Fear, loathing and a few fish on Loch Coldingham

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The day after we had fished the Tweed (reported on some weeks ago, see the fishing section on The Independent's website if you missed it) Andy, Philip, Mark and I went to Loch Coldingham in Berwickshire. This is an intensely pretty loch, one of the oldest fisheries in Scotland. It was very hot when we arrived and I felt quite foolish putting on layer after layer of clothing that would, however, prove essential out on the loch.

Andy, like a pusher, unravelled buff-canvas covered new Gem rod after rod (he works at Hardy's). "Which would you like to fish with?" he asked, suddenly, it seemed baring gold teeth. "I'll take a nine-footer for a six line," I replied, as Andy unrolled one and handed it over. As we all got booted and waterproofed up, I realised that I had forgotten my waterproof trousers – essential for boat fishing. Luckily Andy had a spare pair to spare me from a wet bottom for the rest of the day.

As we were about to close the car boots, a funny thing happened. I had my life jacket in my bag but (I am deeply shamed to admit this after all my preaching) I was embarrassed to put it on. No-one else had one on. But I knew that, if anything happened, saying "I was too embarrassed to put it on" – were I alive to say it – would just be too stupid. So, tentatively, I ventured "Um, Andy, do I need a life jacket?" (I didn't want to cast aspersions on his rowing skills). "You're captain of your own boat," he wisely replied, now seemingly sporting a kindly grey beard.

Then funny thing number two happened. Everyone started talking life jackets and how really, yes they should be wearing one. Suddenly, I felt dead cool.

What I had failed to mention was that it had been years since I'd been in a boat and I'd never been in a boat, on a loch. Lochs hold both deep fear and fascination for me. But, I thought, the worse that can happen is that I will get very, very wet while all around me are drowning. Anyway, I went in Andy's boat since he was the only one I knew, and thus felt safe with, in boat management terms.

About two minutes after dropping anchor and starting fishing, with the sun warming our heads and the wonderful scenery before our eyes, Andy said "this is a bit of all right, isn't it?" Indeed. Douglas, who owns the loch, had pointed out to us the spots where the fish usually are, one such place being where the water went all 'slicky'. We fished wet flies for a while before I decided to put a dry fly on, despite there being no rises. I selected something that instinctively looked good and put it on, casting to just where the slicky water was.

Bang, a fish bit. I missed. At the time I thought I'd been too surprised to strike correctly but later – after several more casts, I'm afraid to admit – I realised that I'd lost my fly, which meant that the fish had broken me. Probably had been a monster. Then, mother nature drew a thick grey blanket across the pleasant blue sky. Just like that, the wind got up, the rain came down and the loch started getting choppy, I mean really choppy. I was straddling the boat seat as our vessel was rising and pitching so much it was like riding a horse. At one point I actually became quite scared as the water lapped at the side of the boat. For about two seconds panic gripped me and I wanted to scream: "We're gonna die, we're gonna die." Luckily I gave myself a mental slap round the face.

We stopped fishing for a bit because the wind was just too much. We still hadn't caught anything. I felt okay about this as it wasn't just me, but we could see Mark and Philip's boat and they had had some fish. "Probably over a shoal" we thought, cushioning ourselves from reality.

Time had flown and it was home time for me. We beckoned the others over, which is when Mark told us his secret – he'd apparently had on more fish than he could remember – a small hopper (I had tried everything from a Greenwell's glory to a daddy-long-legs). Philip brought his boat right next to ours, and Mark came into our boat while I stepped into theirs so that Philip could take me to the station and Mark and Andy could carry on fishing. How my hydrophobia has come on!

As I sat on the train home to London, I text-messaged Andy and Mark, still in the middle of the loch, to follow their progress. "How many?" I asked. Andy, now also fishing a small hopper, messaged back: "10". And I'd only reached Darlington.