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
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