Once Bitten

I wouldn’t call myself a proper angler, but I am definitely a wannabee.

Strange that, because I feel as if I’m wannabee everything. Farmer, fisherman, hunter, gardener, writer, painter, musician, adult. Kind of like when I was eight.

Mind you, forty odd years as a wannabee hasn’t dulled my enthusiasm for “stuff” one iota so, whilst I wouldn’t call myself an angler, I suppose I actually am one.

I got the bug at the age of six, my cousin showing me how. Dangling a piece of fine line and a size 18 hook, baited with a mussel tongue, off the pier in Oban. I don’t suppose anything I caught was over an inch, and I don’t know what they really were, but, in my head, they were sharks.

The next year I really got bitten (also by a bat, but that’s another story). We were holidaying in the privately owned coach-house of Carbisdale Castle and the ghillie, a scruffy, unique, publicly curmudgeonly but privately gentle, man named Iain Fraser, took me out in a little motor-boat and taught me to spin. Man did I spin. I spun myself dizzy. After two days of picking up nothing but lessons in patience from Fraser, I caught a real fish, a sea trout, a GAME fish. I have a photo to prove it and the fish is honestly almost the size of my seven year-old self.

Ever since that summer the smell of whisky and stale tobacco has conjured up the delightful memory of spinning for sea trout and salmon (I have also harboured a long standing desire to grow a curly moustache, hmmmm).

At the end of the holiday my mother scored some summer work at Carbisdale Castle itself, so we had another five glorious weeks there and I had the time of my life. Really. I wandered, fished, carved sticks, built hideouts, chased rabbits, fought dragons and hitch-hiked the six miles to Bonar Bridge with my sister, who was all of ten. I also pinched a packet of chocolate biscuits from the top of a back packer’s back-pack. Statute of limitations anyone?

Iain Fraser taught me knots and fishing; how to polish a droppen with Brasso, how to jiggle my rod just so, how to keep a boat’s head into the stream and how to spit through my teeth. We had days out to various salmon rivers; the Shin, the Oykel and the Cassley, watching the beautiful silver beasties leap for their lives. I saw fly-fishers for the first time that summer too and was entranced, as well as a bit overawed. I stuck to the spinner though, with the occasional day trying worm and maggot in the Kyle of Sutherland. These live bait trips produced flounders and eels as well as the odd trout. I’m sure that any angler will recognize the sheer fizz of of joy that takes over the soul of a boy, indeed the soul of a grown up, when he hooks into a fish.

One day we were down at the foot of the Cassley Falls and a salmon misjudged his leap, ending up flapping in a rock pool at the side of the gorge. My mother, ever keen to take advantage of opportunity, promptly sat on the bugger and yelled for someone to come and help her.

We dined on poached salmon that night and though I have never been a big fish eater (there’s a back story there too), I fell in love with the slight vinegary taste of the soft pink flesh.

I haven’t fished for years, but the attraction is still there. I still know the feel of a bite on the end of a line.

So fast forward forty years (alliteration? No sweat, just one more talent). I now live beside a lovely little trout river and this year I took up a fly rod for the first time. I am hooked again. Not just the joy of the chase, the stalk, the catch, but the whole fishy subculture and specialist gear thing. Flies, lines, zingers, rods, reels, hooks, feathers, fur and a million different items to occupy my mind, fingers and wallet.

A second childhood? I never left the first.