Around the world in 80 (fishing) days
HAVING sworn solemnly by St Zeno that I would accept every fishing invitation during my 61st year, I have been as good as my word and, during 2016, clocked up nigh on 80 days with rod in hand—for which I truly thank the Almighty (surely a COUNTRY LIFE subscriber?).
I managed a record bonefish tally (127) and more salmon than any season for a decade, but which of my close encounters might qualify as fish of the year? Candidates would include a sizeable blue shark, a 20lb Russian springer and a notable cock grayling.
I fluked a nice tarpon in Cuba while blind-casting my 12-weight into the glare and, on Iceland’s Grimsa—working a pair of tiny tungsten-headed nymphs under a strike indicator—i hooked a lively sea trout that became entangled in weeds, snapped off the point fly it had taken and was landed with the dropper embedded in its left pectoral. At 7lb, that was both a memorable and an unlucky specimen.
Another dramatic hook-up occurred in March, on my fourth day at St François lagoon in the Seychelles. As our skiff’s keel sighed into the edge of the sand flat, I could see bonefish tails scissoring the calm morning surface for hundreds of yards ahead.
On a longish line, I flung my small Chartreuse Clouser at an especially prominent bow wave and was immediately connected. My Riptide chattered as the fish powered away towards the drop-off, where I saw the pale gleam of a turning flank—no bonefish, but a modestly sized giant trevally.
At this point, guide Rudi shouted ‘shark’ and there was a perilous convulsion at the end of my flyline, then slackness. The giant trevally is a creature so aggressive that it sometimes even attacks anglers’ wading boots, but, this time, it had met its nemesis.
I reeled in its torso, the rear portion sheared off in a crescent bite by some cruising lemon shark. The geet’s mouth was still gulping in alarm. It would have weighed perhaps 15lb and proved the only (three-quarters of) one landed by our party all week.
Later, we stopped at a remote islet where you could hand-feed a school of resident bonefish. They rubbed against our arms like kittens and greedily nibbled noodles and scraps of meat, sucking my fingers. Some of those bonies were huge, but casting for them was verboten.
In retrospect, the two ‘top’ catches with which I was involved happened rather nearer to home. In mid July, my fatherin-law (The Doctor) and I were heading for the Laxford when a red stag pranced out across the A9 near Drumochter and narrowly missed my Discovery.
‘Let’s see if we can spot a Macnab en route,’ suggested The Doctor, so we stopped at the Falls of Shin and spied our salmon, but failed in scouting for grouse.
However, near Rogart, I saw— feeding insouciantly on the verge alongside his darker companions—a pure albino jackdaw. ‘Definitely an auspicious sign,’ we agreed and sped west towards the coast.
One of the precarious splendours of a spate river is that, given a little water, you never quite know what to expect— around the next corner, there might always be an advance guard of fresh fish running up from the last tide. ‘It’s just a question of finding him,’ points out Robert the gillie pragmatically, as our first pool produces zero response. When we reach the Fern, I let The Doctor run it down first, then follow him with my copperbodied Sunray Shadow.
At the neck, there is a line of boulders where fish sometimes stop for a breather after negotiating the rapids of the gorge below and, for once, I pitch my fly neatly into the slot where the stream buckles off the stones. First strip—a boil. Next pull and a chrome-bright fish hurtles into the run with my Owner single firmly in its scissors.
The Doctor falls silent as, eventually, I ease a broad-shouldered, fresh salmon over the net. On his calibrated wading stick—which, at that moment, I sense he would like to wrap around my neck— it measures 34in, about 15lb. ‘That’s taken the pressure off me,’ he sighs mournfully.
Next day, at the same pool, Robert arms The Doctor with a Sunray—‘i’m not really a Sunray man,’ he protests, but, almost at once, his lure disappears in a delicious surface swirl and a lively grilse is on. A look of apprehension crosses the good Doctor’s face when he sees I’m the one to net it—‘be careful with that thing, lad,’ he mutters—but all goes harmoniously. ‘Well, you’re a Sunray man now,’ proclaims Robert.
That afternoon, I was walking past him to the head of a run and The Doctor crowed: ‘Coming up to consult the expert, eh?’ Reader, I throttled him.
‘There was a perilous convulsion at the end of my flyline
David Profumo caught his first fish at the age of five, and, off the water, he’s a novelist and biographer. He lives up a glen in Perthshire.
At the shark end: three-quarters of a giant trevally still counts, right?