It’s been a while since I did an interview! So when Cyril called me to tell me about a fly fishing book that has received good reviews and its author who has the Mouching spirit, I didn’t hesitate for a second…
So, first can you introduce yourself please?
Bonjour, Le Mouching! My name is Ben Jailler. I’m a writer and fly fisherman living in the south west of England. I’m a regular contributor to Fly Culture and Fallon’s Angler in the UK. I’ve also had articles published in The Flyfish Journal and Trout & Salmon, and my first book Fish Camp Fail has just been published.
When did you start fly fishing?
Unfortunately, I only started fly fishing in my early 30s. I’d been a rough fisherman growing up, but had always struggled with the ‘static’ approach of sitting and watching a float or lounging on calmwaters. My favorite method has always been sight-fishing for chub on rivers, climbing trees to spot them and free-lining a piece of floating crust. I think that’s why I enjoyed fly fishing so much – the visual element is very important and I like to take a mobile approach, always trying to cover as much water as I can, and moving if I haven’t had a pull in fifteen minutes.
Do you remember your first fish?
My first trout on the fly was a rainbow trout caught while on vacation in Scotland. I’d taken my coarse fishing gear with me, intending to fish for pike and perch in the Lochs, but discovered that there was a trout lake just up the road from the cottage where I was staying at with my partner.
I borrowed some fly fishing gear from the owner and somehow managed to get some line out on the water. I then watched in amazement as a rainbow rose up from the depths and nailed my fly. That was it for me! From that moment all I wanted to do was fly fish. I just wish I could remember what the fly was!
Why do you fish, what do you feel when you are at the water’s edge?
My background is in screenwriting and video games writing, and I find that fishing gives me a similar feeling of peace and purposefulness as when the words are flowing from my fingertips.
At the water’s edge, I’m just feeling incredibly fresh and focused on the act of locating, casting to and catching a fish. Everything else goes out of my mind. It also gives me an excuse to get outdoors in beautiful surroundings and is a way for me to connect with nature, plus I’ve got to meet some very cool and crazy people on my travels around the UK and Europe.
You have written a book « fish, camp, fail »which has received very good reviews. Can you tell us quickly why we should absolutely read this book?
It’s not like any other fishing book you’ll read this year! Most fishing writing focuses on the act of catching a fish or the natural surroundings – which is fine – and there are a number of writers who do this brilliantly. But for me, fishing doesn’t occur in the void. When I go fishing, what films I’ve been watching, what book I’m reading, what snack I’m eating, what’s happening in the world or my personal life – influences the outcome as much as my choice of fly, tactics or the conditions.
I’ve described Fish Camp Fail as Colonel Kurtz meets American Werewolf in London with a fly rod clamped between his teeth. My book won’t help you catch more fish, but I hope it will make you laugh and inspire you to get up into the mountains, while avoiding werewolves, of course!
Why did you write this book?
Despite me loving writing and loving fly fishing, it never occurred to me to put the two together, until I had the very weird experience of hooking and losing nine in a row fish over the course of four separate fishing trips. I felt cursed, but then: PING! It was like one of those comedy lightbulbs going off above my head.
After writing and getting published a number of articles in fly fishing magazines, it felt like a natural progression for me to write a book. Fish Camp Fail actually came out of my ‘fish-life crisis’. I’d become bored of fishing for stocked trout in lowland reservoirs and had the urge to ‘get away’ and seek out isolated locations to fish for wild brown trout.
Because of the distances involved in getting to these places, it made sense for me to wild camp overnight, which unfortunately put me on a collision course with my deepest fears.
Is it true that you’re afraid of the dark?
Oui. This is due to a traumatic childhood incident involving the unexpected appearance of a werewolf on an early evening current affairs show, which basically scared the living shit out of me. It also gave me a life-long obsession with horror.
I always found it odd that the last thing I do before I go to bed at home is lock my front door and then sleep safe in the knowledge that there are brick walls and a slate roof between me and what might be lurking outside. Yet, here I was up a mountain, alone, in pitch darkness, in the absolute arse-end-of-nowhere with my mind running through every horror film involving someone being killed in a tent, with nothing but a flimsy sheet of nylon to protect me.
The title of Fish Camp Fail refers to my various attempts to spend a night solo wild camping in the wilderness and come to terms with my very real fear of the dark. It’s also a play on the ‘Hands Space Face’ public information campaign that ran in the UK during the pandemic, which is when the bulk of the stories in the book are set.
It’s only stories that you have lived?
Absolument! I’m basically a bit of an idiot who never thinks things all the way through and, as a result, I constantly find myself getting into stupid situations. One of my favourites in Fish Camp Fail is about going fishing for bass off La Pointe Du Raz in Brittany with a jazz-loving local fishing guide called, Manu.
I suffer from vertigo and found myself standing atop a two hundred foot cliff at dawn, with waves smashing onto the rocks far below that Manu wanted us to fish from. I basically had a meltdown and.. well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out what happens next. But it involves lots of swearing and fast driving, both of which Manu is very good at. Check him out if you ever find yourself in Brittany. He is a brilliant guy and a great fisherman!
What do you do when you are not fishing and writing?
One thing I’ve really enjoyed while promoting Fish Camp Fail is guesting on some podcasts and radio shows. I like the idea of working in different media and would like to explore doing a podcast of my own this year – not necessarily involving fishing.
I’m also looking at collaborating with some UK filmmakers and I’m always trying to improve my photography, which is becoming more and more important when trying to sell magazine articles – particularly in America.
At le mouching, we like books, music and food. What are you reading right now, what’s on your playlist and what’s your favourite food?
We take our family holiday in Brittany each year, which luckily allows me to indulge in all of the above. My favourite thing in the world is to get up early in the morning and buy fresh croissants, bread and maybe a trois chocolat from the patisserie counter.
I’ll then find a cafe somewhere looking out at the sea, order café au lait and sit and read a book. It’s usually about sports, horror or some aspect of popular culture. Last year my holiday reading list was: God is Dead by Andy McGrath, Norco ’80 by Pete Houlahan, Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman and Kiss my Axe by Pat Mills.
Our holiday often coincides with my birthday, so I’ll treat myself to either a fruits de mer or lobster thermidore. One year word got around the restaurant that it was my birthday and all the staff gathered round the table and, after a count of three, one of the girls started serenading me with “We wish you a Merry Christmas…”
I guess it was the only song she knew in English, but it was one of my best birthdays ever and also why France is so special to me. Allez, salut maintenant!
To find the book, click here
credits photos: ©Barbara Evripidou/FirstAvenuePhotography