LIFE OF A CHALK STREAM by Simon Cooper
It all depends; if you are looking for great literature, poetic prose, something to impress the intellectual spirit, then Life of a Chalk Stream is not the best place to start. If you are looking for enlightenment, a window into a different world and the passion of one man for his métier, then read this book.
It is clearly written from the heart. The structure is prosaic but you understand completely where he is coming from. It makes no demands other than to enjoy the world the author enjoys and to take you through his delights with an invitation to share.
Credit: Life of A Chalkstream by Simon Cooper is published by William Collins (hardback £16.99 and ebook)
I had better say a little about my personal qualifications to comment and they are but few. I am the sort of fisherman who, filled with ambition, on a few days a year sets forth, rod in hand, to perfect the “grape” cast (where it all lands in a bunch). I have caught more colds than fish and have a ‘hope springs eternal’ sort of approach that ignores skill as part of the fisherman’s armory. I went 5000 miles to fish in a place with no water and have brought ghillies to tears with ill placed crochet work. In short I need instruction and guidance.
Simon Cooper provides all this. Many fishermen, when asked for advice, will blind you with mysteries or assume that the information that they learnt on their father’s knee is already in your DNA. “What fly should I use today?” “ Try an Olive Dun ” might come the reply. You thrash the water to foam, only to arrive damp and dejected at the end of the day while your companion appears to have been fishing in bouillabaisse and have more scores to his credit than a north-sea trawler. How did they do it? They extracted fish from a puddle while you don’t appear to have achieved success in an aquarium.
You go home enraged with failure to watch extracts on U tube where camoed (camouflaged) Americans show you how to cast straight as an arrow, landing a dry fly like thistledown on the water. Entomologists baffle you with Latin names and vendors of trout flies coax hard earned cash from your wallet with sure fire winners for every occasion.
The return match is the same, your cast, despite having achieved perfection on the back lawn, catches first the dog, the fence and then lands with a splosh that would disturb a deaf whale. In all those Latin names there was never a mention of a pheasant tail or a blue winged olive, and the fly selection you have to hand is tossed aside by your river guide as a special offer from Amazon (which it was).
Simon Cooper saves you from all this. Woven in to the narrative of this delightful book is the information that your previous advisers ‘forgot’ to tell you. As he leads you through his bucolic year the secrets trickle out. An Olive is a generic name for a whole phylum of flies that all look roughly the same. A Dun and Spinner are all representations of flies at different stages of their short life. Each one behaves differently and presents at different times of day.
The flies that the spiders catch in their waterside webs are likely to be the ones on the current piscean menu so put something that looks like that on your line.
Above all keep your eyes open as to what is going on around you.
As for the rivalries between nymph or dry fly, trout or salmon fisherman, all distinctions are dismissed as trivia. Fishermen are there to catch fish, to outwit with their 3lb brain a creature that has one that weighs a fraction of an ounce. He embraces all as folk with a common goal and is unstinting in his illuminating advice.
Don’t get the impression that this is a book for fishermen only. Nothing is further from the truth. If you wear flip-flops or have a whole stable of green wellingtons in you porch. If you are as eco as Brighton City Council or just out to enjoy the countryside because it is there, then this book will touch you.
The rivers year unfolds, as do the lives of the creatures that live there. The perilous existence of the water voles, the otter’s self-confident supremacy, the eel’s obscure amphibious life or the brief orgasmic frenzy of the mayfly. All this and so much more is woven into the tapestry of his tale.
There is the insight that nothing you see in your natural world is ‘natural’ at all. Every bend in the river, tree and blade of grass is the result of the desire of some man or beast that it be so. We live in a gardened reality and the very diversity that it supports is because of millennia of careful management. Like a wisp of river mist Simon Cooper wafts away your conceptions of the natural world and replaces them with the truth that all things worth having only endure because of effort.
So whoever you are this book can reach out to you and open your eyes to a world that the author so obviously is passionate about, loves and wants to share. I enjoyed it on many levels and there are certainly many more for you to enjoy it on too.
Dr. Bruce Dunlop, a GP in Chichester, intrepid traveller, sailor and book reviewer, writes about his peregrinations for The Vintage Magazine.