It was grey and cold for early May, but I had half-heartedly brought my fishing gear. After all, the hotel where we were staying for the weekend near Ormea, in the province of Cuneo, the Piedmont region of Italy, was on the river Tanaro, famous for it's trout fishing.
The proprietors of the Hotel San Carlo have managed the fishing reserve for more than twenty years, ever since the municipality of Ormea had granted them the concession and responsibility. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful and renowned fishing reserves in Europe.
Patches of snow still lay on the mountains. The rich variety of greens of the spring clad mountain side forests, enhanced by trees that were in white blossom, was a treat for the eyes, perhaps even more so veiled in the mist.
The last time I went fishing was about twenty years ago. The regulars at the hotel, many of them French, well equipped with waders, landing nets and spinning gear, seemed to admire my old, split cane fly rods. This encouraged me to decide that I too should try my luck, in spite of the weather and the risk of making a fool of myself.
Fly fishing is perfect when the sky is clear and trout rivers are moderately low and limpid. When the rivers are high and fast after days of rain, the trout lie low. They'll go for spinners, and spoons that resemble foolish little fish and metallic minnows.
Sometimes they might go for a hook with feathers tied to it that might look vaguely like a fly nymph, but that's the big question.
Saturday morning the sky didn't look too bad. Blue patches here and there. So I set out wearing a 'see a mile away', bright red, cotton pullover and a green, cotton, fishing vest with lots of pockets, old jeans and running shoes to the fly-fishing 'no kill' zone. This means that you don't take what you might miraculously catch, as flies as a rule can more easily be removed from trouts' mouths than spinners, which often cause more damage. This is why spinning costs a bit more here. Considering the difference in price and the fact that spinning is always much easier and certainly more effective when the river is high, perhaps taking home some good sized trout would certainly be worth the modest difference.
But fly fishermen don't reason that way. They tend to consider themselves the refined elite, when it's more probable that they're the foolish die-hards, and all the more so in such impossible, conditions.
I eventually found a spot that I thought might weigh fractionally in my favour. Before leaning against a big rock to prepare casting up-stream, I had noticed three or four quite large trout low in the river. They were fairly inactive, holding their own against the current. I would cast over them and let my 'wet fly' nymph come back past them to tempt and tease them.
Time too has a habit of flying by when one is engrossed in trying to tempt and tease, torpid trout. And I had been overly optimistic about the weather. It was again grey with occasional rain showers, and cold. At about midday, feeling numb, I began to climb up the bank, slipped and got my left shoe full of icy water. This was a critical moment. Should I call it a day, go and have a relaxing, hot bath and a nice lunch? It made good sense.
I reached the top of the bank and looked down upon the swollen river where I had been vainly casting against the wind and all odds. Amazingly the trout were still there, facing the current, undisturbed by my arm aching antics and seemingly smirking troutishly. I double checked. It wasn't a mirage.
That decided it. I limp-squelched back to the car, put on a less conspicuous, beige, light-weight wind jammer over my red cotton pullover, put my fishing vest over the wind jammer and limp-squelched all the way back to the place where the indifferent trout were lurking. But this time, instead of casting up stream, I braved the menace of the trees behind me by casting diagonally, upriver to the trout.
Still no go. The nymphs weren't sinking low enough in the fast water. I tied on one with black feathers and a double hook. Heavier, it should sink a bit lower.
One of the trout turned and flashed. Good sign.
After a while I was tempted to change the fly once more, but finally decided not to.
I was cold. So cold that I felt unsteady on the small rock just out of the water. If I fell in, it would be fatal for the camera, brought along especially, to immortalise a miracle, before it was lovingly, generously returned to the river. My mind was beginning to flip. When will BP succeed in containing Iceland's volcano?
It was at that very moment of mind wandering, when I was blinking tears of cold, trying to pull myself together, that one of the trout took the black, double hooked nymph. Bang! I too was totally taken by surprise. So much so that I again slipped into the icy water and filled my right shoe to match the left one. But then I was feverishly absorbed in trying to land the trout without breaking the fine parabolic leader cast. At that moment I had visions of myself chest deep in the rapids playing the fighting monster like Brad Pit in 'A River Runs Through it'.
Yet even without a net I managed to get it to the bank, extracted the fly nymph and photographed it as proof, before letting it go.
Incredibly, despite the disturbance, the other trout were still there. Just as brainless as I am. Maybe I could get another one. But I, and perhaps even they, were spared from further foolishness. The successful nymph got tangled up in a branch of the nearest tree. Shivering, I tried to climb up but it was too slender. I got to a point where I was almost within reach- by bending the branch down pulling on the line- before the cast broke.
This finally decided it. It was 5 pm, my lips were blue. I hadn't eaten all day. I was wet, cold and exhausted. But I had had the most wonderful day.
Text and mages © Mirino (PW) May, 2010