Fishing: Roll on spring and my Gnats

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I AM nowhere near a river and am sad. There is no crisp, frosted grass to crunch over, only horrid grey carpet tiles separating horrid grey desks all around. In place of twinkling sunlight there is electric light that neither warms nor cheers me like the proper stuff does. I am surrounded by people that do not know one end of a fishing rod from the other and think what I do is queer.

Hurry up spring! When the trout season reopens and I can dig out my favourite Parachute Black Gnats and flick dry flies onto pretty rivers to raise wild brownies. How well I shall iron my fishing shirt to welcome it back from the depths of the cupboard. How polished my reels will be and how I shall wind them back and forth to prepare myself for the sound of them singing for real on the river bank. My fishing lines, all of them, be them floating, sinking or intermediate, will be bathed in the splendours of specialist line cleaner and dried upon Irish linen cloths. I shall even clean the treads of my Hunter boots with my toothbrush, if only Spring would hurry up.

This time last week I was in Scotland, on the Tay. Just up river from Glendelvine Water where my heroine, Georgina Ballantine, caught her big old salmon, nearly 69 years ago now. What a bloody long time ago. In 69 years from now I shall be dead and anyway the rivers will be barren.

Perhaps I should be a ghillie and get to fish all the time or anyway be near water and in the countryside where every vista feeds my eyes and calms my brain. But my Spey casting is not good enough for ghillieing despite the personal attentions of Ally Gowans last week. It was the sink tips that got me. You need sink tips to get the fly deep to the riverbed but dragging line off mighty salmon rivers is hard enough without a sink tip to weigh it down.

But anyway there were no salmon, not even Ally could raise them. His dog Bramble kept trying to swim out to his master whilst Teal, the ghillie's dog, peed on Bramble's head in between fetching endless pebbles thrown for him by me. He chewed them with now blunt, 11-year-old teeth before returning them, glistening with dog spit, to my feet.

After fishing we all returned to Ally's house where he drank three cups of coffee and then showed us his web page where there is a picture of me tying an Ally's Shrimp fly. We saw his tackle cupboard, full of reels, none of them particularly fancy. His son, Andrew, explained fish ladders (there is a fine one up the road at Pitlochry) that help salmon get upstream when the river is dammed. Then to `Numpty's' for dinner. A fine dinner is all the finer after a good day's fishing. I ate haggis and drank whisky and Ally told us tale after tale of fish and folk and jokes he had played on everybody. He must be owed some, I thought. On the wall, above his head, was a cast of another fisherman's steelhead trout that had been caught, incredibly, from the Tay.

On the way home from Pitlochry to Kinnaird we crossed an old railway bridge that spans the Tay. Scottish skies always have more stars, of that I'm sure. I looked down at the Tay and thought how wonderful she looked and how magical it would be to fish for salmon at night. A coal fire waited for us at home and we toasted marshmallows with makeshift toasting forks (I think they were laundry tongs), until our lips were pink with sugar. Regular sips of whisky were required to take away the sweetness, and regular melting pods of marshmallow were required to take away the sting of whisky. And so it went on.

The next day I had to ring the ghillie to say we could not fish before noon, due to religious reasons. That afternoon yielded no fish, but a bit of rain that streaked a rainbow across the sky. Then bags had to be packed, whisky bottles drained and trains caught. Back to town, back to grey and far away from rivers.