Renowned sado-masochist, James Topham, in Issue 19’s Undercurrents, on the best of the worst times in the life of a fly fishing guide.

“While the soaking salt water spray from the bow of the skiff is the bane of my day, sometimes I find myself missing it for its harshness and for the feeling of doing something uncomfortable and rugged. Since those blustery overcast mornings on St Brandon’s, I’ve never had a morning where I feel so awake, so afraid of failing, so alive and hard-core and, of course, so wet.

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Looking back on my memories of my formative years guiding, I’ve just now realised that all my fondest memories are of the things that I thought were making me miserable. Getting soaked first thing in the morning; eating fish and rice for months on end; tough days on the water; difficult clients; violently rough ocean crossings… all of those make me feel really good about myself because, even though we probably bitched about it at the time, I know that there was a huge part of me that was revelling in “The Suck”.

If you had to ask me to time travel to the part of my guiding that meant the most, it probably wouldn’t be that 20 GT day, or when the fishing was so easy it made me look like a god. It would probably be all the way back, to my first ever day out on the water on Farquhar atoll, Seychelles. Keith Rose-Innes and I were offshore in the worst weather I’ve seen before or since, trying to put petrified clients onto Doggies. The waves were so huge and our skiffs so small and I was shitting myself so thoroughly there were moments I honestly couldn’t believe that we wouldn’t sink. We just had to. But we did get back and while the Spaniards were giving thanks to Mother Mary I was secretly and deeply riding out the last of the most intense adrenaline rush I’ve ever had. I thought at the time that I wasn’t cut out to be a guide, that I wasn’t tough enough to endure it, but that may have been the exact moment I gained the ability to handle just about any situation on the water with confidence.

Keith, on the other hand, realised he was feeling peckish and made a mental note to eat a bigger breakfast before going offshore during the tail end of a hurricane.

I came to love The Suck, because it wasn’t the norm.”

Read the Rest of ‘The Suck’ in issue 19 of The Mission below: