Hello to all,
Been reading through this site for many months now and finally decided to post something. I fish mainly in the U.K - Scotland for salmon and the chalkstreams for trout. I dream of fishing in the U.S. One day I'll be there!
This is a "warts and all" story written by river keeper Donny Donovan on the Test in England about his love of Americans and I thought you'd find it interesting.
Hope it is ok for me to post it here alongside these other great stories.
When I started working on the Nursling beat on the River Test I was particularly lucky to still have the previous keeper, the legendary Vic Foot, around to advise me. Vic was the keeper here for an incredible fifty six years so what he doesn’t know about the river is not worth knowing and thankfully he is very willing to give any help or advice required.
A walk down the river with Vic and his lifetimes worth of experiences is an education in itself and of course he knows the flora and fauna like the back of his hand and I am forever pestering him about the name of a certain plant or other river life. One particular plant whose name he mentioned I knew to be wrong but felt it awkward to correct him so for a few years just accepted it for what he said. The plant in question was Himalayan Balsam, which grows on the riverbanks and of which he referred to as American Balsam. When I finally plucked up the courage to question his plant identification he casually said that he knew the correct name was Himalayan but had always called it American because of certain characteristics; It was, he told me, very invasive, aggressive and once it gets a foothold it is almost impossible to get rid of and before too long has taken over the whole bloody neighbourhood! American Balsam it is then.
I have spent quite a few years living and working in America and have travelled literally thousands of miles passing through some forty-two different states. I love America and a good deal of its inhabitants. It is strange therefore, that I feel an unfair sense of inevitability when I say that on average the best fly fishermen that I meet are very often Americans, as is the best equipment.
A lot of Americans come to fish the Test and I have had the pleasure of guiding some of them on the Nursling beat and the one thing that is always immediately apparent is that they can all fish well and are usually excellent casters. This of course helps whilst in the pursuit of fish but what also differentiates them from other rods is their intensity and quest for knowledge. They literally batter you for information, are very up front, honest- much too honest, and are in your face with question after question after question. They want to know everything about your beat and are I think, quietly relieved if you can’t answer at least one of their questions. There are many other differences between the English fly fisher and the American, some subtle, some sledgehammer, but the most noticeable to me as a river keeper is that whilst the Englishman begrudgingly listens to your advice so that he can carefully ignore it, the American wants to know the ins and outs of a dog’s arse.
They do listen to what you tell them and they do adhere to your advice and will always tie on whichever fly you suggest and trim their leader to whatever length you suggest. If after half an hour they haven’t caught, they will often come back to find you and ask for other suggestions. The Englishman on the other hand, will politely ask your advice, do the complete opposite and casually wander off to catch nothing all by himself having avoided the ignominy of having to be helped.
Americans all like to come to the chalkstreams but probably only the once and that being more of a pilgrimage to the home of fly fishing rather than for the quality of the fly fishing which I imagine must on some beats be something of a disappointment. I remember going to visit Stonehenge and feeling somewhat let down when I realised that it was indeed only a pile of bloody great rocks in the middle of a field. The roar of juggernauts blasting past on the A36 the other side of the barbed wire fence didn’t exactly help the mystique and legend that I had so associated with Stonehenge and I remember wishing that I hadn’t gone. It was better in my mind than in reality and I suspect that many Americans must feel the same of certain beats on the River Test. Reality does at times not quite match up to a lifetimes worth of imagination and how you want it to be.
As far as the up front and honesty bit, I can give one example of an American giving me just a little too much honest information although it had nothing at all to do with fishing.
I have travelled extensively throughout America although most of my time was spent in Alabama which is a state roughly the same size as England and with the friendliest, most polite people that I have ever met and I still have many great friends there. There is a coastline in Alabama onto the Gulf Of Mexico and the beaches are as good as its neighbour Florida, although with a lot less people -younger too. Alabama was thought of as a rather poor relation to other Americans and people always looked fairly startled when I told them that it was my favourite state. Most American people think of Alabama as being full of stoned rednecks and whilst I agree that there was a lot of them, it is not only the rednecks - most of the police are stoned too.
Me ending up in Alabama began whilst hitch hiking on the outskirts of Chicago and being picked up by a rather unusual looking vehicle painted an extraordinary shade of purple and towing a large trailer. It was a Winnebago and had Alabama licence plates and the driver stuck his thumb up as he pulled in to pick me up. His name, he proudly announced, was Keys Mitchell and he produced a business card that he pushed into my hand. He reminded me a little of the always drunk so called doctors that travelled throughout the wild west selling lotions and potions, pulling teeth and cutting hair all at a reasonable rate. He was in fact a grandfather clock salesman travelling all over America doing shows in shopping malls and at country fairs and immediately started telling me at great length the virtues of his wonderful clocks and the deals he could offer. The company he worked for was called The King Arthur Grandfather Clock Company and was based in Fairhope, Alabama. Keys would travel from mall to mall and set up his sixteen clocks that he carried in the trailer. He lived in the Winnebago and explained that everything associated with the company, including his suit, was painted in this extraordinary colour. Keys and me got on like a house on fire and like a lot of Americans; he talked as if it were his last day on earth.
We travelled through Arizona and I helped him do shows in Phoenix and Flagstaff and we visited the Grand Canyon that was very spectacular as was much of the scenery in Arizona and New Mexico. It was strange to see Indians, as in cowboys and Indians, riding along the sides of the roads and I was surprised that Keys didn’t attempt to trade guns and liquor with them as I’m sure he had in a previous life.
I eventually ended up selling the clocks that I found the easiest thing in the world and together we sold literally dozens of them. We worked our way back to Alabama and the clock company factory where we were summoned to meet the owner, the infamous paraplegic George Fowler to presumably explain the sudden upturn in sales. After waiting in the sales office for a nervous half hour the door suddenly burst open and in came this enormously fat man in a wheel chair with a secretary hurrying behind him. I stretched my hand out towards him at which he just stared so I awkwardly scratched my nose instead before he boomed out,
“You the limey ******* who sold lots of my clocks? Must be you, I know it ain’t you Keys; you couldn’t sell your ass in Alcatraz.”
Before I had any chance to reply he said, or rather shouted,
“You know limey what I miss most about being in this goddam chair?”
A thousand things must have gone through my mind in a mille second that this fat, loud mouthed man must have missed because of being in a wheelchair but I didn’t have time to say anything before he started again.
“Having a good ****. That’s what I miss more than anything, taking a damned good ****, god I’d love to take a dump!”
I just didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know whether to agree with him, sympathise or what. To be perfectly honest I’d never given the subject of not being able to go to the toilet much thought and I was lost for conversation. No such problems for Keys though, this was his kind of subject and he felt almost obliged to join in. I waited with gritted teeth and closed eyes for his inevitable intervention.
“What about masturbating Mr.Fowler? I’m sure that I’d miss that more than crapping,” he said with an agreeing nod.
“Well you would Keys, you know why Keys? The limeys got a word for you and you know what that is? A ******, in England you’re a ******. Ain’t that right limey? In England, Keys is a ******.”
Keys was in his ideal conversation and obviously couldn’t hear me thinking let it go Keys, just let it go.
“So let me get this right George, I’m a ****** and you’re full of **** that you can’t get rid of because your ******** doesn’t work?”
There was a silence, a long silence and I couldn’t quite work out if it was checkmate, stalemate or what but it was very, very quiet. Mr. Fowler suddenly turned to leave the room nearly knocking his secretary over in the process and shouted back as he crashed through the doors,
“Come and see me later ******, and bring the limey.”
Like I said, up front, too honest…far, far too much information and unnecessary detail - but by god they can fish.