This page is dedicated to some of my writing from the last few years, old and new. The most recent is Let It Roll.
The Illustrations are all by Danny Davidson
Let It Roll
I decided some weeks ago that it was about time I shook off my mid season funk and get out there and get some…..I needed an injection of rhythm to chase away the blues. April had nipped in and mugged me while I was day dreaming about time being on my side,…. no rush, ease my way in, stay calm, digest the info then respond appropriately….reports of April Ribble springers had smash and grabbed me and made me engage in the odd hour of hit and run. No rush, ease my way in – May would soon be here and it was bound to be wet……………………guess again.
The river came up dirty and dropped dirty through June & July, only the retired, enjoying their enlarged time portal could get the timing right and prosper but even these sages found the going tougher than tackling a club car park combination lock with failing eyesight. Meanwhile my world continued to slowly rotate and my river time was reduced by life’s other constant distractions; I was caught under the effluence. But no matter where or what I was doing my season was still there lurking in the shadows like a nagging spectre in the mist. It wouldn’t be ignored and demanded to be both addressed and satisfied. Normally at 5am I’m out of bed like a gymnast – vaulting into my shoes, silently slithering under the door crumpled like I’ve tumbled out of the washer – up out and onto the river for a quick two hours. This however was not the case – duvet grabbed and spun in a death roll and back to sleep. Something was wrong, something was missing – I had full blown apathy – as I walk alone I wonder, what went wrong with our love, a love that was so strong – Del Shannon, Runaway. Where was my mojo, my spark my drive.
My spark & my drive is my eternal friend Lamont & he was two weeks into a month long retreat in a Himalayan mountain ashram, franticly trying to come to terms with 2015’s blank season and patch up his shot gunned psyche. He had already been there for fourteen days trying to explain the various nuances of salmon fishing to a Buddhist monk named Peng……apparently Pengs entirely redundant lack of knowledge of the Ribble system, its tributary’s and the life cycle of the Atlantic salmon didn’t help Lamonts exasperated bubbling anger issues. Peng also struggled with Lamonts Blackburn accent, his regional dialect and phases. Lamont had phoned me via a weekly satellite hook up that gave him his only contact to the outside world. He didn’t sound calm. Serenity was away for a bit. It must have been on a lunch break – fuckin Peng, he’s serene because he happily knows nothing! – he’s never heard of Whalley or even Preston….it took me three hours to explain marmite – he’s driving me daft…he asked me why I kept saying I was a gate!…. at this point the call ended. The satellite had obviously gone over the wrong stile and wandered into an unwelcoming Chinese airspace. Chinese airspace is Lamonts supreme description of losing your way on new club water and inadvertently crossing onto another clubs beat – I think I may be in Chinese airspace – there’s a bloke looking at me……
I’m left conjuring an image of a poor bewildered Peng – shaved head – devout – flowing robes – contemplating Lamont and what place in the cosmos for two obviously very different species….
Wittgenstein : if a lion could speak, we could not understand him – even if-itwer a Lancashire lion.
So needing a jump start to my season I vowed to fish everyday that the river was in a fishable condition. It was mid August when I stuffed my gear in the ford focus pocus (recently valued at £50 by we buy any car .com) and decided to go toe to toe with the season. Two hour sessions with the fly, lure or prawn pre & post work drew blank but did start to reignite the pilot light. Seeing a few uncatchable fish in unreachable and impenetrable areas of the Ribble wilderness was just the ticket. Id missed the Russian roulette white knuckle ride thrill of driving down – journey to the centre of the earth farm tracks. Frequent Rambo-esque twilght jungle extractions from Chinese airspace has been enough to make me get my head right and revel in a life now thankfully far less ordinary.
Got my Mojo working but it just aint working on you
It’s quickly gathered pace and I’m now all-in with this season; balance is restored. On the way onto a beat I’m full of sunshine, almost trotting, no aches or pains – only dreams and optimism. Only to come off with my feet on backwards, my ankles upside down and my sanity ebbing. The last three days has seen me fish hard on what I consider to be the best water of the year so far. I’ve visited 5 different beats, gone from top to bottom & covered fish – loved every perplexing minute but still blanking. All I can claim is the briefest of tussles with a grilse that took a small stoat’s tail dropper 9 days ago just after dawn.
On Wednesday afternoon another angler glided past me as I was trudging off broken. Rod on his shoulder – he was obviously just coming on – confident, euphoric stride & whistling…..bloody whistling! The poor, smiley, blissed-out, happy, optimistic fishing fool. I slumped past him aching, boot sole flapping, eyes sunken, shoulders tightened, low and slow making sympathetic eye contact – a head shake was the only interaction we needed as he asked if I’d done anything……frame by frame it could of been a drive by shooting.
The rhythm of the chase is returning as is Lamont (who no doubt will be the first man to be banned from Tibet) – I’m rocksteady ready now for the river to hit me up and anticipating the Ribble to nice up the dance.
Ever forward for Ribble salmon – I prefer the Porsche and not the Yugo, so when the music gets your soul, just let it roll, let it roll.
Funky Kingston & The Eye Of The Tiger
Funky Kingston by Toots and the Maytals is playing in my space capsule. Today’s flight path is to briefly dock with the cracker factory for a suffocating eight hour mission and then to safely sling shot out of its unhealthy atmosphere and then to re-enter the mother ship currently cloaked as a terraced house in Clitheroe, Lancashire. Toots is lighting up the cockpit like a cosmic supernova and is displacing the January gloom with a weight of warm images. Funky Kingston is where I think I’d like to be right now. Thoughts evoked of smiling faces, cool rhythms, bright vibrant colours, roborant smells and hazy sunshine. A lovely lifting sense of pace and infectious optimism glides through the track. Toots asks us to believe what he says and what he does – too late Toots’ I’m way ahead of you. If Funky Kingston was a person I’m sure he would be a fisherman and that he would be bloody brilliant at it. He would be the infamous guy who everyone has heard of but nobody has ever met.
During the last twenty years the same notaries return to my ears like loyal homing pigeons, mentioned with potent consistency. People I have never had the pleasure of meeting but yet somehow; I seem to know details of their lives through the portals of folklore and idle gossip. Sometimes I have narrowly and annoyingly missed crossing paths by a day or even hours. This just manages to amplify their legends – it becomes a yearly ghost hunt to walk the same path as the true Ribble greats, to gain a firsthand snapshot of what makes them elite.
To be elevated to eye of the tiger status then you must catch between fifteen and thirty Ribble salmon a year, every year. To quantify these numbers as angling achievement and form a tangible scale – you may compare it to a moonshot. These river astronauts are the cats we measure the season against – I don’t need a graph, pie chart, or to grope around seasonal statistic’s – there is no grey area. I have caught a combined total of ten Ribble Atlantic salmon in the last two seasons and in the last twenty odd years climbed to seasonal double figures just twice. Hundreds of salmon anglers chance their arm on the Ribble over a season – most overjoyed by catching one fish just to avoid blanking. Getting off the mark is the paramount goal of the majority of ordinary salmon anglers. Ordinary anglers are rarely spoken about while you string up on the car park – but to become a true river swami and get into the thin air requires the average angler to hit the turbo plus button.
You know the character – we all do. Well at least we think we do – the legend, the phantom of the riverbank – the solitary angler who fishes in an expert shorthand and consistently catches more fish. Their escapades always retold in their eternal absence; adding a romantic kudos that elevates them to the status of mystical river sage.
Secretly – Ah yes; secretly we would all like to be revered and be spoken about in the same exalted terms and have our odds defying exploits retold on numerous club car parks – of how we battled a fresh fighting fit wild fish while in the savage throws of a career defining heart attack or how we managed to catch over twenty salmon a season – every season. We could all travel in a gilt etched cloud of smug quiet confidence while deftly walking on rice paper. But before you get lost in another daydream full of small glories, please bare in mind that getting carried on the shoulders of your peers does not come easy or cheap. If you want to be a myth then you had better pay your dues both physically and mentally.
Let’s explore the composition of this character and try and replicate the correct anatomy and uncover the golden components – witness the fitness.
It’s safe to imply that screaming around the inside bend is the attribute of obsessive behaviour. Our hero is undoubtedly an obsessive – history is littered with them. Flawed characters demented with their view of perfection and always demanding it from others. This quality is at the core, the engine that eventually pushes the protagonist to the peripheral edge of society. Cast as an outsider the obsessive can perform without fear.
Martin Hannet the Factory records producer who made the works of art that are the two Joy Division albums – Unknown Pleasures and Closer had obsession down in spades. He knew what he didn’t want. He didn’t want average, he didn’t want bland. Imagine bumping into a guy out on the moors carrying a tape recorder, microphone and asking him what he was up to. Only to be told that he was recording the silence. Infamously he told Steven Morris the Joy Division drummer to stick his drum kit on the roof and to play faster but slower. Brimming with wabi-sabi and some fatally twisted character flaws and yet able to help create something utterly compelling and lasting. You see, it seems it did not matter what kind of state he was in, the testament is that he was there and capable of input. But Hannet isn’t alone in this cast list of obsessive creative’s – far from it, the list is perpetually growing as square pegs continually upset and surprise the round holes.
At this time in the piece I should compare and contrast a list of flawed genius’s who rode the fiery curve of obsession and managed to get one element of their lives spectacularly right. The element they became famous or infamous for. I’m not going to do that because you’re not stupid – you have your examples, so you don’t need mine.
Occasionally there are true stories that radiate interest about incredible people – recently I was enlightened about an artist who had died and left over fifteen thousand paintings on his death in 2008. All these artworks were stuffed into his terraced house in Rossendale, Lancashire. This man – Dave Pearson, taught all day at Manchester Art College and then went home and painted – every night for over thirty years. He had started in his basement until he had filled that and gradually over the years moved room to room until he had cornered himself on the top floor. The range and scale of some of the work is mesmerising. His output was beyond incredible, the house heaved under the sheer weight of the mixed media. An extreme example – maybe but it’s this kind of need to express yourself that fascinates.
Equally our Funky Kingston is feelin it as he stalks the waterways using knowledge and craft. A craft cultivated by a whole heap of trial, error, watching, listening and a sack full of hour’s bank side. A chief component is a pathological optimism and persistence – when you are relaxing at home looking out the window grimacing at foul weather or buried under a sickening workload of your own making – Our hero is by the river ignorant of conditions. Powered by the purest form of love – Funky Kingston doesn’t need any other distractions or hobbies, his passions aren’t blurry round the edges. There are no golf clubs in the boot; the squash racquet didn’t get bought in the first place. He isn’t clad in lycra riding out with the Ribble wheelers at weekend; hoping that Giles is there so they can discuss occupational up-skilling. He is resolved and accustomed to having his fair share of blank days, you won’t find him bleating online, responding to clickbait, crying into his twitter feed or sharing what he had for breakfast via social media. These digital worlds remain an alien terrain that he finds repellent and views with contempt and suspicion as some form of warped witchcraft.
Funky Kingston is climbing the trees; he’s dancing in the shadows, clambering on the boulders, peering through the reeds, observing the riffles and the runs, happily committed to keep on keeping on.
The commitment test arrives at some point to us all – often un-warned and usually unwanted. In my case it landed one afternoon while accidently fishing the river Lune about ten years ago. I say accidently as my original purpose was just to have a gentle autumn afternoon amble along the river but seeing a few anglers scattered about and the level (two foot on and running off, with the colour dropping out) of the river – I knew there was a chance of landing a salmon.
Never bring a jelly to a cock fight – Lamont
The only tackle in my car was a six foot spinning rod, an ABU spinning reel woefully undermanned with eight pound line and a small box of plugs that luckily contained a flying C. These tackle remnants, where there as a result of a recent Sunday afternoon pike mooch on the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Undeterred and dressed inadequately in civilian clothes I cast out a black and yellow twenty six gram Spintec flying C across the river at Deny Beck just below the Crook O Lune.
My sixth cast lands snugly at the far bank and the always surprising but also familiar –heavy bump bump bump of a salmon bends the rod right over – I’m IN and the strength of the fish coupled with force of the river has put my little jack outfit into an instant stress position. Managing to get the fish across the river, it comes within fifteen metres of me and sulks in the current. I can’t move it and forcing it with eight pound line would be a dumb move. To my left is a large tree growing out of the bank. This unseen salmon is a good fresh fish – it’s as lively as a buzz saw, straining to take your thumb off. It goes on a twenty metre run down the bank past the tree. I’ve steamed in and I am loving this unexpected battle, the clichéd bent doubled rod is arched under the lower branches hanging over the water.
Assessing my options I realise that I have just the two:
1. Jump in, continue the battle and flow down the river past the tree to a spot where I can bank the fish.
Looking down – the water is ink black, I only think it’s about four foot deep but looks bloody bottomless with an idiot drowns headline and the water is pelting through. Shit or bust.
2. Hang on five minutes, not drown and see if the fish runs back upstream and I try to bully it without snapping.
Option 2 taken and ten minutes later I am sat head in hands after examining my snapped line.
I don’t feel like walking anymore. I’ve been stupefied – my mind is a pure static rage. What I actually feel like doing is as Lamont so fondly puts it, go cracker-dog and run amok with a chainsaw.
The next evening – I speak to my fishing companion Lamont. He had just been fishing for four hours in the exact same spot. He explained a conversation that had taken place with a couple of local rods fishing the opposite bank who had shouted over that they had seen some clown hook and lose one yesterday – the ever altruistic Lamont said the consensus was that the bloke should have jumped in and gone round the tree and that the local rod had ended his tale with the comment that the hapless angler had – no commitment.
I am not Funky Kingston – I’m Judy Garland.
The real Funky Kingston has the toughened psyche required to zero in on his pelagic prise, his ambition and talent are singular. Uninterested by the aesthetic and indulgence of what tackle he uses – Funky Kingston isn’t some wandering lonely as a cloud, misty eyed nostalgic quasi connoisseur participating in a historical re-enactment. He doesn’t think he’s Isaac Crabtree (Lamont’s brilliant description of anybody with a cane rod, “Eh-up check out Isaac Crabtree”). I am totally confident that had either lived in our age they would be driving transit vans full of gear. Isaac would be bivvied up with a tray of Stella, eighth of weed, and using his bait boat to ferry contraband around a carp lake, while Crabbers would be examining his barometric watch, braiding up his bait-runner and using his smart phone to check tide-times. Funky Kingston’s equipment is robust and purely functional; its reliant performance is its stoic beauty. Replaced only when broken and essentially always at the ready to be deployed if a sudden guerrilla hit and run fishing opportunity arises.
Without courting attention his deeds somehow creep along the bootleg trail of the river bank – his appearance is often confused with others and descriptions can be vague. In my mind’s eye he looks like Dick Dastardly’s forerunner – Jack Lemon’s sneaky, underhanded character in the film The Great Race – the black clad moustachioed Professor Fate. Eye witness accounts and sightings become ever more obscure. Lamont once tried to explain the appearance of an angler he was convinced I knew by saying “yeah yeah, you defo know him – speaks like this (Lamont does an incomprehensible accent that could be French Canadian, Welsh or Indian) he generally lurks around the bottom end, naan bread hair-do and sneaky Cornish eyes…biggish, sometimes wears a hat”. How do I even start the search engine memory bank roulette wheel of images in my head? What are Cornish eyes? WTF is a naan bread hair do? I can hardly put out an all-points bulletin – Zebra three, Zebra three – be on the lookout for a man with naan bread hair and Cornish eyes. The man is wanted in connection with being annoyingly good at fishing, could be biggish and may or may not be wearing a fucking hat.
Lamont was notably disappointed that I couldn’t select a name to his encrypted description.
Too consistent to be just an accidental Jedi – another essential element is that Funky Kingston boldly goes. He is happy to share a car park that has been universally declared a derelict danger zone – reclaimed by the land and doggers in equal measure. The murky reputation of a river beat that skirts a rough John Carpenteresque estate does nothing to dampen his spirits. He knows when it’s safe to lurk around the bottom end.
• A quick note on dogging: During a completely hypothetical discussion while Grayling fishing the other day we touched on the subject of the twilight world of dogging. Lamont declared that it sounded overly complicated, “you have to make your car do all sorts of coded signals to inform people what you would like to give or receive and what form of recourse you require….a misunderstanding could be very unpleasant.”
• The upshot – next close season and after some unsavoury gritty field research Lamont and I plan to publish our book: Dogging Do’s and Don’ts.
Funky Kingston through my eyes is a lot of things; their psychological makeup is of course subjective as it currently sits in the corner of my own imagination. I don’t own the copyright but this I do know. The person you hear about in hushed reverence is fuelled by the deepest love, the river is both their inspiration & aspiration and that is their perfect clarity. Each fishing trip they know that they are part of their own living artwork, constantly working on their own masterpiece, elemental and more beautiful than any dead thing hanging in a gallery or mounted on a plinth. Music genres pale in comparison to their panoramic adventures – were they are in silent anticipation of what could happen next. They can be writer, director, producer, painter, and poet all at once and at the same time and so can we, just for the odd eloquent wonderful fleeting moment – faster but slower. If that’s as close as I ever get to being a myth – then I will inhale a lung full of that every time.
This is an excerpt from my next TC book – yet untitled & it first appeared in Fallons Angler Issue 3 – The illustration by Danny Davidson also appeared on the cover of the Saatchi Arts & Music mag, along with an interview about the first TC book.
Nina You know how I feel
Birds flying high…..
As far as anniversaries go this one remains unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. The salmon lay at my feet and I can clearly recall the adrenalin & dopamine soaking my system & leading my scattered senses down the brightest desire lines towards optimism. I like the romantic term “desire lines”; these are the short-cuts you see across fields and parks that aren’t designated as the official route. These as-the-crow-flies footpaths are weaved by popularity and ease. They silently tell us the tale of shaved rules and the unshakable traits of human nature.
The fish had come on an early morning excursion to one of the Ribbles more famous pools & now my desire lines in my mind cut the corners of all logical thought and arrived at the conclusion that my season was finally revived from this fishless famine. Mentally the ball wasn’t just rolling, It had been fired out of a howitzer at twenty thousand miles an hour with me clinging on and savouring the ride. The drought had been ended…. It was time for a Ribble orgy…..
Sun in the Sky….
One year on……….. that solitary bastard fish remains my last Atlantic Salmon. I’ve tried swimming to the Ponoi but the financial currents remain fatally strong, I’ve asked the Duke of Alten to get me to Norway but his hands are old school tied. So now I take the stance that I won’t cheat on the Ribble, I won’t lower myself for the easy kop-out of paying to fish a river that actually has a Salmon in it. Morally I feel cleansed now that the adulteress avenues of finance and charity have been concreted shut.
Unfortunately it’s neither for the want of trying. My wife sarcastically claims that I average between 10 – 25 hours a week during the season. Most of this naturally is dressed up in numerous guises but it always comes down to some solitary skulking and sneaking about in the twilight zone of work & home life, often playing one against the other in order to cause a slender gap in the time continuum that I can barely squeeze into without getting canned or divorced. Time travel remains the most essential attribute of the salmon angler.
Breeze drifting on by…
This year I have taken the ponderous extra step of joining another club on the Ribble, bringing the total to 3, this would have been 4 if my wife hadn’t quietly questioned my sanity when caught filling in an application for Southport anglers. The only pathetic argument I could muster was that of the doubtful scenario of severe drought conditions… After an extremely uncomfortable hard stare combined with a prolonged period of silence ( A state my friend Lamont eloquently describes this as “picture no sound” ), I conceded and put the application in the bin. Obviously I bravely retrieved the application once the coast was clear & I was able to secretly complete the form. It remains sealed & concealed in the breast pocket of my wading jacket ( the safest place on the planet from my wonderful spouse) like some demented get out of jail free card should summer reduce the Ribble to a pitiless stream.
Access to good water isn’t a problem, so I can’t bleat about that. I have been out on every feckless lift at some point. I’ve made myself useful and netted a fish for someone else, once again acting my arse off in the process, offering my heartfelt congratulations and making all the right noises and hitting all the stereotypical clichés that you extend to a new acquaintance. After all if fishing with a long standing friend who you have shared the thrill and rollercoaster of almost every facet of your entire life you could comfortably just tell them that they are indeed a raggy cunt. I don’t care that I may seem calculating & callous but landing other peoples fish isn’t the primary reason why I bought a fishing rod. It’s like watching a girl you’re secretly in love with – walk past you & proceed to suck your mates face off. Obviously you have to be outwardly happy for the guy but inside it has to be total and complete extreme emotional meltdown.
Its new dawn, it’s a new day
So with the arrival of late August comes this hideous anniversary….one year without a Salmon. I think I’ve handled it pretty well; it’s hardly been on my mind at all, some nights I even sleep. The medication seems to have throttled my nervous involuntary twitching with the minimum of unpleasant side effects. I’ve changed my contract at work so I can have more leave, earn less and fish more. My lifelong ethos remains that you can’t buy time so you must use it wisely, guard it and nurture it.
I managed to fish for the first time this year for a complete unbroken 8 hours with my fishing buddy of 25 years, Lamont: a man who’s various opinions differ to mine on most subjects but who shares the same love of salmon fishing. After sharing a day of fishing hard & laughing harder, he had managed to hook and loose two fine fish in ten awkward minutes. His expression, after the second was lost, described a man experiencing some kind of mild to high toxic mental trauma….. “Picture no sound”…..
Fish in the sea…
So I shall continue in the same beautiful vain and I know it’s all gonna come good. But the reality is that every time I’m on the banks of this river, I’m safe in the knowledge that I’m already winning…. In fact I’d go as far as to say I’ve…. won.
River running deep…
And I’m feeling good.
Do you Realise
I was drinking Wainwrights in the back of the car as we drove over the Corney Fell, admiring the truly stunning view looking towards the jagged knees of Scafell Pike. I had only drunk two Thwaites Wainwrights as I had foolishly and naively packed them in the boot. Luckily the rods came through the drop down piece in the centre of the back seat. I realised that if I put my arm in and delved in up to my shoulder as far as I could stretch. I could just about winkle my hand between the crammed bags of luggage and tackle to my bag of beer. It occurred to me that I looked like a vet with his arm up an animal’s backside. I delivered my beer to me the proud father and I felt a wave of pride. My two day holiday was off and running like a Derby winner.
I started thinking about Alfred Wainwright. I reasoned that the Blackburner wouldn’t have been quite as productive if he drank five of these beauties a day. His drawings certainly would have been radically different. The hills would be full of confused walkers looking quizzical while turning their guidebooks, just to see if the drawing made more sense upside down. I was imagining what he sounded like, until I realized that the imagined narration in my head in a low Lancashire burr saying “I hate people, I bloody hate people” wasn’t Alfred Wainwright’s voice, as I had never actually heard it. It was in fact the voice of the actor who narrated AW’s passages on Julia Bradbury’s walking TV programme. In real life AW could have sounded like Alice Cooper and I wouldn’t have known.
I also thought about AW’s legacy in Blackburn……we built a great big iron road bridge, plonked it in front of B&Q, painted it blue and called it Wainwright Bridge………could anything be more repugnant to a man who thrived on nature’s own splendour…..and cultivated his own solitude. I doubt it. It’s just a matter of time before some marketing genius gives us Wainwright’s greatest walks, Wainwright’s iphone app, Wainwright’s tap shoes, flasks and tea bags. I would put money on it that there will be a Wainwright’s Christmas cook book, complete with newly unearthed fine line drawings and recipes of all manner of pies. It’s inevitable …….never; ever kill the golden goose…..even when it’s dead.
Optimism is tidal
These idle thoughts end as we pull into a service station at Holmbrook. Earlier that morning my friend and I fished the Ribble at 7am. We had been quietly confident but talked about the day ahead and our trip up to the Irt. Unbelievably my mate caught three salmon and lost a corking 15+ absolute pearler of a fresh fish. I had willingly landed these fish for my ecstatic friend (Howie). While I was in a state of supreme shock, I imagined cutting all his tackle in half with a Stihl saw. Only four days previous I had caught three in a day to even our tally for the season. I had been three behind and I was meant to be the one quietly gloating about pulling it back to all square. Now this jammy swine had his chest puffed out and was chirping aloud with a master class of untold salmon theories.
Luckily two cars travelled to Holmbrook…….and we put chirpy in with Warren, a non-fisher, so he would receive not even a slightest drizzle of appreciation from his captive audience. Warren likes fishing like cats like water. We were surprised that he wanted to come at all. He doesn’t get it and he has no intention of ever getting it. He can’t conceive how we can get excited about it…This plan worked so well that a troubled Howie phoned us in transit. We put him on loud speaker “this is s**t,.. I’m telling him all about my fish and how magic I am and he doesn’t get it…..he just keeps saying right right, is three meant to be good?…..that’s no f*****g good, I wanted to be in with you lot”…..our natural reaction was to hang up the phone mid rant…….why fight this kind of urge, it’s unnatural.
Crash landing at the cosmic service station
The service station had a 4×4 on the forecourt with two rods set up on a roof rack. The driver of the vehicle wore a leather cowboy hat. I can’t tell you what else he wore as I couldn’t take my eyes off his hat. It was of course like Howie’s birthday to see these anglers and he leapt from his car to eagerly question this salmon angler about our prospects but much more importantly: let this Hat fully understand that he was in the company of greatness. Howie had quickly established that the Hat hadn’t caught anything by a direct route of questioning. And he wasn’t going to hang about before he announced……. “I’vehad3thismorning” like the bullets from a machine gun. No time for gaps in-between the words…..The Hat’s eyes widened like he had been assaulted and then offered his congratulations. …….This is of course part of the prize for catching a salmon. You get to mention it to as many anglers as you can, as quickly as your mouth will carry you.
I decided to get out the car and join in on the conversation. Naturally I wanted to tell the Hat that I had caught three on Monday……..hey, nobody’s perfect…. The garage owner came over and explained that it had been slim pickings on the Irt and Esk. The Hat then threw a grenade into the conversation……………. “last week there were that many in a pool that I thought I could just walk out and pick them out, do you remember Howie”………………eh, Howie? ,…. how does he know Howie……Howie as it turned out was also the name of the garage owner. On hearing this unlikely coincidence I raised my arms aloft like Christopher Lee in the wicker man and declared “a sign, it’s a sign, our planets are aligned……………you’re Howie, he’s Howie, we drive up here and you tell us that there are so many salmon in the rivers that you can catch em by hand!”………..silence and awkward glances from the locals as I stroll back to the car to open another Wainwrights. My three other comrades in the car all agree that I have just freaked the locals out within 60 seconds….not my intention, I was excited and felt a sense of ironic comic timing.
I’m sure you can imagine the mood though as we drove off that cosmic forecourt. Most fishermen are automatically predisposed to be almost fatally optimistic. We wilfully discarded the comment about “slim pickings” and clung to “you can pick them by hand” like a shipwrecked sailor on a plank. Our tiny minds were overloaded with thoughts of salmon stuffed into those rivers just waiting to be caught. Honestly we were laughing like lottery winners, repeating back the key points of the conversation utterly convinced that it was true in every sense. How had we become so naïve, in such a short space of time. Had none of us been in dialogue with a fellow angler before. Had our memories been impeded in some way, blocking out all aspects of rational thought in favour of blind optimism. After all who needs facts – we had a short term case of full blown craziness. I sat in the back of the car elated but with a very awkward nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. Could it be possible that Howie could win the GilCraig?
Im sure most of you are aware of the story of the Macnab. Two high flying professional men given a new challenge by a mutual friend when they grew bored with their lives. The challenge set for them was to shoot a stag, a brace of grouse and then to catch a salmon on the same day. It’s a fascinating tale of two crackpots with an absurd amount of
A: Free time
Howie and I had often discussed a task that would suit our tastes and immortalise the challenge as our own. We lingered long on the immortalised part, we liked the sound of it. So one day while fishing we came up with the GilCraig. My surname is Gilbraith, his forename is Craig. The devil is always in the detail. To have performed a GilCraig you must first catch a salmon (with a rod and line) believe me, we had to stipulate. Then once the salmon is caught and landed you must win a game of live tournament Texas Holdem poker against at least eight of your friends. As we are playing for money nobody wants to lose and most of all, the person who has not caught a salmon would rather scoop out their own eye with a rusty tea spoon than let you win. The logistics of organising a game of poker between 8 – 11 family men over the age of 35 once a month isn’t easy but we manage. We have managed for over twenty years. So the game is booked first. You must catch the fish on the day of the game, ie a Friday/Saturday. Salmon to order….. at least in golf you know where the bloody hole is.
Last year I came within a fin away. I caught two fish, cooked one of them for the poker school. Howie was electrified like a bolt of lightning and went all out to stop me. He was highly animated, like Basil Fawlty on speed. Obviously he crashed out first and spent the evening heckling from the side-lines. He tried to lobby the group for a sudden change of GilCraig rules. This is the backdrop I had to contend with. I came an unpleasant second place from eleven players. Close …. but no GilCraig.
Now on the brink of our trip to the Irt with a poker game booked in for Friday night, Howie started his pre match warm up. Bombarding me with calls and texts reminding me that all you had to do was catch a salmon and the GilCraig was on.
So when the lucky bastard caught three in three hours…well, he went into a kind of frenzy. It was an uncomfortable scene to see another grown man quite that smug, trying desperately not to appear smug. I reminded him that there must be five players to win it. “The three salmon make up for the missing players.” That’s what the slippery s**t said. Earlier that week (when I had caught three) he had accused me of making everything a competition.
So now in a wave of idiotic optimism we drove to the caravan, keen as mustard, dreaming of fishing the Irt and the Esk, rivers no wider than a pencil and overflowing with salmon. Easy peasy. The Occasional Salmon had taught us that it was a piece of piss.