Golden Olive, Dark Olive

The Anglia full of fishing bags, rods, the fishing net, sandwiches in brown paper; we’d
often go fishing, my Dad and I. He’d drive up the long hill from Kilmacanogue. Then, on
the Calary Bog road, I was allowed to hold the steering wheel. I was about ten years old.
We were on our way to the Upper Lake of the Vartry Reservoir at Roundwood.
He was fishing for brown trout. His rectangular boxes were divided into small squares
internally and were full of flies, hooks, lures and weights. He tied his own flies with
feathers and gold wire, iridescent colours of blue and green, bright red, soft brown,
golden olive, dark olive. He assembled his rod on land; his glasses perched on his nose,
putting the line and flies together.
Once we were out on the lake, I did all the rowing, aware of his blue eyes looking at me
quizzically when I missed a stroke. It was probably why he brought me with him, to row
the heavy clinker built boats and to handle the net when he caught a fish. There was the
swish-swish of the line snaking out over the water, the soft clicking of the reel as he drew
in the line after casting. The tip of the rod would bend and jerk when a fish took the fly,
the reel click-click-clicking faster if the fish headed for the bottom.
There could be rough weather on the lake but it was never rough enough for me. I craved
adventure; prayed for the waves to get bigger, for squalls and storms. But often the wind
would drop in the evenings, the lake would become flat calm and my Dad would
complain that it was no good for fishing.
One summer the water levels of the lakes fell so low in a drought that a bridge appeared.
That opened up a world of possibilities, of another underworld, hidden by the water.
There was a fairy ring of hawthorn bushes close by. There was also the spot, inherited by
my Dad from an old fishing friend, where the biggest trout in the lake lived, never to be
caught. The brown trout that he did catch, we brought home. I learned to gut them and
examine the stomach contents – usually small water snails – always hoping they would
be alive. We grilled or fried the fish with rashers. The smell and the taste were superb.
Where the boats were tied up below the boat house on the Upper Lake there was a deep
cut hidden in the water. One day my Dad fell into the cut as he pulled the boat up, even
though he knew the cut well and had often warned me about it. He was alone. He had
always been a strong swimmer and he got himself out of the water, but he came home
soaked to the skin, his lungs rattling. It was the first sign of the illness that would end his
life. He was still going fishing, but without me. I was a student by then, living my own
life. Though he was warned not to take the boat out on his own, I was sure that he did.
I went back to the lake one more time after his death. At the lake’s edge I watched a grey
boat drifting on the water, oars at rest, fishing rods slanted. Rising fish rippled the
surface. The water made a gentle lapping sound on the stones. In the shallows a minnow
hung motionless, then vanished with a flick of its tail.