There are recompenses to being up early: the Sperrin Mountains in the misty first light of day; the green shade of the Glenelly valley, steep and wooded in its lower reaches; the cows curious as I trudged past the graveyard and down to the river. It is a time of day that farmers and milkmen know, but do not have the leisure to enjoy. A pair of dippers flitted downstream from rock to mossy rock.
The sun touched the tops of the trees in the wood on the opposite bank and slowly filled the valley with shafts of light. As my fly swung across a burnished glide, the rod suddenly came alive in my hands, a fish tugging on the end of the line. This is the moment that every angler waits for, and the salmon fisher must wait three long seconds more as the fish takes the fly in its mouth, turns downstream and begins to run with it: only then can he strike. At the first wriggle I started my count, willing the reel to turn and the line to click out, but wriggling was all the tiny fish could manage. It was indeed a salmon, but a parr, one that had not yet made the sea journey to the fattening grounds off Greenland.
What does a fisherman do when he is not catching fish? Apart from think up excuses. There are more stock excuses
Concentrating on the fly, casting once more in the knowledge that the only remedy for failure is to try again – who needs motivational therapy when there is salmon fishing?
The Stone Bridge on the River Strule, part of the Foyle System near Newtownstewart available to the salmon fisher than a politician has up his sleeve, and when all else fails he can always fall back on sophistry. The conversation usually goes like this: How was your week on the Styx?’ Wonderful.’ Catch much?’ Not a thing.’ So how can you say it was a wonderful week’s fishing?’ Ah, as you said, it is called fishing, not catching.’ What the fisherman really means is that he has just paid a lot of money for a week’s casting practice.
As well as what one learns about the lifecycle, habits and needs of one’s quarry, or what one observes of nature in the stealthy pursuit, fishing is also a moral instructor. It teaches patience, humility, stoicism, endurance. The repetitive casting becomes an exercise in harmony. Concentrating on the fly as it fishes round with the current, casting once more in the knowledge that the only remedy for failure is to try again – who needs motivational therapy when there is salmon fishing? While it is self-evident that you will not catch a fish with your fly out of the water, even the persevering angler needs to keep some optimism in reserve, or so I told myself as I bunked off for the afternoon.