A TRUE FISHERMAN’S TALE
BY THE OLD COUNTRYMAN
It was a beautiful balmy Spring day, more years ago than I care to remember. The flowerheads on the snowdrops and the wild daffodils had withered and died, leaving theiranonymous stalks and roots to gather up strength from the weak spring sun and nutrients fromthe soil. This would enable them to give the countryside an equally splendid display thefollowing year, for all those that had the privilege to enjoy it. They provided a welcome splashof colour each year, indicating that winter was over and summer was waiting just around thecorner. These flowers had been replaced with the equal glory of a carpet of bluebells, theiriridescent bell-like flowers gently nodding in the breeze.
I was sitting on the banks of the River Wye which was then, and still is to this day, one of the finest rivers in the world. Iwas listening to a kaleidoscope of sound, made by numerous birds, dressed in their most colourful plumage and singingtheir little hearts out, each hoping to win an equally good looking and amorous mate. This glorious sound was mixed withthe gentle, lazy rippling of the river as it flowed downriver, glittering in the spring sunshine, along the beautiful Wye valleytowards Chepstow and onwards to the sea. I was convinced at this moment that nothing could happen that could furtherenhance my pleasure in this gorgeous day. How wrong I was.
I was sat on the bank, at the head of a deep pool, one that I had fished every year on this glorious river. I had taken at least one “Springer” a early running salmon, renown for their excellent condition, giving them sheer power ,and making them the hardest fresh water fighting fish in Britain. The river was just clearing, miles up stream. It had rained heavily for several days previously and the high colour was just beginning to run off, making perfect salmon fishing conditions. I had fished this spot two weeks previously but to no avail, a complete blank.
One of the highlights of that day was a very unusual occurrence, one that I had never seen before. I had seen what I thought was an unfortunate grey squirrel falling out of a tree and into the water. In fact as he splashed about I had great difficulty in avoiding hooking him on my fly line as he passed in front of me. Imagine the ribbing I would have got from my fishing pals if I had told them I had caught a squirrel. They would have sworn, of course, that my casting was so bad that I had hooked it out of the tree. I managed to avoid the misfortune of catching him with my hook and he scrambled up the bank about 20 yards down stream.
I returned to my fishing and watched the water patiently, hoping to see movement that would indicate a fish, that silent thief“Time” passing without notice. Suddenly I was sure I had seen a movement about 30 yards from the bank directlyopposite. I decided it was a fish and that I needed to be 25 yards or so up stream to enable me to put a drifting fly asnaturally as possible right over that spot. I moved up stream, this put me directly under a voluminous old alder tree,making it difficult to cast. Whilst working on my plan of action, I heard a rustle up in the tree.
There, sat comfortably on a branch, was a grey squirrel and, as I watched him in amazement, he stood up on his hindlegs. Then, apart from putting his paws together over his head like a human diver, he performed a perfect dive into theriver. It was one that I would have been proud of anyway. He swam lazily past me and scrambled up the bank exactly atthe same place he had the last time I had seen him. Later I learnt that this was a frequent occurrence and this particularsquirrel enjoyed a regular dip in the river. This added a new dimension to my knowledge of the habits of a squirrel.
About half an hour passed by before the fish moved again in exactly the same place. Without hesitation I performed mybest roll cast and my fly passed over where I thought the fish was lying. Nothing. I continued to cast for about 20 minutesand still nothing. At this point, I decided to rest the fish for half an hour or so and peeked into my lunch bag. After eating asatisfying meal of newly baked bread, mature cheddar and home made pickles washed down with bottle of locally brewedreal ale, I returned to my fishing.
To this day I believe it was the beer that made me so relaxed that I performed one of the most perfect casts of my fishinglife. The fly dropped gently without a splash onto the moving water, first in a long curl then slowly straightening out as itmoved down the river with the current. It passed over where I thought the fish was lying with the line straight, perfect forcontrol. The fly hovered, and then disappeared, and my heart missed a beat. “COUNT to ten and then say God save theQueen”. That’s what I had been taught for the fish to take the fly properly and this done, I struck.
An epic battle began which, to this day some 50 years on, has never been matched by me in Britain’s fresh water. I lostcount of the number of times the fish was in the air. It lunged and jumped, with me hanging on and trying to keep the linetight to avoid the fish throwing the hook.
Just over an hour passed before it started to slow down. Now, I thought, I am in with chance, and there was no doubt inmy mind it was the biggest salmon I had ever hooked. By now I had managed to get the fish about 20 yards from mywaiting landing net. The suddenly “Splash” right in front of me the B****Y SQUIRREL dived out of the tree into the river.My hopes of landing the fish faded as it was obvious that the squirrel was going to get tangled up with my line.
The practicing Olympic swimmer was leisurely swimming down from my right with the current. At this point I must have had Divine Intervention because, before the Olympic contender reached my line; I transferred the straining rod to my left handand picked up the landing net in my right, deftly scooping up the squirrel.
Now I had a serious problem, his legs had gone straight through the mesh of thelanding net and he was firmly tangled up. No way was I going to free him with onehand. I promptly threw the net and its struggling occupant up onto the bank andconcentrated on my fish.
After what must have been another 20 minutes, in which time I swear I forgot tobreathe, the fish was at my feet totally exhausted. Do not ask me how, as I hadnever done it before (although I had read about it), I “tailed” the fish. (Extract fromthe book: “Grasp the fish just above its tail and lift it up tail first”). It wasextraordinarily heavy, but no way was I going to let it go! I struggled up the steepbank with what turned out to be a fish of a life time, an amazing 28 POUNDS 13OUNCES.
After releasing the squirrel from my keep net I drank the last bottle of ale and thecelebration was completed by emptying my hip flask of single malt before returninghome to be photographed with my prize.
So that Spring day the pleasure did get better and better, although earlier I hadfirmly believed it wasn’t possible. In fact that day is still with me as if it wasyesterday, and that’s how it will remain until I cast my last line. My fishing pals hadthe pleasure of witnessing the squirrel merrily swimming down in that same spot atother times, but I think perhaps he avoided me as I never saw him again.