‘Fishing is an escape, a blessed antidote and retreat into another world where all you can think about is what you are engaged in’
A River Runs Through Me: A Life of Salmon Fishing in Scotland
By Andrew Douglas-Home
Published by Elliott & Thompson
Is the noble and gentle art of fishing dying? It should not be.
You can hardly open a newspaper nowadays without being reminded of the prevalence of gloomy mood, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, and we live in an instantly communicated world where it is too easy to worry about everything, even when most of those ‘things’ are wholly outwith our control.
Fishing is an escape, a blessed antidote and retreat into another world where all you can think about is what you are engaged in, the rod, the fly you are using to deceive the fish, the action of casting, the flow of the water, the birds (kingfishers, egrets, ducks, oystercatchers, dippers, wagtails, herons, ospreys and more), the otters in the water and the roe deer on the banks, the glorious scenery, even the wading in the river (to make sure you do not fall in)… in every sense fishing is a fully immersive experience. All the cares and concerns of this troubled world melt away, if only for a few hours, and just every now and then ‘the line tightens, and the peace is exchanged for an excitement so tense and tumultuous that every nerve tingles until the prize is won or lost. What more can a man ask of life?’ (Border Reflections by Lord Home 1979).
It is a time to relax, to breathe deeply, to reflect in the calmest and most beautiful of surroundings, or in the words of William Henry Davis (1871-1940):
‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare,
No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows…
No time to see in broad daylight, streams full of stars like skies at night…
A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’
Fishing literature has a long and distinguished history, going back to Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler and Thomas Barker’s The Art of Angling in the 17th century, but there are those who worry that angling, or fishing, no longer holds the attraction and lure that it once did. They fear it may be in terminal decline.
In the game fishing world (fishing for wild salmon, sea trout, brown trout and grayling), the one with which I am most familiar, the average age of regular participants seems to be ever rising, so that the Trout Angling Clubs on the Tweed, where I live, are struggling to recruit new members and the average age of members rises inexorably into the 60s and beyond. Some old, revered and famous fishing clubs either have already, or may shortly, cease to exist for want of participation by the young (anyone under 50). Regular UK and foreign visitors to our world-renowned Scottish salmon rivers are also well into the 60+ age bracket, so that if you ever see/meet one under the age of 40, it is a surprise.
There are two reasons.
First, for the young the combination of the instant gratification now available from every corner of their lives (day round TV, the internet, iphones, Sky, Netflix, Amazon etc), all without leaving the comfort and warmth of the house, compares poorly with the inevitably delayed and more chancy gratification of both fishing for, and actually catching, a fish. When I was but a lad, in the 1950s, there was little or nothing for the young to do indoors, so it was a thrill and unimaginably exciting to venture out, and if there was a river or pond/lake nearby, with fish in it, then why not catch them?
Secondly, the numbers of all wild, naturally regenerated game fish have fallen over the same period, despite heroic, well researched and hugely expensive attempts to stop, even reverse, (in the short/medium term) climate change; in brief, all game fish prefer cold water to hot, not good in an ever warming world. The result is that fish are generally both fewer and, consequently, harder to catch than they were….again, when I was a lad.
Fishing may not be as popular as it once was for all sorts of demographic and abundance issues/reasons as compared to 60 years ago, but those who actually practice the noble art, are as keen, if not keener, than ever. The best anglers can still catch 50–100 salmon in a year in our wonderful Scottish rivers, and the restorative and wellbeing powers and properties of this noblest and gentlest of arts have never been more valuable to the inhabitants of this ever more hectic and fast-moving world.
You should give it a try.
By Andrew Douglas-Home
A River Runs Through Me: A Life of Salmon Fishing in Scotland by Andrew Douglas-Home is published by Elliott & Thompson, priced £14.99.
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