Howard’s way

The year was 1965. Iron­i­cally, Mas­ter Jag­ger was com­plain­ing about his lack of “Sat­is­fac­tion” when my dear friend set out on his mission, writes Philip Howard

The Field - - Contents -

It is a rare event in our cur­rent epoch of con­sis­tently drop­ping bomb­shells to re­port on a story of such earth-shat­ter­ing con­se­quence that it may be spo­ken about in hushed whis­pers for decades to come. But here it is: my friend the Sport­ing Solic­i­tor has fi­nally caught a salmon after 52 years’ worth of ef­fort.

He has been try­ing since 1965. that year, Churchill died, Fred­die true­man re­tired from test cricket and Bob Dy­lan first used an elec­tric gui­tar at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val. In­deed, the Sal­mon­less One had been try­ing as­sid­u­ously for ev­ery year since beer was 10p a pint, petrol 26p a gal­lon and a sea­son ticket to watch Manch­ester United would set you back £8.50. Ever since his fa­ther handed him his favourite split-cane salmon rod to try on the Dee. With his first thrashed cast he broke it, the end sec­tion grace­fully cartwheel­ing off into the dis­tance, like Arthur fling­ing Ex­cal­ibur to­ward the Lady in the Lake. And from then on a pas­sion, dare we say an ob­ses­sion, was born.

the Sport­ing Solic­i­tor and his won­der­ful but long-suf­fer­ing wife had de­cided to overnight at Na­worth on the way back from their cus­tom­ary pil­grim­age to Dee­side. We had also booked in a con­sul­ta­tion on will mak­ing to en­sure his trip was not com­pletely with­out pur­pose. Rather in­sen­si­tively, I had en­quired whether they ate fish be­cause on a thurs­day the fish man cometh and de­liv­ereth, all the way from Fraser­burgh com­plete with hal­ibut, mus­sels and all man­ner of other fishy won­ders.

I was first alerted to this pis­ca­to­rial epiphany when I re­ceived an email full of un­char­ac­ter­is­tic ex­ple­tives from his wife fol­lowed by “HOLD THE BACK PAGE” in black cap­i­tals. And it was, I have to say, a moisteyed and shell-shocked Sport­ing Solic­i­tor that I greeted warmly on his ar­rival with a manly hug. “I have pro­cured the largest fish poacher in the north of Eng­land, the finest Ch­ablis and most ex­pen­sive Mon­tra­chet Grand Cru I could find. Pop­pet, the cook, has been se­cured for the evening for tonight’s fishy ex­trav­a­ganza – take me to this prince of salmon.”

A small smile es­caped from his wife but was sti­fled quickly. the Sport­ing Solic­i­tor, looking some­what for­lorn, whis­pered: “It was catch and re­lease.” I was dum­founded. “Surely you could have bat­ted it over the head – said it was foul hooked. Good grief, no­body, even the most heart­less bailiff, would have be­grudged you a fish after 52 years. Not even Judge Jef­freys, the hang­ing judge, could have passed a sen­tence.”

How­ever, the Sport­ing Solic­i­tor is a man of im­pec­ca­ble pro­bity, in­ca­pable of telling a lie or do­ing wrong and I could see this line of in­qui­si­tion would not take us far. “Ruth,” I con­tin­ued, “surely you could have in­ter­vened? Or the ghillie? And done the deed?”

“Well, I would have done, of course,” she added, “but I was in the pub hav­ing my lunch. So was the ghillie, as we didn’t think he would catch any­thing. After all, he hasn’t for 52 years…” she tailed off looking ever so slightly sheep­ish.

“Oh dear,” I con­tin­ued. “So we have no ac­tual body to look at. A bit like Lord Lu­can?”

“But I have pho­tos!” squealed the Sport­ing Solic­i­tor. “Lots of them!” And in­deed he had. the fish, I have to con­fess, was not a whop­per. “It’s not very big,” I said. “How much did it weigh?”

“Dif­fi­cult to tell – about 3lb I think,” replied our re­cently bap­tised Herne the Hunter. “Un­for­tu­nately, they took the scales with them to the pub. And the net – I had to haul it in over the stones.”

“Yes, he was very wet when he ar­rived,” added his wife.

“that looks like a smolt,” I ex­claimed, caus­ing his wife to burst into a snig­ger.

“Don’t be hor­ri­ble, Philip, it’s his first fish and we are go­ing to have the pho­to­graph de­vel­oped and mount it on the wall. On a match­box,” and she dis­solved into gig­gles.

So, on Mon­day 17 July the fish­ing world changed. Fifty-two years after that first cast. Noth­ing will ever be the same again. Elvis would have been 82½.

Un­for­tu­nately, they took the scales with them to the pub, and the net –

I had to haul it in over the stones

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