range of fisher person accounted for – from absolutely not to Johnny Ambrose.
Johnny was the oldest of our African cousins and definitely the leader of the gang. We all worshipped him. He was perpetually optimistic and happy, A fantastic fly tier and fisherman and he caught lots of fish. some of them nearing the size of the things hanging on the walls around us.
He wore a pair of bata running shoes that had seen better days, short khaki shorts and a worn khaki shirt and something on his head that may once have been an Australian style bush hat ( complete with holes and flies and sweat line) his fishing bag was bulging and worn and smelt of fish. There was always a water line around about his shirt pocket. Johnny spent a lot of time IN the river.
Every morning, whilst we were all eating breakfast or waiting for the ancient cook to sober up enough to fry an egg, Johnny would hunch down over his fly tying kit by the fire to tie up enough flies, not for him but for all of us. Mostly he tied a stonefly nymph variant that came to be known as a ‘Johnnies Jangeli’. this fly was a deadly pattern no matter how it was fished and they were in high demand because we were at the stage of losing lots of flies.
whilst the adult fishermen would work out where we would all fish for the day we youngsters argued about who would fish with Johnny. He liked the difficult parts of the river where there were deep pools, big fish , overhanging bushes and submerged logs. He always let us fish first and then he would fish the pool. We watched and learnt.
The eureka moment for me came one morning when we were fishing above the camp with him before breakfast. I had unsuccessfully fished the most beautiful pool with Johnny watching; he then caught 4 fish in three casts out of the same stretch of water. He then asked me to have another go but this time he showed me how to flick my line upstream and mend it to ensure a good drift past a boulder that was submerged 6 feet down in the bottom of the pool. I caught a fish. The lesson probably lasted less than twenty seconds but right there standing next to our favourite cousin it all clicked. looking back now that moment defines when i really started to enjoy trout fishing and set me on the path as a fly fisherman.