7. Jock, Harry and the Viaduct
We lived in St.Annes-on-Sea in Lancashire and I was some nine or ten years old when my father’s driver, Jock, introduced me to his friend Harry Yates and we drove up to some lakes near the river Lune to go pike fishing.
Harry was a tall, gangling man who wore National Health spectacles and seemed friendly.
Jock was a good fisherman as apparently was Harry.
I, on the other hand, had never even seen a pike and was full of anticipation, not knowing what to expect.
I remember Jock setting live fish under a big float which moved one way and then another as a pike apparently circled around it, but nothing happened. Something did happen to me however when a Jack pike grabbed the red and gold Devon I was spinning.
I was in awe of the look of it as Jock unhooked the three pound fish, showed me its teeth and we slipped it back into the lake.
After that we went to do what Jock and Harry were really there for.
Lord Peel’s stretch of the Lune has a huge, famous pool on it called the Viaduct Pool. As we walked down the railway line towards it we came out on top of the viaduct and in the tail of this great pool below us we could see lots of huge salmon lying in row upon row.
I was totally fascinated.
Jock went down to the river and Harry spotted for him as he threw out a pink Spratt with Harry trying to guide him to get it as close as possible to a particularly big salmon.
I didn’t know it, but we were poaching!
As the afternoon wore on Harry spotted someone walking along the river bank in the distance and we left and drove home.
I was told I shouldn’t say anything about this ‘salmon fishing’ to my parents.
Before long Jock and Harry went back to the Viaduct pool and Jock told me the story.
They had arrived very early on a Sunday morning and had gone about trying to capture the king of the river in exactly the same way with Jock down below, spinning various colours of Sprats at the fish lying under the viaduct, but to no avail.
After a while Harry had tied up a prawn and proceeded to fish it from the top of the viaduct, casting it well up into the pool below and then drifting it back through the fish. It wasn’t long before one took it and a good fish at that. It took off down the river under the viaduct with Harry hanging on determinedly, his rod bent right round under the bridge. He hooked his feet over the nearest rail of the railway track behind him for fear of losing his balance and falling over the edge of the parapet, in which case the fish would have won!
Then the train appeared.
Harry took one look at it, saw it was on the other track and held on grimly whilst it came thundering past. Jock said that looking up at Harry battling with the fish, which was now leaping and thrashing about downstream of the viaduct whilst the train rocketed past him had been extremely funny, but not for poor Harry.
Eventually he got the fish to come back up into the pool where Jock gaffed the big twenty five pounder and they quickly left for fear of being apprehended.
Apparently Harry had been white and shaking for some time due to his experience on the viaduct and not far down the road the salmon, which they thought they had dispatched properly, started banging around in the boot of the car, so they had to stop to complete the job.
I never saw Harry Yates again and soon Jock lost his job with us.
16. The Reverend
The Reverend at Dunkeld Cathedral back in the fifties was nicknamed 'the Crow' by the locals as he had a big ‘beak’ nose, reminiscent of a crow’s beak.
A visitor who was looking for him one day stopped in the village square and asked one of the locals where the vicar could be found.
"Oh, you mean the Crow," said the local and happily gave directions.
The Reverend opened his door to the visitor to be asked if he was by chance Reverend Crow!
37. Lord Sandwich
David Williams, David Morris and myself fished together a minimum of twice a year for many years and we generated an extreme amount of humour and leg pulling when together, which goes hand in glove with fishing.
One day we were down at Murthly and Jimmy MacDonald had gone home for his lunch. We were starving hungry having been out from early morning and unpacked the lunch that had been prepared for us at the hotel.
There was nothing to drink. No beers, no flasks of soup or coffee, nothing.
So we discussed the situation and eventually had a mock argument about which of us should go back and pick up our liquid refreshment.
Williams and I ganged up on Morris, but it took a lot of pressure to get him to agree to go back, his biggest concern seemed to be that we would eat his sandwiches whilst he was gone.
We told him not to be so childish and stopped him from taking any sandwiches with him under our guarantee we would not touch our own sandwiches until he got back, when all three of us could enjoy our lunch together.
This mock argument went on for a bit and Williams and I had to swear on the Bible that we wouldn’t eat Morris’s sandwiches and eventually he drove off to go and get the drinks.
We waited and talked about the fish and how things were set for the afternoon.
We waited and talked about possibly fishing together down south in England.
We waited and talked about putting the world to rights.
We waited and waited, but no David Morris appeared.
After almost an hour it was time for Jimmy MacDonald to come back so we could resume fishing.
We had to have something to eat.
We came to the conclusion that Morris had gone into the hotel dining room and got himself a slap up lunch. So we unpacked the sandwiches, unwrapped them and were just about to take our first bite when Morris suddenly jumped out from behind a bush and shouted,
“I knew you’d eat my bloody sandwiches!”
42. Willie the Fish
I used to go up to the River Glass and fish it with Alan Allison (Loch Leven), staying at Murdo Mackenzie’s Glen Affric hotel at Cannich.
Murdo was well known as was ghillie Donald McClennan, nicknamed Blue Charm, who lived across from the hotel.
I once had a fifteen minute phone conversation with a man from British Telecom’s directory enquiries about Murdo when enquiring for the number of the hotel so well known was he.
There was also an ex-ghillie up there known as 'Willie the Fish'.
The Glass falls into the river Beauly on which Lord Lovatt owns a large stretch and which in turn falls into the Beauly Firth just north of Inverness.
There are two Borland salmon lifts on the Glass, which are fish lifts that let salmon in and then lift them to the top of a dam and let them out to continue their journey. It's all very civilised and free to the salmon.
The Beauly was fishing well, but the fish weren’t yet in the Glass, much to our disdain. We fished away, but it seemed that we were fishing empty water. Around day three of our week a curious story circulated the locality.
Concerned at the lack of fish in the Glass the Fisheries Superintendent and his assistant had gone to visit the two Borland lifts to check they were working properly.
At that time both lifts were being operated by Willie the Fish.
All seemed OK at the first lift, but when they arrived at the second they were just in time to find Willie the Fish packing the last of dozens of salmon into his car and apprehended him. How many salmon he had taken over that period we do not know but on the very first lift after he had been relieved of his job a record number of over six hundred salmon were lifted!
We listened with amazement to the story of Willie the Fish’s brazened thievery and went out on the empty river the next day with our hopes high, but it remained empty until around two o’clock in the afternoon when a veritable wall of salmon, filling the river from bank to bank, came past us moving together up the empty river. So we gave them a wave and doffed our hats in salute.
The fishing wasn’t very good for the remainder of the week though as the fish, held up for far too long below the Borland lifts, raced on past us.
44. Bill Met By Moonlight
Sea trout fishing is addictive.
Out in the middle of the night casting your fly or flies into the darkness never knowing from one second to the next whether one of the greatest game fish in Britain will spot your small fly and come hurtling out of the depths to smash take it.
The rod can just about be wrenched from your hands, especially if you've been fishing for two or three hours with nothing happening and you've stopped paying proper attention, which is typical of a sea trout take.
There was a guy called Bill I used to fish sea trout with and we did a bit of wheeling and dealing together, especially with vintage fishing tackle, which I used to collect.
We'd had a few sea trout escapades together and once he had dropped a valuable old fishing reel into the hotel for me to take a look at. I had been impressed, it was worth hundreds of Pounds. The next day in the afternoon he called me, I told him what it was worth and he said he was going to a big car boot sale early the next morning and he needed the money to take with him in case there was something expensive there he should buy.
But he couldn't get to me until late in the evening so we arranged to meet up at 10.00pm. at Kinkell Bridge on the river Earn and fish for sea trout through midnight. I got there early, tackled up and walked to the top of the beat to begin fishing and soon caught and returned a Whitling, a young sea trout of about half a pound. Engrossed in my fishing I realised that time must be wearing on as it was dark and indeed it had gone 11.00pm., but where was Bill?
Remember this was in the days long before mobile phones!
It was a velvet dark night as I fished stealthily down the beat, not wishing to disturb any possible large sea trout that was considering attacking my fly.
No sign of Bill anywhere though and now it was around 12.30a.m.
Suddenly and unusually the moon came out as the cloud broke away and lit everything up.
I couldn't see anyone down the river below me, but got the fright of my life when I turned and there was Bill standing right next to me!
He had started at the top of the beat and waded down behind me, he knew I was there because he'd heard the clicking of the clutch on my reel as I pulled line from the drum and he'd just kept steadily fishing down as I had been doing below him.
Except he had deliberately kept silent!
So as soon as my heart had calmed down and I had stopped berating him for frightening the life out of me, I paid Bill's bill to him out there in the river.
57. Fame at Last!
As a member of Perth Angling Club in the 1970’s I used to get summer permits to fish the Redgorton beat of the Tay. The Club members who fished there were a varied and great bunch, most of whom were expert salmon fishers.
The Black Craigs is the top pool of the beat and it begins and ends with a croy, stones built up and out into the river, around the point of which the current is strong. Fish running the right hand bank come up around the point of the lower croy and swing in towards the bank a little, giving you a good chance at them. However the pool of the Craigs is only some eighty yards or so long and we needed a fair system of fishing so that everyone got their chance.
So we used the classic for salmon fishing.
You waded in at the top of the Craigs and every couple of casts took a couple of steps down the river. After covering an acceptable distance, maybe a dozen or fifteen yards down the pool the next person waded in and so on, following you down the pool, and you each came out after reaching the bottom croy. In order to guarantee yourself a really good chance of a fish you had to watch for them coming a long way down the river then wade in and time your movement down the pool so that you got to the hot spot, where your bait was just above the bottom croy, at the same time as the run of fish were coming around the point of it and hopefully a fresh fish would grab it.
Once I was standing at the top of the Craigs looking down the river, waiting for fish to come, and I kept very graciously letting people wade into the pool in front of me. They knew fine why I was waiting and begrudgingly went ahead at my insistence. One couple had stood talking with me for several minutes before taking their turn and when I turned my attention back to the river again I immediately saw the flick of a tail of a running fish, but he was only a hundred yards below the bottom croy. I wouldn’t get to the hot spot in time!
The minutes passed as I waited for the couple to get an acceptable distance down the pool for me to be able to wade in, during which I saw another fish head-and-tail, but this one was even closer to the bottom croy. Eventually I did get in and decided I would throw long casts and let line slip away so that the shrimp I was fishing would be below most of the five or six people below me and that I would take the risk of tangling up with them in my efforts to hook a fish.
I waded out until the river was a couple of inches from the top of my chest waders so that I was out past the line of anglers below me and began to fish.
The first fish came around the bottom croy and made a running jump into the pool. I cast out again and let the shrimp sail away down the river. Then I went to take a step and put my foot on something that rolled away from under me into deeper water, lost my footing and disappeared under the water!
Surfacing with my rod in one hand and striking out for the bank with my free arm the current gripped me and turned me around and around as I thrashed my way down the pool past each of the anglers below me.
They burst into a round of applause, tucking their rods under their arms and clapping loudly as I churned the water to a foam and finally reached the bottom croy, where my feet touched the river bed again. My chest waders were full of water and I was soaked to the skin as I listened to the chuckles going on up above me. It was a hot summer day so I stripped off most of my clothing, began to wring the water out of it and began the process of drying everything on the bushes in the sun.
More than a decade later I was shopping in Perth and noticed a man who kept looking at me and smiling.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” he said, chuckling.
“No, I’m sorry, where did we meet?”
“Oh,” he said, “I was present at a very special occasion some years back.”
I ran through the few special occasions I could think of in my mind, but he just kept shaking his head and laughing.
“I was there the day you went for a swim down the Black Craigs in your waders!” he said gleefully.
Ah, fame at last.
69. Scotland’s Secret Weapon
It would be wrong of me to say that Scottish midges were invented purely to harass the English because they are not that selective.
They harass everyone.
Nationality, creed, colour, political persuasion, sex, stature, wealth or looks, none of them matter.
If the highland midge wants you..it will get you.
A great many years ago I fished the Upper Oykel with Alan Allison of Loch Leven note with barely enough water in the river for fish to run.
We had worked away steadily during the morning without a touch from a fish and at lunchtime considered whether we should walk down to a pool on a bend some half a mile or more below us. The wind had been blowing a strong breeze and we thought it might well be worth the foot slog, although in the back of my mind was the possible problem of midges and I said so to Alan.
We both knew full well that highland midges were deliberately created aerodynamically imperfect and cannot fly in wind speeds in excess of three miles an hour, having to dive for cover into the long grasses, heathers and bogs in order to be able to land without crashing.
Once safely hidden from the wind they sit and spend their time sharpening their teeth, in fact I think they probably take turns sharpening each other’s to make absolutely sure they are more razor sharp than razors. They then lie back and dream of sinking their fangs into succulent human flesh, rather as we might think of doing to a fillet steak or vegetarians to a nut roast.
As the hours or days go by and the wind keeps them grounded their bellies empty and rampant hunger kicks in, driving their dreams of gorging themselves on human epidermis to frenzied heights.
When midges are in this mode if you listen very carefully when you are out and about in the highlands you can actually hear the sound of gnashing teeth in the grasses and heathers around you.
But we were fully experienced in these matters (oh, yes?) and using our not inconsiderable knowledge of nature considered there was no way the strong breeze could drop, so we decided to make the walk.
Down along a twisty path we went in our chest waders and after a while it turned out that the pool was actually further downstream than we had thought, but finally we arrived at it and began fishing.
And then some kind person turned the wind off.
Massive clouds of Scotland’s secret weapon promptly took off from thousands of camouflaged airstrips, hurling themselves into the air virtually blotting out the sun. There were a minimum of one trillion, billion, quadrillion, gazillion of them dive bombing us.and I am not exaggerating!
Well, maybe by just one or two.
We ran for it, but it made little difference, I could feel the growing lumps on my forehead as I ran as fast as my chest waders would allow. Everywhere relentless clouds of midges were making a midgeline straight for me. The sweat poured from me as I swatted at everything I could with my free hand, desperately trying to stop the biting until finally I reached my car, threw my rod in the heather and jumped in, along with a swarm of kamikaze midges that had sworn to eat or die.
I started the engine and put the fan on full blast, which sorted the blighters out a bit, and gradually I began to recover. I looked in the mirror at the great swollen, itching, blotches all over my face, neck and hands and mopped the last of the sweat from my brow and there Alan and I sat in our cars, two supposed ‘experts’, surrounded and corralled by Scotland’s secret weapon.
And then the same kind person turned the wind back on......
77. Take A Dive
I used to take a walk down to the Gage Tree pool at Dunkeld House in the early mornings and fish it through as long as hotel guests were not intending to do so. Many guests would not start fishing until 9.30am or later and would miss those early morning fish that had stopped for the night, but which would take off to run the river hard again once the light was up or once they felt the morning rise in water from the hydro dam at Pitlochry.
Jake and I would saunter down the riverbank to wait for the light and I would be dressed in normal day clothes as I could tail a fish out by hand in the Gage and didn’t need waders.
One morning we were down there and a couple of fish had shown themselves.
I was throwing a metal Devon across the river on a long line, landing it well over onto the Fifey bank, mending my line, reeling it slowly to make sure it didn’t stick over there on the shallow bank and then leaving it to swim slowly across the middle of the river.
I was fishing from the left hand bank and turned to take a step downstream, right leg across left, when a fish hit the Devon so hard out in the middle that it pulled me straight off the top of the bank into the river!
I threw the rod upstream before hitting the water, barked my shins on the bottom and surfaced to grab the rod again and found the fish had gone.
I reeled the Devon in, clipped it to the reel and turned to get out of the water and there was Big Jake standing above me giving me one of his looks.
He was a dog whose looks said everything and spoke volumes about any situation and this particular look was saying a few things, such as:
‘Er, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t I the one whose supposed to jump in the river?’
Or ‘Ah, invented a new game have we? How does this one go then?’
Or ‘Who’s a clever boy, then?’