You know who you are. You love to fish, then you take it all further – sometimes much further – to fish somewhere really stunning, really special. As you reach your salmon river and stand on the bank of the home pool on that first evening, you know it is worth the commitment, the risk, the faith.
Friendships – eye contact, a smile, a clap on the back, a hi-5. There is nothing like that connection between those who know what they love and move heaven and earth to get back there each year. The sight of a familiar face with which to share the adventure confirms what you already knew: that it’s all worth it.
Then salmon-fishers’ ritual: a serious nod towards prospects, river levels, runs of fish, water temperature, fly choice. Some feign a laid-back approach, but most note every nuance of the assembled experience and stash hints and tips in their minds to deploy through the first few hours and days (it’s a fishing thing: all matters, even by exception and default). Rods feel a measure of responsibility: let’s get some fish in the book, let’s do our bit.
Then the serious bit is over as abruptly as it began. Cigarettes spark up, toasts are made and all the old fishing stuff comes out, the stories, the shared memories, the fun and the first examples of cameraderie – respect, concern and care – of that first evening in good company.
Before you know it you’ve shoehorned six hours’ sleep under you belt and you’re on the river. You fish ‘in the zone’ – hard, but full of confidence because you know that a gleam of gold tinsel, angel hair and arctic fur, with perhaps a battered red conehead is being sucked down and round ancient salmon lies via a slow-sinking fly-line.
Any time from that first cast it can bring with a wild suddenness that miracle – the draw and thudding, pulsating weight of a muscled bar of silver from arctic waters: a fresh Atlantic salmon. A hook slipped into the scissors then a searing run, an outpouring of raw power with a leap at the end of it.
Just to leave you with this snippet from Melinda Moustakis’ book, Bear Down Bear North (I am loving that title) about the wilds of Alaska and its fishing and hunting which Chloë bought me for Christmas and has set me off dreaming (again). Okay not Atlantic salmon these, but nicely described in sparse prose:
“The stars, the sun and the moon make coordinates of refracted light. These and the smell of gravel guide them to the Kenai’s mouth. Their skin glimmers like knives and their meat turns red. After a heavy rain, the water rises and they charge the river. They grow hooked snouts and wolves teeth.”
“Their skin glimmers like knives …” The gleaming blade of a bone-handled Mappin and Webb from our dining room growing up in Sheffield. I like that.
So Happy New Year to you all this weekend – and whether you fish Norway, Russia, Iceland, Scotland or the north American continent let’s make it a good salmon season with plenty of fish returned to their wild rivers of destination (before you put them back don’t forget to take that photo so you can send it in for posting here). And have fun – I’m sure you will.