I think it was about 1978 and I was 14 when my Mum and Dad, avid green bowlers decided they were going to head down to Peebles in the Scottish Borders for our annual summer holidays. Someone at my Dad’s work new someone with a caravan down there and we were going to stay their for a fortnight. It seemed not unlike other places we had gone holidays, usually the south coast resorts like Bournemouth, Margate and the like as we prepared to travel. The reality, and it makes me laugh now, is that Peebles was only about forty minutes or so away from where we lived in Musselburgh!
The problem for them though was what to do with me. I was 14 so could pretty well be left to my own devices- with sufficient entertainment and cash! A guy from Dads work came over one evening with a fly fishing rod and reel and showed me how to tie a blood knot, how to loop a leader over an over hand knot on the end of the line (we had finesse in those days you know- delicate presentation? pah!) and how to tie a fly on a 8 foot length of 6lb nylon mono.
20 minutes on the car parking area behind the house and I was casting like- well probably Indiana Jones with a bull whip judging by the cracking noises, but hey this was fun! And we haven’t even seen water or a fish yet!
Pretty soon I was to be found perched on the banks of the Tweed near Neidpath Castle everyday thrashing the water trying to concuss any passing fish stupid enough not to be wearing a safety helmet.
The routine was, each morning we would pop into the Angling shop- I think it was called Frasers, buy a permit, and a wee paper bag of flies, all wets- usually Butchers, Greenwells Glory’s, and the odd Zulu, or Blae and Black. I went down the river and by 4 o’clock I had managed to use them all up- the flies that is. They were akin to ammunition for me, you tied them on the line and fired them, and when they were gone, they were gone!
And fish? never seen one! Well thats a lie to be honest- an old guy used to come by me some days with his Spaniel, he was a local angler. Each day he pointed out this huge trout (5lb he claimed) that sat in the pool opposite where I fished, I used to say I could see it but I had no idea what he was looking at! He claimed to have been trying to catch it for years- I reckon now it was a rock but he had convinced himself it was a fish! Maybe thats why it wasn’t biting!
One day I lost all my flies and it was about 2 in the afternoon, I had one solitary hook that I had wound a bit copper wire and some yellow and black sewing thread round- naievely trying to make it like a wasp or a bumble bee- I have no idea- it was like an insect. Its all I had left- I tied it on and ‘lobbed’ it into the rapids below me. Fish on! Well for a second at least a small “Brownie” sprung from the rocks and it was off. I dunno who got the bigger fright – it or me.
None the less that was me hooked. Mum and Dad bought me my own rod, reel and intermediate line before I went home and I used it for the last few days. We even bumped into some friends of my Dad’s who had a cottage in Peebles, and their sons were into fly fishing. They offered to take me night fishing and even lent me a pair of thigh waders- in fact I think they gave them to me- a bit tatty but I was in the river now!
Never caught a thing but it was magic in the river at night with bats all round. One of the guys got in a tangle with one but was able to get it off.
So no fish but now I wanted to fish. My local river was the River Esk in Musselburgh. It had trout in, alledgedly, and I went there all the time for three or four summers and caught nothing. ( there is a theme here I am sure you are spotting!) I always used the flies I was familiar with – I used to buy them in Woolies- as it was the only tackle place locally. After a year or so my Dad got into it too and we started fishing the Water of Leith in Edinburgh- home territory for my Dad. He knew all the wee back ways down to the river between houses and stuff. We caught several Shopping trollies, poly bags and the occasional beer can, but no trout.
So concientious were we in our efforts that at the end of the season we submitted the catch returns- zero fish for about 20 visits. They must have laughed their heads off at the council, when they drew my permit out the hat and I won three free days fishing on any East of Scotland reservoirs of my choice next season! Good catch!
We went to a wee reservoir near Gifford for one trip reputed to hold some big fish, but never seen as much as a single rise, Whitadder Reservoir- and guess what- I caught a 3/4 lb brownie! Number One! This was exciting- my hit rate was about one fish for 150 trips! But then we halved it again at Gladhouse where I caught a second- this time a bit bigger maybe close to a pound!
We went to a local angling evening at the Brunton Halls, my Dad and me and beleive it or not my Dads ticket was drawn out of a hat and he won a rather expensive (in those days) pair of uniroyal thigh waders! This fishing is good- you get free stuff!
I fished a lot while my Mum was ill- probably to just get out the house, things were a bit grim.
I remember fishing the foot of the wier on the Esk at the foot of the “Grove”. There was a salmon ladder in the middle with a long pool below. I was standing in the middle of the river casting into the pool when an acquaintence from school came along and shouted over if I had caught anything (as if!) I looked round to say no and bang a “huge” Sea Trout came barreling out the water attached to my fly ( a Butcher- I still recall). I think it thrashed for a few seconds and then was off. How much luck does one angler need?
The following year ( Mum had died) I fished up the Esk a lot on days off work, by now I was a working lad, and fishing was curtailed by work and study. I had borrowed my dads rather nice Carbon Fly rod purchased from Dicksons in Frederick Street- I bought it for him for Xmas. It had a Hardy LRH reel and – A FLOATING LINE!. I even procured some upside down dry flies- a new invention and gave them a go. My first night with them I managed to rise a fish but it never took my fly- but things were looking up….. but life in general started getting in the way, and but for a few trips with my Dad down the Tweed and one or two trips down the Tyne and Whitadder fishing gradually petered out. There were odd days out and I took my gear when I started working away with BT in the highlands and islands but they were few and far between- I managed to break my two Fibre glass rods and that was really about it.
Until summer 2010……
2012: Having enjoyed about 1 and a half seasons of fishing and also a couple of winters both at fisheries but also out for the Grayling on the rivers ( I love Grayling fishing on the fly) I was looking forward to the new season with loads of ideas of places to fish. I awoke one morning in late March though with a slightly stiff middle finger on my right hand. Initially I though maybe I had hurt it though cou d not be sure, maybe a bit overuse of a mouse with a PC, or maybe a bit wear and tear. It got steadily worse over 4 weeks and then I started noticing I was getting sore feet too- especially my right one. Maybe time for a check out at the doctors. Loads of tests ensued and my condition got worse too. By mid summer I could only really walk about 400 yards before the pain was too much to bear in my feet in and hip. I generally have a 3 mile walk every evening when I can. In short I have been diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis, which is a bit of a pain in more ways than one! Its hampered my ability to fish as much as I would have liked this year and especially limited my river outings as I am struggling to walk any distance. I have started on some fairly strong medication to try control the condition and hopefully once ( if) this starts to work near enough normal service will resume.