Nick Thomas looks at end of year from both a fishing and photography point of view
I have mixed feelings about Autumn. For a photographer it has its good parts; great light for pretty much all of the day and the colours can be spectacular in a good year. For a fly fisherman trout season is ending or gone, and as the season progresses fishing the river means putting on more and more layers under the waders to keep the cold out. I don’t mind the cold. It’s more the faff of getting all the gear on and off and the encumbrance while fishing that annoys me sometimes. Sometimes I wish that I could be back in just a fishing shirt in the warmth of summer. Mind you, there were several times back in June and July when I was sweating along the bank in waders and wishing for the colder weather to come.
In fishing and photography Autumn is a time of warm colours; reds, oranges and yellows on the trees, reds and pinks in the fly box and the red purple and pink of grayling fins in the sunlight. Autumn Colours is my attempt to bring these all together in a personal appreciation of the one mile stretch of the Taff that runs close to my home.
The opening shot was taken on the 1st of October and the closing sequence on the 14th November. I thought when I started it would be a relaxing project to do. In truth it turned out to be a bit stressful at times. From year to year the development of the autumn colours can differ quite a bit; last year was a poor one for colour, this year, after a long hot summer, the leaves were spectacular. The weather was not. It rained. A lot. On days when I couldn’t get out, or it wasn’t worth going out, there was the constant worry that the season was passing me by and the beautiful autumn colours were disappearing as the leaves washed or blown away.
The variable weather often meant that the best light for filming was on days when the river was high or coloured, so a good proportion of Autumn Colours was shot on a DSLR on days I wasn’t fishing. I enjoyed this time on the river just as much as the fishing days. Sitting waiting for the light to change, or for a lull in the breeze for a macro shot, can be just as calming and peaceful as waiting for a fish to rise. Changing lenses, changing the framing on a zoom lens or selecting the right aperture to get the image you want, all have parallels in the changes of fly and fishing method you make in a day’s fly fishing. They are all part of a contemplative experience which is relaxing and rewarding. When I’m fishing and filming at the same time there can be a conflict between the two activities. Sometimes it’s better just to concentrate on doing one thing.
The fishing sequences were all shot on my waterproof camera using a bendy tripod balanced on handy rocks or wrapped round tree branches. These locations have to be chosen with care. On an urban river you have to think what you are doing leaving a camera running while standing in the middle of the river with your back turned. It’s not just the nefarious element you have to be concerned with either. I had a few shots scuppered by dogs knocking the tripod over and I’ve got one low angle dog related sequence that won’t ever make it into a final cut. Suffice to say it’s a good thing that the camera is waterproof and rinsed off OK.
While the autumn weather interfered with both fishing and filming, I think in the end it made for a better film. The flooding stripped away the knotweed from the banks in many places and allowed me to capture fishing sequences where I couldn’t previously. The high water also dumped some large trees which gave new opportunities to set up the camera over the water free from possible human or canine interference.
Autumn Colours is only partly a fishing film, in the same way that fishing is only partly about catching fish. Sure, there is some fishing in it, but no drama, no screaming reels, no trophy fish, no hyperbole. It’s a film about a short stretch of river, about being there, and just savouring the surroundings. It’s really a film about why I pick up a fly rod and go fishing. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did making it.
Nick Thomas lives in South Wales. He started fly fishing on Scottish hill lochs many years ago and continues to design, tie and fish flies for trout, grayling, carp, bass and anything else that’s going.