Editor's Notes

Editor's Notes

Just A Lovely Day

  • By: Paul Guernsey
Paul Guernsey
The oddest fishing trip I've ever taken was the one that resulted from an extremely offbeat but nonetheless irresistible invitation to fish the River Test in England. My host was a Brit who had gotten rich building roller coasters all over the world, and who now hoped to market a video game, which, because he was a passionate angler, had been designed around a fly-fishing theme. Specifically, the player fished pool by pool along a virtual stretch of the Test, choosing a different rod, reel, fly pattern and tippet diameter each time he switched positions. Depending on how well he chose, he either put the fish down, broke it off or landed it.

My role in all of this was to spend an afternoon as the token Yank in a focus group of outdoor writers who, in true gothic-novel form, had been assembled at a castle-like hotel in the Hampshire countryside. To be honest, although I liked Geoff, the entertainment entrepreneur, very much, I didn't think highly of his game: The variables struck me as contrived, and I chafed at the assumption that there could be only one "right" way of approaching an angling problem.

Still, I did my best to provide constructive criticism, and my outsize reward, on the following day, was to fish water that had been familiar to Halford and Skues. First thing in the morning, my ghillie dropped me off on my beat, and I spent several hours mostly alone and having an absolute party among native brown trout and grayling in a manicured landscape that put me in mind of hobbits.

Eventually, the ghillie returned and took me to a rustic building to have tea with Geoff and a half-dozen other anglers, two of whom were huge, white-haired gentlemen who, my ghillie later said, had once constituted a formidable team of fish-and-game poachers that had been the scourge of the surrounding estates. "They were a rough pair of fellows," my ghillie assured me.

I disdained the actual "tea" at teatime, and as I slurped my coffee I chattered on about the morning's fishing, and how many fish I'd caught, how big they were and how beautiful they all were. You know, the usual American stuff. It was then that things took their strangest turn: When I asked one of my fellow anglers how he'd done, he merely said, "I had a lovely time."

"Yeah, so you caught a few then?"

"It was just a lovely morning."

Puzzled, I turned to someone else, and got a similar response: "Lovely water. Gorgeous morning." Even the two retired poachers, "rough" as they were, deflected my questions with observations about our surroundings and the suitability of the day.

After a few more tries, I gave up. I knew they couldn't all be covering up for their lack of angling skills; clearly there was some other dynamic at work. Later, in the car, I asked Geoff, "Why wouldn't those guys tell me whether they caught any fish?"

"Oh, they wouldn't think of bragging," Geoff said matter-of-factly.

At first, this struck me as ridiculous. But then I began reflecting on how many times over the years I'd been on a fishing trip that had been at least slightly tainted by some guy who just would not stop beating his chest about some fish or other. Come to think of it, there may have been a time or two when I did a little too much gratuitous chest-thumping myself. In the interest of making a pleasant sport even pleasanter, I resolved right then to take a page from our friends across the pond and begin giving modesty a try.

But that was half-a-dozen years ago and, unfortunately, it's been a rocky road at best. Oh, sure, I'm great at doing the old "lovely day" thing after I've caught a bunch of small-to-middling fish. Problem is, I seem to fall right off the brag-wagon every time I'm lucky enough to catch a big one…