Not another fishing classic

One day I may read a bad review of a fishing book but it could be a long time away. Nearly all reviews are favourable, not to say gushing. Many new publications are hailed as future classics, a bit like how some unimpressive pop stars are labelled geniuses. In this year’s issue of Salmo Trutta, the Wild Trout Trust’s annual, Neil Patterson goes wild in a review of David Profumo’s book on his fishing life, The Lightening Thread.

Now Profumo has never been a writer I’ve cared for, what with a tendency to overwrite and clutter his sentences with verbosity and archaisms. Patterson it seems has been infected with the same problem. He pours on the praise in a display of wordiness that matches Profumo’s. The book is a ‘collection of crafted essays’, ‘a deeply intelligent, virtuosically exuberant exploration’ of his extensive travels. Apart from wondering whether there is such a thing as an uncrafted essay, the rest of the hyperbole suggests to me that Profumo must be half great thinker, half great artist. And when the review suggests he is smarter than Chomsky, famed linguist and philosopher amongst other things, one feels that Patterson has gone so far overboard he is drowning in his own enthusiasms.

So can Lightening Thread live up to its billing? Unfortunately not. A fair chunk of the book’s opening can be read online. It begins in typical Profumo style with plenty of long winded erudition on the history of fishing, showy writing with Latin phrases and uncommon or even archaic words. His descriptions that are meant to show his love of angling become so cloying that his love for Roget’s Thesaurus is more obvious. In fairness there are some interesting historical points new to me, but to get to them there is a lot of stodge to push through first. In the second chapter the author calms down a little and writes about his early fishing experiences which coincide with the period of the Profumo Affair, the great Sixties scandal which forced his father to resign his ministerial post. Potentially of some interest, Profumo’s perceptions of his father’s problems are only briefly referred to; but then he was young at the time and has written about his family elsewhere.

Patterson enlists the support of ‘literary giants’ who apparently endorse Profumo’s book. Stoppard is a significant playwright, and McGuane has written probably the best fishing book in recent times, but Prue Leith and Loyd Grossman? It makes it impossible to take this overblown review seriously. I’m certainly not persuaded that this is a good book, let alone a classic. There are no doubt points of interest in Profumo’s global wanderings with a fishing rod. Like his father, who was able to live off his inherited wealth post-scandal, David Profumo presumably has never needed to earn a living. All that time to go fishing and write books is a privilege. Whether it is worth wading through the treacly prose to follow his adventures is a matter of personal taste.

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Orvis, the shrinking fishing tackle business

Back in the 1990s Orvis shops began to spread around the UK following the opening of its first at Stockbridge in the mid-80s. Well-heeled towns like Burford and Bakewell got branches, the northernmost shop appeared in Edinburgh. Now, in 2022, they are all closing down except for Stockbridge, down on the banks of the River Test in Hampshire.

Orvis is going back to its roots selling only fishing tackle, stepping back nearly four decades, except for the online part, now the biggest seller for the company. Even the London store has gone, along with the Andover headquarters and all the clothing. Not long ago fishing tackle space inside its shops shrank as the better selling clothing pushed it out. Since Orvis clothes were designed with the overweight American figure in mind, they needed a lot of floor room.

The reasons for this big change, according to the boss Simon Perkins, are Brexit, Covid and unfavourable exchange rates. Since Brexit, UK trade has fallen substantially, and of course the value of the pound dropped consequently, making Orvis gear a lot more expensive to the British shopper.  Many businesses suffered during the pandemic lockdowns so its perhaps not so surprising Orvis is retreating, leaving a lot of redundant staff.

Will we miss the Orvis stores? Yes, I think so. Fishing tackle shops are becoming a rarity around the country. Many have closed and with them has gone the opportunity to browse tackle and get local fishing advice that you can never get online. Internet shopping sites may be cheaper sometimes, but they are no substitute for physical retailers.

The problem with Orvis was mainly its prices. The bits and pieces of fishing, spools of line, snippers, floatant and the like were pricier than the competition. Quality was generally good although the red tippet spools carried horribly brittle line that snapped off every time you snagged on the backcast. Many have complained about that. Rods and reels are good but I don’t really think any better than other brands. Many are the extravagant claims made in the marketing bumph, backed up by plump beardy ‘designers’ in the current Orvis catalogue. But I have a couple of rods and reels and I’m happy with them. Clothes I never purchased because of the Mr Blobby tailoring, which of course suits the physiques of some anglers I’ve seen about.

Orvis should perhaps have focused on pricing instead of daft marketing strategies like DCL (distinctive country lifestyle) — more green wellies than fishing rods. Now the lifestyling claptrap is gone and you can only wave the rods about in Stockbridge, where choice of stock should be even better and, from the company’s point of view, the clientele more monied. Otherwise it’s online only for UK shoppers. Orvis still lets out fishing on the Test and Itchen, though you’ll pay up to £250 per person in the mayfly. I was once lucky enough to be invited to the Kimbridge beat. It’s a nice bit of water, fairly short. In fact, there’s only about a couple of hundred yards of streamy fly water. The rest is deeper and slow. I think much better value is to be had elsewhere.

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