Warner’s final documentary will immerse many viewers

Dick Warner, the naturalist and inspirational writer who graced these pages for many years died in June. 

He, almost inevitably, died while afloat on the Shannon. His last moments must have been, or at least I hope they were, bathed in light reflected from water — just as most of his life was.

Just like those other great conduits to the waters and the wild Norman Maclean, the author of A River Runs Through It, or Thomas McGuane in The Longest Silence, Warner’s life was framed by flowing, sparkling life-giving water.

Those three writers worshipped at the same altar, they recognised the centrality of the same great, sustaining force in our lives. They all wished we cared more for it and made that argument by explaining rather than by lecturing — like all of the most inspiring, effective teachers.

Warner’s explaining will continue next week when a new 13-part television series, Dick Warner’s Great Irish Fishing Odyssey, begins. As befits a man who made more than 50 television documentaries and many more radio programmes — and wrote hundreds of articles for this newspaper — Warner explains and cajoles, leads and converts, without ever being over-bearing, without ever patronising. He, almost water-like, immerses you
his subject and argument.

That characteristic is as potent in the forthcoming series, in which he fishes for 13 species of freshwater fish found in Ireland, as it was in some of the earliest angling documentaries made on this island. Some of his earliest work has recently resurfaced and it shows, though the core principles remain constant, how very much the technology, the settings and expectations have changed, though diminished might be a more accurate description.

A Youtube search for “Irish Spring Salmon” — a day or two in Careysville on the Blackwater — will bring you back to a time, relatively recent but one that that seems more a memento from the Edwardian world than a record of something that took place less than half a century ago.

That piece, and others in that 1970s series, may have been revolutionary in their time but the advances in technology and especially underwater footage – and
filming from above using drones — show us a world those 1970s Blackwater anglers could only imagine.

Some of the underwater scenes in the new series are truly spectacular; they show species — perch, trout, pike tench, rudd, and more — in all their natural grandeur, in a way that challenges us all to do much more to protect them.

Indeed, it is sobering that the series, in episode seven, goes to Waterville in Kerry
to celebrate sea trout at the very moment when it is
impossible to pretend that the once-great lake, Lough Currane and its sea trout population are not at a critical, threatened point. Once described — rightly — as the jewel in Irish game angling
it has for many reasons, all man-made, been reduced to the point that its survival
as a sea trout fishery is in question. Warner, and anyone else who cares for our natural world would be heartbroken.

But then, as Warner knew only too well, nothing remains unchanged. Introducing the series from Burke’s of Clonbur, on the shores of the Mask, he accepts that challenge of catching 13 species, “which I have to catch before the end of the year”.

Little did he know how right he was, or that he was casting off on the project that would bookend his career and life.

And, as if to give thanks for all of the work he did to champion Irish waterways and wildlife, the Mask, that great sheet of enigma and fantasy, gave him the biggest brown trout of his
life to neatly close one of the opening episodes.

If ever a man deserved it…

Dick Warner’s Great Irish Fishing Odyssey begins today at 7.30pm on eirSport.


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