“The Trent and I go wandering by”

Robert George Hogarth


Contents


Chapter 6


Fishing


You may wonder why I want to write about fishing, but when you realise that I have derived more recreation from (and a tribute not a little of my good health) to this gentle art, you will appreciate that my life's pleasure has been wrapped up in many parcels, not the least of which was the time spent in angling for the wily trout or salmon.


Let me say that I have no desire to tell exaggerated tales about the size of fish which I have caught – nor of the much larger size (for this is the usual want) of fish which have been hooked and lost! No, it results from the pure delight which pitting my skill against these silvery fellows has brought me. There is, further, the spice of adventure attached to it, especially in my early days – when we were all want to attempt the quasi-illegal!


You see, I was brought up on the banks of the Tweed, and from the age of about six years I possessed a small rod and a couple of flies or so, and thus became interested in the exciting sport of catching (I admit it, quite illegally) the Salmon Parr.


From that day onwards, and with much more propriety and definitely under the rules of the game, I have been fishing in many a river and stream of these isles.


While yet a boy at school I used to go, and accompanied with my grandfather steward, to the banks of the Tweed and virtually as a poacher, fish the Upper Floors Water, the stretch strictly preserved by the Duke of Roxburgh. No doubt he would have forgiven the youthful delinquent, but I doubt if he would have countenanced the aiding and abetting of the steward!


It would be just as it was getting dark that we would sally forth, and many is the wonderful basket of trout which we secured. The steward was an expert fisherman, and I'm nearly the learner – that I had a role to play apart from the learning, for it was who would have to watch out for the Water Bailiffs, and, warning my mental, would know the means of disappearance when they approached. Many and narrow were the escapes.


But there was more legitimate fishing too, and I had many a good day on the Tweed and on the Teviot, an experience which was supplemented at a later day when, upon my mother's move to Salisbury, I took up fishing in the Avon – quite a different story, for this was a pure chalk stream and called for considerably more dexterity and patience.


All the fishing on the Tweed in my younger days had been with wet fly – generally with three flies on a cast, but to fish the Avon meant use of a dry fly – cast upstream of course – and with not a little skill to be shown in keeping oneself out of you, for the trout has a quicker view of you than you have of him!


However, the Avon is a beautiful river, full of lovely trout, and it did not take a long to change, I believe with quite considerable success, to drive fly fishing.


I could fish on every occasion when, as a medical student, I came home for a spell, and, when I was apprenticed to Dr Coates (of whom I have made previous notable mention), I used to fish off the wall of the garden of the infirmary, just where the river runs under the street. Those who know Salisbury will be well acquainted with the spot, for most visitors stop to look over the bridge and to spot the rising trout which are still to be seen there even if not in such sizeable quantity as when I sought them.


Mr Sharpin, the House Surgeon at the Salisbury Infirmary, was my fishing companion of that day, and many were the fine trout which we creeled between us. Dr Sharpin is now at Bedford and will remember how pleasant were our fishing days and how people used to stop and admire how catch, or watch those plays some fighter.


And then there was the move to Nottingham, to be House Surgeon at the General Hospital. Now this brought me into contact with Sir Francis Lee, of Epperstone Manor – a member of the hospital board – and (would you believe it?) I found that he now rented that very stretch of the Tweed, the Upper Floors Fishing, on which my early fishing had taken place!


He very kindly suggested that I might like to return to my schoolboy haunts – which I readily accepted and thus he most generously arrange for me to go up there in June, adding a warning (no doubt with knowledge of the past!)... "But, my young man, you must not fish for Salmon." So, accompanied by Dr Buckley from Nottingham, I set off for a lovely holiday – and didn't we catch a lot of trout!


I think that there were more trout in the Tweed then in them there are now, but it is still a fine trout river.


Some of our finest baskets were obtained when the river was dead low and gin clear, when we would fish upstream with Stewart tackle, and if you know how to use that properly you will have realised how deadly it can be.


With Sir Francis Lee's permission I had further fishing, chiefly on the Greet and then on the Dover Beck, subsequent to St Francis’ death, when Col Leslie Birkin took over the fishing. He must offend these trout with lavish hospitality, for I remember that there were some big ones to be caught, and that the fishing as a whole was excellent.


The Dover Beck came again into my fishing list, for Mr Stanley Bourne asked me to look after his stream for him, and to keep it regularly stocked. There was fine fishing here, just as there was at Elvaston in Derbyshire, where I was indebted to Mr William player for many a fine days sport.


Some years later, when I was on the Honorary Staff at the General Hospital, I took over from my friend, Major Colley, a stretch of the Dove, practically from Dove Holes up as far as Hartington. This, as many will know, is a fine reach of the Dove, and how lovely is that cottage on the foot of the hill from Alsop-in-the-Dale in the Alston Field's direction.


The keeper and his wife lived in this cottage – and what a grand keeper, and what an expert dry-fly man he was! It was a perfect holiday that I could spend in that beautiful valley and how excellent the fishing, even if presenting the greatest difficulty, even to one pretty well versed in the art. But I was lucky, for the keeper taught me more about fishing with a dry fly than I had known to that date, and I reckoned this man as one of the finest fisherman who ever cash to fly. I heard of his decease after he had spent some years on another fine river, the Test – for which he went to live near Andover and no doubt compared the Test with the water which he had known in those Derbyshire Dales.


And what a wonderful river is the Dove – and how well described by the father of fishing, Isaac Walton, who loved every inch of it.


Many local people come to fish with me on the Delve including Sir Douglas McCraith, who married my wife's niece. At that time Lady McCraith did not care for fishing at all – at least not that sort of fishing – but I would not mind wagering now that she is the most expert lady fly Fisher in the Midlands. She can catch fish now when nobody else can get any.


Though these later references have been stressing my pleasure in catching the wily trout, let me not forget my main delight – that of Salmon fishing. I liked it best and had a most enjoyable share of it.


People often ask me what is the greatest thrill I have had from sport – they ask it of others, suggesting… The making of a century at cricket… Or it may even be the shooting of a left and right at Woodcock! I know that gave me the greatest thrill – the first pull of a good salmon! I believe that nine out of ten experienced sportsmen would give you the same answer.


It was not until about 1901 or 1910 but I took up salmon fishing in earnest, and this was when my old friend Charles Crompton, of Stanton Hall, invited me on the Carron in Rothshire, where he had taken the grand stretch of water.


For then it was that I began to learn that there was something in salmon fishing – something different to that I experienced as a mere boy.


I admit (and who would not) that anybody, with a large cock and sunken fly and on the River where there is plenty of water can catch a Salmon provided that he gets his fly in the water and allows the stream to take it round – but to catch salmon in low water is quite a different matter. It is then that you will be able to spot the novice from the old hand, for the man who knows how to work his fly in low water – one who really knows how to fish – will be catching some salmon, while the novice is standing aghast and quite hopeless. I particularly refer to fishing with a greased line, and with a small-sized hook. There is art for you! And what an art mending the line, as it is called and working it up and down according to circumstance, always with the aim of keeping the fly fishing, and without the tell-tale drag.


But perhaps the most difficult fishing is that which necessitates the use of a bait, and in lowish water – and, shall I add, knowing how to use the prawn properly.


When I was inspecting hospitals in the 1939-45 War, and travelling over much of the West Country, I got a good deal of fishing on the Wye, and as the fishing there is largely with bait, I was able to study the methods of some of these really expert men – and what a revelation to me, for I found there was need for considerable skill and experience to attain even a modicum of success.


As the years had passed – and as, I suppose, I was by then able to afford it, I determined to have some fishing rights of my own. I had so much hospitality from Mr Charlie Crompton that I felt that I ought now to be able to entertain him – and others.


So I took Invercauld, on the Dee at Braemar, and held the fishing there for several years. Naturally, not being able to be there all the while, I sublet as required – but it was a grand piece of fishing when the water was in order and when the fish were running. In 1920, for instance, I took 10 salmon each day for three consecutive days – but I do not put before you the number of weeks when my total catch was one per week!


Later I had some fishing on the Berridale, and Langwell – two beautiful little waters, the latter being fished when I was staying with the Duke of Portland, but of course one has to hope for plenty of water, for as the season rolls on and the water gets lower and lower, the fishing is poor.


However, I got a call once more to return to my old love, the Tweed, and giving up Invercauld I successfully had some excellent beats on the Tweed, namely Henderside, Floors, Mackerson, and Carham – all the wonderful stretches, and productive of some wonderful sport for Major Colley, Lord Belper, Lord Charles Bentick, and Sir Maurice Cassidy, my friends – not forgetting Charles Crompton – all of them grand fisherman too.


For two years I also had the Dryburgh Abbey fishing on the Tweed, but that had proved rather disappointing.


With all this mention of fishing you will be wondering how it came about that I had time for work too! (You will also note later that I devoted much to shooting and motoring, but I can assure you that I did not neglect work – indeed the evidence is in plenty – for I determined to work when I was at work, and to play just as hard when at my varied forms of recreation. Further, and I commend this to anyone, the better the recreation you get, the better fitted you are to carry out a heavy task.


What peace and contentment there is in the beautiful surroundings to stream or river, in the trills and chattering is of birds –all to be had by the fishermen.


I shall repeat it – fishing is a very soothing and peaceful way of taking a rest from one's labours – so go to it any who can! For my part I could not give you wiser counsel.


You will be looking for some tall stories – I can hardly call them lies, but if there is a slightest exaggeration then just put it down as fishermen's tales, please. The percentage of truth is more than deliberately outweighing what is due to faulty memory or to personal gratification, for I certainly do not want to stress my own abilities as a fisherman – for I fished for pleasure – not for records!


However, I can relate that when I had Henderside on the Tweed, my great friend Major Colley was with me, and for his days fishing he had a wonderful stretch of stream, under the name of Little Davy, which is probably the best low-water fishing on the Tweed. I was fishing much lower down, and got, I think, but one solitary fish.


It was a nasty cold day in May, with the wind coming upstream from the east. Frank Colley had decided to leave the river at about 4 p.m. for a sea mist was gradually dropping, and on my enquiry as to how he had fared, he said "I haven't done anything – in fact I'm just miserably cold and am going in for a drink."


But I, who look to make the most of any fishing, decided to stay an, so replied "you go, if you like, but I have a mind to make one or two casts from the top here." So I got in the boat (an absolute necessity on Little Davy" and asked old Brown, the fishermen, to row higher up. It was not long before I had hoped salmon, having used a dropper and tail fly – a Blue Charm, and Silver Grey as the dropper. The salmon was soon landed, and so I thought that I might stay on a bit. I did, with a final basket of nine – all taken within the next ninety minutes! All nice Spring Salmon, taken on the dropper in four cases, and all of them in the 9 or 10lb range. I never broke once and never lost a hooked salmon that afternoon. But what a different story after 5:30 p.m.! First, let me say, my old boatman, Brown, had been given sufficient time – and opportunity – to fill himself quite nicely with tots of whiskey, with a result that he was gradually getting more and more under the weather – in fact was distinctly tight! Add to this there seem to come some strange lull over the water (Brown's predicament may have exaggerated this in my mind), and, fish as I could and did, not another salmon did I hook. There had been one and a half hours of glory and quite an equal period of hopelessness.


It is, though, most singular that one can catch nine salmon during a short period of a bad day, and under most adverts fishing conditions (according to the rules) and yet flog on for a further period and get nothing stirring at all.


We have all experienced it, but perhaps this occasion most stuck in my mind because my companion had so early called it a day, and my boatman had passed from activity to oblivion!


Fishing experience produces some awkward moments I remember once I was fishing the Carron, with Charlie Crompton, and, having hooked a good salmon, I found it taking me down the river – were good-sized rock stood out and promised some trouble.


My endeavour, of course, to keep that salmon from the vicinity of the rock, but, try as I could, I was unable to stop my line from getting round the rock, and – worst of all – under the water. So there I was, completely fixed – not knowing whether the fish was still on or not. But my friend came to my aid, with what I will call a real fisherman's bit of cunning.


There was a bridge over the River the short way up, and so Charlie Crompton got onto the further bank and by means of a large hook caught up my line and took it slightly upstream, ultimately getting it over the rock – were low and behold there appeared the fish on my side – for he hadn't broken after all. Making for a small waterfall below he eventually gave me the chance to land him – which I should certainly have not done but for Charlie Crompton's ingenuity.


Fishermen always like to talk about the size of fish they catch, which reminds me of a story of a fishing club, who arranged a big dinner in the middle of the day, and spent their time in telling such tall stories about the fish they had landed. As the dinner wore on, and the diners became mellower, of course the stories got more exaggerated. Dinner over, they proceeded home, no doubt each traveller trying to cap the fish size story of his mate.


And in crossing a field one of these too well dined saw a scarecrow, in its usual position with outstretched arms. The semi--inebriated diner walked up to the scarecrow, eyed it up and down, and then said "And you're the biggest dammed liar of the lot!"


Well, I have never caught any very big salmon, nothing over 30 lbs., that is to say, but I remember fishing the Carham on the Tweed one autumn – and there was always a good autumn run of salmon on the Tweed in those days, the big fish coming on that run and the smaller ones in the spring run. I got two of these big fellows, fresh run, during the morning and went down to the hut for lunch. The hut is situated just at the corner of a pool called The Kirk End.


After lunch I hooked something which seemed to me to be bigger than any I had taken before in my life, and I struggled with him for something over an hour, until I was quite exhausted, for the salmon never moved out of the pool, and had every bit of fight left in him.


So exhausted was I that I called to Frank Swan, the Ghillie, "I can't go on anymore, I must lie down on the bank and give it up." "Don't do that, sir, he said, it's very unlucky." But I just had to give in, so asked him to take the rod and do his utmost.


In 2 min time I was flat out on the bank, when the Ghillie regretted that salmon was gone! As one of the oldest hands on that stretch of the Tweed I could take his word for it that an estimate of something over 40lbs. for that salmon was no exaggeration. Certainly I, who fought for an hour with the fish, had never met his like – nor did so again in my long fishing experience.


Once, when fishing on the Wye, I heard that a very big salmon was moving at Summerfoot – a pool on the stretch. So I resolved to try to get to grips with him. All morning I fished that pool, and though I had to other salmon by that time, when up came the landlord of the Green Man, at Foundhope, who had been fishing a great deal lower down. I told him "There's a very good fish in there, at least I think so, for I have seen him once – but I cannot catch him, would you like to try? If you do, I promise you he'll be a big fellow, but you can certainly have him if you get him." Somehow though, I did not fancy his chances. But I was wrong, and I well remember that he was fishing with the real called the Easy Cast – and Easy cast it must have been because on his first attempt the bait came round, the fish took it, and there followed one of the finest tussles which I have witnessed. His strong wire trace held and after about a 45 minutes fight the man had landed this whopper – the fish of 45½ lbs.!


Search on my yarns, and I could no doubt spin as many and as grand ones as any – for I had started fishing so young, and with such long apprenticeship and such a wide experience of this noble art, I felt that I certainly ought to have been one of the country’s best fisherman (and at times even I felt myself so!) But the time comes when one cannot carry on, and today I very much doubt if I could use a rod for long without sustaining undue fatigue. I certainly could not land those fish which had been mine in the past.


But fishing has brought me a wonderful time – it has been my principal joy and pleasure – but I have derived much the same from my work and what more can a man ask?


To any who wants the pleasant – and health giving form of recreation – may I say "Take-up fishing, and cultivate the art."


It is good in ones later years to look back upon such an enjoyable experience as mine, for:


When time shall steal our years away

And steal our pleasures too

The memory of our past will stay

And half our joys re-new.


CHAPTER SEVEN


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The Trent and I go wandering by