Despite the fact that we anglers all live a healthy life, eating and drinking in moderation and taking plenty of exercise, we will all, one day depart for the trout stream or carp lake in the sky. All we can hope for is that the end is gentle, and that our friends and relations will mourn our passing and celebrate our lives, rather than mourn our lives and celebrate our passing!
I knew two salmon anglers who died on the riverbank. One had not returned home as darkness fell late on a summer’s evening. ‚He’ll be sea trouting,‘ said his wife to herself, and she went to bed. When he was still missing at breakfast time she telephoned the police. They found him, lying back on a grassy bank, a smile on his face and a sea-silver 12lb salmon next to him.
The other was fishing with two friends, when he hooked a salmon and then had a heart attack. „Help!“ he managed to shout. „Take my rod,“ he said to the other. „And take me to the hospital,“ he said to the other. His first words to his wife, when she visited him later, were, „Did he land the fish?“ and „How big was it?“ But then a couple of years later he hooked another salmon and the strain on his heart was too much. He fell and died there, at the waterside.
Angling, so the ‚Elf’n Safety fascists tell us, is the most dangerous of sports and none of us should risk venturing to the water without wearing a dry-suit, life-jacket, snorkel and goggles, and without having a certificate that we can swim 1,500 metres thus attired. We ought also to carry out risk assessments into the use of sharp hooks, fishing line, priests and the chances of catching some virulent water-borne disease. Etc.
You do not believe me? Last autumn the Grayling Society sent out a ‚risk assessment‘ for would-be-visitors to the riverside during their annual conference! We will all be at it soon: ‚Beware, there is water in the river and you can drown in deep water!‘ ‚Beware, the lake is in the countryside and, when walking across fields (the footpath has not been covered with flat tarmac) you might slip on wet grass!‘ ‚There are blackberries in the area and their thorns can scratch and draw your blood.‘ And so on! But enough on that stupidity.
Francis Maxmilian Walbran died by drowning on the river Ure at Tanfield on 15th February, 1909. He was wading deep in the river, fishing for grayling, when a sudden spate came hurtling downstream and washed him away. His gravestone, in Tanfiled churchyard, is perhaps the most beautiful angler’s memorial, with a carving of a rod, landing-net, creel and fish. What a contrast to the plain headstone of Oliver Kite, who died of a heart attack whilst trout fishing on the river Test, which simply says, ‚OLIVER KITE…FLY FISHERMAN‘.
At least they found Walbran’s body and gave him a Christian burial. One poor Irishman wasn’t so lucky:
A man being drown’d,
Was ne’er again found,
„Sure he’s gone the way of all flesh.“
Then another did reply,
„Sir, this I do deny
Sure he’s gone the way of all fish.“
Robert Blakey gathered several anglers’ epitaphs in his Historical Sketches of the Angling Literature of all Nations, published in 1856. Some of them are quite amusing, though tinged with sadness.
Here lies good Pierre Froment,
Of Albany Town;
A fisherman well known
Of skill and renown.
The salmon and the trout
He often did spear;
Death struck with his barb,
In his fifty-second year.
Dated 1798, that epitaph was on Pierre’s gravestone in the United States. Perhaps we shouldn’t mourn him too much for he clearly was a snatcher of fish, and not a true angler.
An undated inscription on a windowpane in an inn in Somerset warns of the dangers of not making a risk assessment (see above) before going night fishing for trout.
Here lies Tommy Montague,
Whose love for Angling daily grew;
He died regretted, while late out,
To make a capture of a trout.
Whilst a Dumfries tombstone, dated 1790, warns of the dangers of wading in cold water.
Here lies poor Thompson all alone,
As dead and cold as any stone.
In wading in the river Nith,
He took a cold, which stopp’d his breath.
He fish’d the stream for ten years past,
Death caught him in his net at last.
Billy Dawkins was an angler who drowned, not through fishing, but trough love. Note: have a hankie ready when you read of his sad ending.
In Leighton Buzzard lived a lad
On her his hopes, on her his fears,
But Sally had a cruel heart,
With rod in hand, one vernal night,
To see a soul with love so wrung,
His heart was broke. His pain beyond
Perhaps, following the tragedy of Billy, O!, the ‚Elf’n Safety fascists could advise young and innocent fishermen whether they ought to carry our risk assessments with regards to future girlfriends. I think that they should. For I have known more than one fisherman being forced to fish less and, in one case, to give up fishing altogether after being hit by Cupid’s arrow.
The following epitaph comes from a churchyard in Cumberland. It seems that the subject of the epitaph was a fair old handler of a fly rod.
The angler, Jack Dawson, lies
Under this stone; with artful flies,
Trout and salmon caught in scores,
Whene’er he wandered out of doors.
Old Giles, on the other hand, seems to have been a baitfisher who sat by the stream, waiting for a bite. He died in 1810.
Here lies within his tomb so still,
Old Giles, pray sound his knell,
Who sat for years by purling rill,
And us’d the rod right well.
And Thomas Heron, who died in 1801, seems to have been a great all-round angler.
Interred here doth lie a worthy wight,
Who for long time in fishing bore the bell;
His name to show, Thomas Heron, Knight,
In all piscatory arts he did excel.
But we are not told how good the anonymous angler was, who died in 1784, and had these words carved on his gravestone.
Here he lies – an angler good,
Lately made of flesh and blood;
Who has left his rod behind,
Tackle of an artful kind;
Give him honour – lightly tread
The sad now pressing on his head.
As for me, it’s written in my will:
‚Burn me and chuck me in the river, O!‘