Fly-fish­ing lu­mi­nar­ies


Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents -

Craw­ford Lit­tle cel­e­brates Ge­orge Fredrick Mc­corquo­dale

Craw­ford Lit­tle cel­e­brates the lives of his­tory’s finest salmon-fish­ers. This month, the Spey laird who caught 10,000 fish

IF THE SHEER num­ber of salmon caught by an in­di­vid­ual is the surest mea­sure of great­ness, Ge­orge Fred­er­ick Mc­corquo­dale was in a league of his own. In­deed, Ma­jor Hon. John Ash­l­ey­cooper – per­haps the great salmon-fisher of the post-war gen­er­a­tion – de­scribed Mc­corquo­dale as the great­est salmon fish­er­man of all time. G.F. Mc­corquo­dale fished the Spey from 1891 to 1935 and in those years ac­counted for 8,924 Spey salmon – mainly from Tulchan but also from what was to be­come the Brae Wa­ter at Gor­don Cas­tle, which he fished in spring and au­tumn. Plus more than a thou­sand fish from other Scot­tish rivers, tak­ing his to­tal to over 10,000 salmon with many fall­ing for a Jock Scott – his favourite fly. What sets great salmon-fish­ers apart from the com­mon herd? Their suc­cess is un­doubt­edly built on flair in us­ing their tackle and un­der­stand­ing the be­hav­iour of the fish, which grows with ex­pe­ri­ence. Then comes a will­ing­ness to in­vest con­sid­er­able time and ef­fort. But there is an­other re­quire­ment that can­not be avoided. For all but a very lucky few, what you need to catch thou­sands of fish is very deep pock­ets filled with bucket-loads of cash. So, in truth the story of Ge­orge Fred­er­ick Mc­corquo­dale’s suc­cess with salmon starts with his fa­ther, also Ge­orge Mc­corquo­dale (1817-1895), at the close of the Vic­to­rian era. Ge­orge the el­der owned a print­ing works in Lancashire that spe­cialised in work­ing for the ever-grow­ing rail­ways – print­ing tick­ets, timeta­bles and the likes. Dur­ing the 1870s, he opened fur­ther print­ing works in Glas­gow, Lon­don and Leeds. All this brought Ge­orge to the at­ten­tion of Sir Richard Moon, chair­man of the Lon­don and North Western Rail­ways, who re­alised the printer might pro­vide a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem that had arisen in the North Buck­ing­hamshire town of Wolver­ton. A so­lu­tion that would re­quire both busi­ness acu­men and a will­ing­ness to in­dulge in so­cial en­gi­neer­ing. Wolver­ton had de­vel­oped fast in the in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of Bri­tain. Rail­way works had opened in 1838, and 40 years later pro­vided em­ploy­ment for 4,600 men. How­ever, there was lit­tle if any em­ploy­ment in the works for women and this meant the un­mar­ried daugh­ters of the rail­way­men and other lo­cals were forced to move out of the area to find em­ploy­ment. Leav­ing a grow­ing num­ber of frus­trated bach­e­lors in their wake. With that in mind, Sir Richard was keen to see clean and safe em­ploy­ment pro­vided for girls and younger women in Wolver­ton and ap­proached Mc­corquo­dale, who agreed to open a new print­ing works in the town in 1878. With just 20 em­ploy­ees at the start, Mc­corquo­dale soon in­tro­duced shorter work­ing hours, con­trib­u­tory pen­sion funds, paid hol­i­days, a mu­tual sick so­ci­ety, and even a din­ing room. The fac­tory ex­panded to the point where they were em­ploy­ing about 800 girls be­tween the ages of 13 and 21. How­ever, the girls lost their jobs in the print fac­tory just as soon as they mar­ried – clear­ing the way for more un­mar­ried girls to gain em­ploy­ment in Wolver­ton, thus glad­den­ing the hearts of suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions of younger rail­way men.

GE­ORGE THE EL­DER mar­ried Louisa Kate Ho­nan in 1844, and they had nine chil­dren be­fore she died in 1870. Their el­dest son died in 1868, aged just 23, leav­ing Ge­orge Frances as the old­est male heir. His fa­ther mar­ried a sec­ond time, to Emily San­der­son, who pro­duced two more chil­dren, the youngest be­ing Lieut. Hugh Stew­art Mc­corquo­dale who was killed in ac­tion at Spion Kop in 1900, while serv­ing with Thorny­croft’s Mounted In­fantry in the Boer War. When their fa­ther died in 1895 the re­main­ing Mc­corquo­dales were left an es­tate val­ued at £439,396 (about £50 mil­lion in to­day’s terms). They set about ex­pand­ing the busi­ness, but it wasn’t all work and no play… As men­tioned ear­lier, Ge­orge Fred­er­ick Mc­corquo­dale first fished the Spey in 1891. Like many be­fore and since, per­haps he re­alised there was nowhere in the world he’d rather be. He be­came a reg­u­lar guest of banker Sir Philip Sas­soon who was a close friend and fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor to King Ed­ward VII, as well as the

the great­est salmon fish­er­man of all time”

shoot­ing, stalk­ing and fish­ing ten­ant at Tulchan, which was the “fish­ing box” of the Earls of Seafield. In the full­ness of time, Sir Philip in­vited Ge­orge to share the lease at Tulchan. Later still, Sir Philip no longer had time to in­dulge his north­ern plea­sures – he served as Pri­vate Sec­re­tary to Field Mar­shal Haig dur­ing the First World War – and so in 1915 Ge­orge be­came the sole ten­ant of what many have de­scribed as one of the finest sport­ing es­tates in Scot­land. He or­dered the build­ing of Tulchan Lodge, orig­i­nally known as Dalchroy House, which was com­pleted in 1906 to ac­com­mo­date his fam­ily and friends. Guests in­cluded King Ed­ward VII, King Ge­orge V, King Ge­orge VI, Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt, banker JP Mor­gan, the rail­way fi­nancier Wil­liam Van­der­bilt, the Grand Duke of Lux­em­bourg and King Leopold of Bel­gium among a host of the great and good. In his book Mem­o­ries of a High­land Game­keeper, Du­gald Mac­in­tyre de­scribed the or­gan­i­sa­tion re­quired when the Mc­corquo­dales trav­elled north. “I was de­lighted when my em­ployer asked me to visit him at his fine fish­ing wa­ter on the Spey. He rented thir­teen miles of the River Spey when he lived in Tulchan Lodge. There were thir­teen boats on Mr Mc­corquo­dale’s part of the Spey. When we had fin­ished with one side of a pool we crossed by boat and fished the other side … Mr Mc­corquo­dale had hired a spe­cial train for his fam­ily and ser­vants, and an­other ‘spe­cial’ car­ry­ing coal ar­rived at Ad­vie Sta­tion the fol­low­ing week. King Ge­orge V’s do­ings were all the talk of the Lodge peo­ple of course; for he had been stay­ing at Tulchan on the pre­vi­ous grouse shoot­ing sea­son. “Mr Mc­corquo­dale gave fort­nightly dances to his ser­vants and ten­ants. All in the district had in fact a free in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend the dances. I met nu­mer­ous na­tives of Spey­side at those dances, where game­keep­ers and gil­lies pro­vided the mu­sic from their pipes. A sur­pris­ing num­ber of the older men had been sol­diers in their youth. They had seen ser­vice in the Seaforths, or Camerons, or Black Watch. You could hear tales of the Re­lief of Luc­know, the tak­ing of Que­bec and of the Bat­tle of Bala­clava from the lips of the old sol­diers who had par­tic­i­pated in the bat­tles, or from their sons.” These were golden years on the Spey, as de­scribed in 1909 by WL Calder­wood in The Salmon Rivers and Lochs of Scot­land. “I have no hes­i­ta­tion in say­ing that the best in­ter­ests of the river were con­sid­ered when, at the end of 1903, an agree­ment was come to be­tween the pro­pri­etors above Orton and the Duke of Rich­mond and Gor­don, by which nets were re­moved from Orton and the up­per part of Gor­don Cas­tle wa­ter … In the agree­ment as to proper com­pen­sa­tion I un­der­stand it was de­cided that be­tween 6,000 and 7,000 fish would on an av­er­age be thus al­lowed to as­cend an­nu­ally. As has al­ready been said, the rod catches have now greatly im­proved, an improve­ment which I un­der­stand amounts to 50 or 60 per cent, in sev­eral wa­ters. Mr. Ge­orge Mc­corquo­dale has had 426 to his own rod at Dalchroy. When men­tion­ing this dis­tin­guished an­gler I may add that in 1919 he killed a 38lb fish on a trout rod, with a trout cast.” His best sea­son on the Spey was in 1920, when he caught 492 fish. That year also saw the beat record be­ing set, with 30 fish on May 31. Af­ter his death in 1936, Mc­corquo­dale’s daugh­ter, Molly Wood, had this to say about him: “It is 46 years since he first fished Spey, and he never missed a sea­son. Dur­ing his early life he fished many other rivers, but there was no river to com­pare with Spey in his opin­ion … He was in his 83rd year when he died last May, and had been able to fish un­til ten days be­fore his death. He used a very small rod, and for the last two years did not fish many hours a day, but in 1935 he killed 214 salmon to his own rod. Fish were very late com­ing up this year, but he had some good days, the best be­ing four salmon to his own rod on April 21st. There has been no finer fish­er­man or greater sports­man than my fa­ther, and I think his mem­ory on Spey­side will live on and on.” Amen to that. We will never see his likes again.

Mc­corquo­dale with a 42½lb fish from Fochabers, Spey, Oc­to­ber 15, 1907.

Gaffed: Mc­corqoudale fish­ing The Sawmill at Ballindal­loch, River Spey in 1891.

Mc­corquo­dale fish­ing Rock pool from the Bat­tery, Tulchan, July 1905. Im­ages from the Tulchan ar­chive pho­tographed by Stew­art Grant.

Pic­ture from the Tulchan ar­chive. The cap­tion reads: "Cruik­shanks. 35½lb. G.F. Mc­corquo­dale." The fish was caught in Green­bank pool on May 27, 1902.

started fish­ing with a bent stick be­fore he went to school and has fished for salmon at home and abroad for more than 50 years. He has writ­ten seven books, in­clud­ing Suc­cess with Salmon, The Great Salmon Beats, The Salmon & Sea Trout Fish­eries of Scot­land, and The Salmon Fish­er­man’s Year. CRAW­FORD LIT­TLE

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