Fishing Lines: Hey there, Georgie girl – you've just landed a stupendous salmon
Sunday 14 October 2007
An unseemly row erupted in a village quiz when I disputed a question beloved by puzzle setters. It was the classic: "What is the largest fish caught on rod and line in the British Isles?"
The correct answer should have been the 851lb tunny taken off Whitby by Laurie Mitchell-Henry in 1933, though these days, you should really reply: "Adrian Molloy's 968lb fish, taken off Donegal in 2001." But there are generally no extra points for being a smartass.
However, the quizmaster insisted the correct response should have been a 64lbsalmon from the River Tay, caught in 1922 by the 32-year-old Georgina Ballantine. (I'm such a sad noodle that I could even tell you the second-largest salmon caught by a woman). Personally, I'd prefer the Ballantine answer to becorrect, because it's such a wonderful story.
Her father, James, was the local ferryman. He looked after fishing on the local Glendelvine stretch of the Tay, close to Dunkeld. Just below the town is the famous Birnam Wood,which starred in 'Macbeth'.
When the water was not booked by aristocracy or businessmen, James and his daughter would go fishing. On the day in question (7 October), she had already caught salmon of 25lb, 22lb and 17lb. After such a catch they would normally have packed up, but with the clocks going back that very night, they decided tocontinue fishing.
At 6.15pm, she hooked what she later said seemed "an ordinary sized fish". Having caught salmon to 25lb that day, her idea of "ordinary" may have been somewhat different to ours. When it started to get dark and the fish had still not been sighted, she revised her view.
Her father, clearly a sensitive soul, decided to use reverse psychology when it looked like they would be out all night. "Man, if only the laird or the major had ta'en him, I wouldna' ha' been sae ill aboot it," hetold her.
She retorted by asking him if he would buy her a new frock if she landed the fish. He replied: "Get ye the fish landed first and syne we'll see aboot the frock." (He never bought it.)
Eventually, the fish was landed. It was 4ft 6in long, and was eventually given to the patients and staff of Perth Hospital, though it was put on display at Mallochs, the local tackle shop, first.
One onlooker observed:"Nae woman ever took a fishlike that oot of the watter, mon. It would need a horse, a block and tackle. A woman! That's a lee [lie], anyway."
Great story, huh? But not the largest fish.
Even inserting the word "freshwater" between "largest" and "fish" in the pub quiz question would not have solved the problem. I'd always thought that the largest was actually a 67lb 8oz salmon caught in 1812 from the River Nith in Ayrshire by Jock Wallace, a renowned local poacher.
And I was wrong, too, as a stunning new book* reveals. 'The Domesday Book of Giant Salmon' records 469 Atlantic salmon over 50lb, including one of 103lb from Scotland.
I'll tell you some of the yarns that accompany those fishnext week.
* 'The Domesday Book of Giant Salmon', by Fred Buller, ispublished next week by Constable and Robinson at £50
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