“.......Pleasure is spread through the earth, In stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find”
“ We fish for pleasure; I for Mine, you for yours” Leisenring’s Notebooks
Apropos of notebooks, these were the main way in which information was passed on. Most of the lists of known wet and spider flies are based on some manuscript or other. It would be a great thing to find some original list somewhere which tied some of them together.
One of the other mysteries connected with flies which has occupied me on and off for nearly forty years now, is explained here.
Nobody ever bothered Hazel Joe. As far as I know, he never even received any post. I never met anybody else at his caravan, and we very rarely met other people on our various expeditions. He could read, and would often be sitting poring over a newspaper or magazine when I arrived, but he did not think much of books. This surprised me more than somewhat, as he was remarkably astute. My main passions at the time were fishing, studying animals, folk music, and reading. I devoured books at a phenomenal rate, and had been doing so for years. I was unable to comprehend how anybody could possibly exist without them.
Be that as it may, Hazel Joe had no books, that I had seen, and showed not the slightest interest in reading any. For a while, I occasionally brought some books along, fishing books from the library mainly, but he had no use for them, and so I eventually desisted.
Some time after I had gotten to know him a little better, we were sitting on the terrace, dressing flies again, and my skills in this area were obviously improving apace in his estimation, as he carefully inspected some of my efforts, and placed them on one side saying "Might do some good".
This was high praise indeed, the only criticism forthcoming up to that point being noncommittal grunts. He finished a dozen flies of a particular pattern, dipped into the box of hooks and placed twelve further hooks on the small box at his feet, and sat thinking for a while. He then disappeared into the caravan, and came back with a small notebook, which he opened, flipped a few pages and began tracing something on the page with his finger.
Fascinated by this, as it obviously had something to do with the flies, I asked "Can I have a look". He shot me a sharp glance from his fathom less dark eyes, and his brow furrowed, but he handed me the small leather bound book.
The opened page showed several beautiful drawings of flies, apparently done in black ink with a very fine pen on one side, and paragraphs of fine and very closely written text on the other. The pages were yellowing and stained, but the fine drawings and writing were clearly visible.
To my dismay, I could not understand a single word. Even the characters were strange, and although some looked vaguely familiar, they made no sense at all to me.
It had never occurred to me that he might be a foreigner, he spoke the local dialect perfectly, with no trace of a strange accent, and I have an ear for such things.
"What language is that?" I asked, but he simply shook his head, and held out his hand for the book. Reluctantly I handed it back to him, and we kept on dressing flies for a while.
He packed up his stuff in a wooden box shortly afterwards, looked up at the sky, said "Fishing tomorrow, before dawn", and retired to the caravan. I had no option but to finish what I was doing, pack my gear and leave.
Time apparently had no meaning to Hazel Joe. He always knew what time it was, but it apparently had no appreciable or noticeable effect on him. He slept quite a lot, often only getting up to look after his animals, and then going back to sleep. He found my wristwatch, a present from my elder brother who had finally found some gainful employment, rather amusing.
He knew what it was, and he could tell the time as well, but it just did not interest him at all. He had no conception of being late for something. He had the patience of Job, and could sit quite motionless for hours, apparently doing precisely nothing.
Nevertheless, it seemed a good idea not to be late for the first fishing trip, and so I went to bed early that night, after packing my gear and making some sandwiches and a flask of tea, and set my alarm clock for three in the morning.
Shortly before four I arrived at the caravan, and Joe was sitting on a box at the front door feeding two of his large dog ferrets on strips of meat. He appraised my gear, said, "Won’t need that, let’s be gannin", and placing the ferrets in one of the cages at the side, he marched off along the field.
My gear was not exactly expensive, but I had worked very hard to get it, and so I slipped it under a length of corrugated iron, hoping for the best, and hurried to catch him up.
We walked quite briskly for two and a half hours, across country, and eventually came to a small wood. At the edge of the wood was a longish lake which looked natural, and he crawled up to the edge of this, motioning me to stay back, and peered intently over the edge.
The sun had not given off much heat, and a faint ground mist was everywhere, especially on the lake.
Apparently satisfied with his observations, he came and sat down on a log, said, "bait", and began searching through his pockets. (Bait is a Yorkshire word for food, and has nothing to do with fishing bait).
This was my cue. Doubtless he could find something to eat if he really wanted to, the first few times we had been out together he had always done so, but now on our trips he very rarely did so anymore. I offered him a sandwich, which he accepted, and then a cup of tea from the flask, which he also accepted.
We ate in silence.
Searching his pockets once again, he came up with the inevitable piece of string, a large piece of round cork, with a length of nylon attached, a small curiously shaped piece of wood, about half the size of his hand, which looked like a crude carving of a mouse, and a box of flies already attached to small lengths of nylon with loops.
The fairly strong nylon was knotted at intervals of about a yard, and he carefully looped the prepared flies over the knots, and drew them tight. Fifteen flies were attached.
The string was attached to the wooden "mouse" by winding it around, and he then crept up to the bank again, whirled the contraption once through the air, and let fly.
The "mouse" landed about fifty feet away, with barely a ripple, the cork fell to one side, and he was left holding the nylon by a small wooden toggle which I had not hitherto noticed.
He began "jiggling" the toggle.
There was a series of splashes in the lake, and he began hauling in the rig against what seemed to be considerable resistance. Four excellent fish were removed from the hooks, knocked on the head with his knife, and the procedure was then repeated twice more.
With eleven quite excellent fish on the bank, a couple well in excess of two pounds in weight, three browns, and eight rainbows, he carefully rolled up the nylon again, removing the flies as he did so, and sticking them in the cork.
The whole kit and caboodle was then placed in his pocket again, most of the fish
in his right pocket, and he said again, "Letīs be gannin". The whole procedure had not taken twenty minutes.
That was my first acquaintance with an "otter". I never did master the trick of hurling it properly, although I practiced for ages and ages. I had no problems at all casting the thing from a fixed spool reel, which he found interesting, and even played with for a while, but when I tried to use more than about six flies, or the piece of round cork which he used apparently effortlessly, I got into a hopeless tangle. He obviously found this quite amusing, and simply said "Have to practice a lot".
Back at the caravan, he gave his ferrets some strips of fresh fish. Gutted and cleaned the others in double quick time, said "Letīs have a brew", indicating that I should make tea, and wandered around to the back of the caravan.
We sat drinking tea in silence as the sun burned off the last of the morning mist, and he then got up, went around the back, and returned with a stick full of perfectly golden brown smoked fish.
He gave me three of the largest, said "Bring some salt", and retired to his caravan.
This I knew was my dismissal for the day.
I retrieved my gear from where I had left it under the corrugated iron sheet, and made my way home. The fish were among the best I have ever tasted, which is saying a lot, as I never have liked fish much. Quite some time later, he showed me how to do it.
I never did find out what magnificent secrets might be held in his little leather bound book. Although I found out a great many other things over the ensuing years.
I went to visit him one day, a while before I left England. To say goodbye really, as I knew I would not return, and to thank him.
The caravan was gone. More and more commuters were now using the trains, and these had increased their frequency, the town was growing rapidly, more and more housing estates being built, and much wild land being encroached upon.
Some of the railway travelers apparently felt the caravan was an eyesore they could well do without, and complaints to the local council had resulted in it being removed. There was just a patch of bare ground in the corner of the field. Not a trace of anything was left.
Although I made very extensive inquiries for over two months, and placed adverts in a couple of papers, I never found him, or saw him again.
Nobody I talked to knew what had happened to him, and the clerk at the council offices told me that they had not even known anybody was living in the caravan, and that they had seen nothing. Ridiculous really, as he had been living there for a long time, everybody in the district knew of him, apart that is from the useless bureaucrats at the council.
I made some efforts to locate him after I left England, but was unsuccessful. He is certainly long dead now, and many of his secrets with him.
Over the years I saw a number of notebooks and lists, from quite a few people, some of which were obviously very old, and occasionally I was privileged to handle them, or even copy a few things, but many people guarded these things quite fiercely, and it was often difficult to obtain much information at all
I have often lain awake at night and pondered on the contents of that book. I saw it and handled it a number of times, but I have never seen anything even remotely resembling the characters in it, although the drawings were clear enough.
My memory of the characters themselves is faded now, I only got a few glances on a few isolated occasions anyway, it is more or less impossible to retain an accurate memory of something you do not understand, but I know if I ever saw them again, I would recognize them. I wish I knew what to look for, but despite trying to look at everything from the Cyrillic alphabet, to the dead sea scrolls, for almost forty years now, I have found nothing.
Indeed, I never even found out his real name.